Wednesday, 2 December 2009


Joseph Paxton, sometime head gardener to the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, was inspired to create the pre-fabricated units of the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 by the modular structure supporting the leaves of the giant water-lily Victoria amazonica. Virtually everything designed by Antoni Gaudi has its roots in the forms of the natural world, and this photograph of the underside of the leaf of Gunnera manicata instantly reminded me of the pillars taking shape in his vast church in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia.

There are good economic reasons for designing with these structures in mind - plants, as living entities, have evolved the most cost-effective solutions to building, and their structure is an object lesson in efficiency. No material is wasted, no embellishments indulged in beyond those that arise as a natural response to the demands put on the plant by the environment or the critical need to reproduce successfully. And here lies the great beauty - clean design, with everything necessary made to fit its purpose is as attractive in the natural world as in the man-made environment, and for those of us who love this type of simplicity in the Hans Wegner wishbone chair, the tortured blooms of an overbred fuchsia will never appeal.

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