Video . Simulated Nature in Contemporary Architecture


San Francisco

The unearthly beauty of simulated nature in contemporary architecture




The contemporary city in the United States. Its architecture saturated with color stands erect as abstract forms of solid mass shimmering in the sun.

These lofty vertical constructions are capitalism's monument to itself. The buildings are frequently grouped together into what are called financial districts. More symbolically they could be called corporate family centers.

What is fascinating about these structures is that there is an ethereal nature to them. They are no longer merely made of brick and mortar. Today's edifices are complex developments envisaged to inspire reverence. One could imagine that through these monuments to itself capitalism is intent to proclaim that its achievements have reached beyond the clouds and have touched the heavens.

These financial districts dominate the land where trees once stood tall. Contemporary architecture has supplanted Nature as the creator of Earth's landscape. Concrete runs where streams used to flow. And the contour of the land in our age is the city skyline.

The ancients believed the trees and mountains of our planet are Earth's antenna to the Cosmos. In contrast our urban centers reach out to the ether through cell phone microwave antennas atop capitalism erections which branch out from city to city, continent to continent.

Corporate family centers have substituted and now imitate the forests on planet Earth.

The purity of form found in these elongated structures as they extend up into the celestial dome contrasts with the gaping holes, called entrances, at their base which need to accommodate the masses that these financial districts employ.

The apparent intention to harmonize this contrast between heavenly and earthly has led to the use of Nature, in the form of hybrid plants, as splashes of color across merging forms of concrete, aluminum and glass. Landscaping in an urban environment is no longer dependent on mimicking Nature. Nature doesn't exist in the present day metropolis. The natural world has been replaced by concepts of design. The plant has become decorative. Trees are placed in cement planters or are stuck in concrete floors. They imitate sculpture, more than representing themselves as trees.

And though the displacing of Nature by the artificial is in my opinion objectionable, the effects at times are aesthetically engaging.

How contemptuous it is that Nature, which has symbolized the creation of our existence for millions of years, has now been relegated to the shadows of contemporary urban architecture. Financial districts have deposed Nature and now loom over Nature.

The majority of plants in financial districts live in relative darkness. Depending on the time of year, most plants receive very limited direct sunlight each day. The main source of illumination for contemporary urban plant life is typically the reflected light falling from the glimmering surfaces of surrounding buildings.

And the effects of lighting are truly unearthly in contemporary architecture. These otherworldly interplays of direct and reflected light on structures and plant forms create momentary and veritable paintings in chance places as the Sun passes from season to season.

This other worldliness in the modern city's three-dimensional aesthetics, is the imagineering of the natural into the artificial. Our created landscapes are simply ephemeral illusions of beauty which have been framed on computer screens in a designer's office listing square meters in a project to fill with concrete and plants in a serendipitously manufactured mathematical sequence. Today's modern US city is simulated Nature. In tomorrow's contemporary financial enclave, will nature even be remembered?

The American urban area has attempted to supersede the ethereal found in Nature with the illusory ethereal of amalgamated computer designs. Architecture using simulations of Nature has created circumstances of artificiality which has become our new aesthetic - incredibly beautiful, though disturbingly sterile.

Ironically, human beings constitute what may be the last vestige of Nature to be found in financial districts. What is interesting to observe is where does the human being fit into the illusory ethereal of a computer design intent on supplanting Nature.

Maybe this could easily be the first question we ask ourselves each day.


Creation of project finished in October 2012.

On Vimeo



All Rights Reserved © 2017 karl f. stewart