What would nature do?

A study by Bas Smets for the Vitra Campus

Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets transforms places and landscapes for a new future by carefully analysing their natural conditions and regenerating the sites – true to the question: What would nature do? To address future climate challenges, Smets has now reimagined the grounds of the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein. After drawing up a master plan, a test area was planted in November 2023 using the Miyawaki method.

The Miyawaki method is a reforestation strategy developed by Japanese phytosociologist Akira Miyawaki in the 1970s. The species-rich Miyawaki plantings grow quickly and densely: after around three years, a natural, indigenous forest develops, which reaches maturity after a good 25 years – almost ten times as fast as classic mixed woodlands, which take approximately 200 years.

Over the decades, various roads and other paved expanses have been created on the Vitra Campus to facilitate the smooth handling and transport of goods. Vitra commissioned the Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets to draw up a master plan to examine whether some of these sealed surfaces could be revegetated.
Bas Smets (pictured above), born in 1975, is a landscape architect with an office in Brussels. In his work, he applies approaches and methods that question the conventional techniques of (urban) design. In addition to the doctrines of engineering, a defining role is also played by ‘corporal knowledge’ – the term he uses to describe our visceral responses to the landscape.

When addressing a new project, Smets and his 20-person team engage in a process he calls ‘biospheric urbanism’, seeking to identify the former natural features of a particular place that have gradually disappeared in our built environment under layers of remodelling and redesign. By stripping away these dissonant, impregnable layers that have been added to towns and cities over the last century or so, the landscape architects aim to uncover the fertile topography that lies beneath and maximise its inherent potential. This means, for example, reactivating and strengthening the mutually propagating cycle that operates between rainwater and plants.
‘The project on the Vitra Campus is part of our global research into transforming artificial spaces into more natural environments. We are investigating different ways to create a microclimate as well as exploring new future uses for the campus.’
Bas Smets
In November 2023, a test area was planted using the Miyawaki method to find out whether the dense, small forests are suitable for the Vitra Campus. If the results are positive, parts of the site will be renaturalised over the coming years in accordance with the master plan. This will promote rainwater drainage, provide a cooling effect during the hot summer months, reduce dust and decrease noise – and the plants and trees of Miyawaki forests absorb up to 30 times more carbon dioxide than a monoculture planting. Enhancing biodiversity on the Vitra Campus through such measures is a key part of the company’s environmental mission.

Publication date: 11.03.2024
Images: © Vitra

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