From the book: “The notions that technology embodies inherently antinatural principles or that it is a domain squarely under the control of human operations are both inaccurate and dangerous presumptions, for they limit the full potential of technology as a creative force that can benefit us as well as the planet.”

Man-made technology and the natural world are often viewed as being necessarily at odds, with one sphere created to sustain and advance human life and the other beyond our control. But a renewed interest among designers in natural processes is proving that the dichotomy isn't requisite. In their forthcoming text, Hypernatural: Architecture’s New Relationship with Nature (Princeton Architectural Press, March 2015), ARCHITECT columnist Blaine Brownell, AIA, and Marc Swackhamer, AIA, founding partner at the Minneapolis-based HouMinn, address the changing relationship between nature and the built environment, and explore new ways of building that result.

Digital Water Pavilion, Carlo Ratti Associati
Digital Water Pavilion, Carlo Ratti Associati


The pair defines “hypernatural” as the process of working with nature—rather than against it or in a way that only emulates it—to enhance the performance of a technology or design. The function, they say, is at the foundation of how the natural world works. 

Brownell and Swackhamer, who are both architecture professors at the University of Minnesota, explore the practice in the built space through 42 case studies, supported by ample graphics and text, that are organized around seven chapters that cover planetary domains from the geosphere to plants and animals and to human thought. Each chapter of the 175-page volume establishes the context for its respective domain, discusses the related materials and naturally occurring technological functions, and provides an example of their application through a handful of representative projects. Among the works featured throughout the book are Carlo Ratti Associati's Digital Water Pavilion (above), which uses water as its walls, and the MIT Media Lab’s Silk Pavilion (below), whose surface was threaded by silkworms on a bio-inspired scaffolding.

Silk Pavilion, MIT Media Lab
Silk Pavilion, MIT Media Lab


In a design world driven by advances in the digital, the pair hopes to provide a framework for discussing and advancing materials and methods in projects that are in constant collaboration with nature.

For more materials coverage on ARCHITECT, check out Brownell's Mind & Matter column.

GEOtube Tower, Faulders Studio
GEOtube Tower, Faulders Studio


Venus Natural Crystal Chair, Tokujin Toshioka
Venus Natural Crystal Chair, Tokujin Toshioka