Biophilic Philosophies

In the realms of architecture and landscape architecture, the term biophilia encompasses a sort of attitude and affinity to embrace nature and henceforth weave it into a design. This resulting state of ‘biophilic design’ manifests a broad spectrum of tangible applications, but also under this umbrella of ethos is cultured each individual, and practice’s philosophy around nature, landscape, and architecture.

This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Steven Postmus, co-founder of Perth landscape and architecture firm Carrier and Postmus Architects (CAPA) to discuss this topic. Steven has always felt connected to landscape through his upbringing, and went on from graduating his architecture degree into a career involved with landscape projects at Donaldson + Warn architects and Tierra Design before joining forces with Steven Carrier to create CAPA.

With regards to this notion of how biophilia comes into practice, Steven summarised his own philosophy on the topic through a profound ‘unresolved dialectic’ from Swiss theologian Karl Barth. This theory is that two aspects can be seemingly in contradiction, tension, but they can and must be sustained at the same time – held together and not diluted. In this case: on one hand we can hold nature – trying to understand it, be a good custodian and recognize sustainability, whilst sustaining on the other hand the knowing of ‘I can’t duplicate that’. For example:

“If you have a grove of paperbark trees, they might be bound in a planter or defined formally by something else. We can’t pretend that it’s an actual piece of bush-land… because it’s not. It is a garden, which has been intentionally put there – designed. I’ve clearly got my hand involved with where the tree goes, where it frames. So, I try to not duplicate.”[1]

We can design with the vocabulary of nature – wind, sun, water, plants, earth, levels etcetera. But it is impossible to mimic what has been crafted by nature itself. This philosophy towards landscape architecture and biophilic design embraces a sort of custodianship and affiliation for nature, whilst upholding – in a positive way – the reality of the work as being a man-made construct.

CAPA Shenton Park Residence, completed 2018.
Image credits to CAPA.

Looking to the future, Steven explained his goals for CAPA to work towards designs that give more value to water. A recent delve into this occurred with the project Shenton Park residence, utilizing water where it falls and pools: without gutters, the water moves down the roof, the walls, and into a capturing vessel that spills over into the garden. For the bigger picture in Perth, Steven states that we need more green infrastructure thinking, with vision and leadership stemming from government. There is much for us to learn from the Indigenous sensibility of custodianship – ensuring that we look after our natural and built environments to ensure the bettering of the next generation. Looking at great precedents such as the 2018 building of the year by WOHA architects in Singapore, and their design for a green ‘vertical suburb’ in Applecross (local architects MJA, landscape CAPA) hints at what could be brewing in the mix for the future of Perth. As Steven said, it’s going to be a challenge here, however a general shift in philosophies is happening and this is thanks to the philosophies of practices such as CAPA that are working to understand our relationship with the environment, and how this can grow.

“This needs to be done well, by people who are really invested in it – from clients to builders – with thought as to how it will it stand-up in the longer years.”[2]

Food for thought.

WOHA Kampung Admiralty, Singapore, completed 2017. Building of the Year 2018.
Image credits to WOHA.
WOHA design for high-rise project in Applecross, Perth.
Image credits to WOHA.

[1] Postmus, Steven. Interviewed by Lindroos, Camille. CAPA Architects, Perth, 02.04.2019.

[2] Ibid.