Happy New Year


"To consider and contemplate nature is the essential food for people's spirits and intelligence." (Cicero b. Jan 3rd 163 BCE)

Many of you will recall watching with awe in 2012 as the seemingly organic, life -enhancing Olympic Cauldron blossomed into light. Its designer was Thomas Heatherwick and it was not the first time his Studios had won universal acclaim for a design that so clearly resulted from the consideration and contemplation of nature.

Dubbed "the Seed Cathedral", Heatherwick's British Pavilion for the 2010 World Trade Fair in Shanghai made the millions who queued to see inside it feel as though they had entered a sanctum. The walls, floor and ceiling encapsulated 66,000 seeds in nearly as many light filtering, 7.5 metre long fibre-optic rods. From the outside the rod tips resembled a myriad stamens wafting in the wind. Thomas Heatherwick talks about the building here.

Let me also share with you one other recent and amazingly organic invention: the Mine Kafon. Derived from observation of an Allium seed-head, it is a detonator light enough to blow like tumble weed across mine fields yet heavy enough to detect and shatter those deadly implements before they detect and shatter lives.

Of course, no one has ever created anything that is not based on forms already to be seen in the natural world. But the quality of those creations depends on how long their designers spend considering and contemplating the model chosen.

Many well-intentioned planners and politicians - concerned that population growth means that more land for planting and grazing must be conserved - are shattering lives by placing people in ever higher and more densely packed apartment blocks far away from nature's influence.

The designers of these piles seem only to have taken a cursory glance at nature - noted that densely planted Pine trees have open land surrounding them - and built accordingly. Had they allowed more time for contemplation, they would have become aware that though the rooting system of conifers may help to avoid landslips, little else is able to grow in the darkness beneath their needle-filled branches and that land alongside them produces only sparse vegetation.

By contrast, broad-leaved trees - many standing equally as tall as the conifers - have interstices built into their branching design, through which light, air and water can penetrate and nourish the land both beneath and alongside them. The branches, meanwhile, facilitate the up, down, in, out and sideways movements of a multitude of fauna. (Human beings not excepted!) A consequence of those designers not considering more fully the example they chose to emulate, is that empty sky scrapers litter barren landscapes from Portugal to China. Any would be buyers and tenants have voted with their feet to live where they feel more firmly rooted and in touch with nature.

The thing that was so appealing and revealing about the life enhancing structures referred to at the beginning of this article, was the spaces designed into them: spaces that threw a new light on common things, cauldrons, seeds and mine detectors. Maybe by drawing on their example and paying more attention to the interstices within relationships, we can find new points of connection and a gain clearer understanding of one other in 2013.

more articles

About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.