There is a common argument saying that economic and financial wealth fuels innovation in architecture and urbanism. I would argue the opposite and go as far as to say that architecture and urbanism prosper in difficult times. In scenarios around an economic crisis or in which ‘low’ economic performance is the normal, people are better motivated to find more sophisticated, sustainable solutions while optimizing the use of resources.It is a buyer’s market where each selling party is forced to bring out that little extra to ensure survival. Though a sometimes hopeless scenario for architects, it creates many of the best solutions because the less serious or competent parties are expelled from the market by natural selection and those who remain are forced to deliver more innovative and sophisticated solutions.

During the last century, in many parts of the world (especially the western) it seems that within architecture and urbanism the tendency has been a shift away from the traditional and vernacular under the presence of the machine and advanced technology. No matter where in the world, the main driving aspect of the ‘vernacular’ is and has been climatical adaptation- sustainability in one of its purest forms. The international architectural education and community still suffers from ‘modernist’ manifestations and even the word ‘vernacular’ is charged with negative associations. Is it not peculiar that one can find almost identical office buildings in Finland and Dubai? The common notion that everything in big cities and well-developed countries is more sophisticated and innovative might simply be wrong. It is hard not to get awestruck by the sight of the metropolis but what is most sustainable, resilient and innovative; an urban ecosystem of extreme population density that is very sensitive to external climatical changes or a sustainable ecosystem in which man lives in harmony with nature?

A popular saying goes that, “there are only two things that can survive a nuclear disaster: cockroaches and Keith Richards” (lead guitarist of British rock group The Rolling Stones). Though meant as a humorous comment referring to Mr. Richards’s extreme resilience to long time heavy drug abuse, the saying is probably right in placing humans up there with the cockroaches as some of the most resilient and adaptive creates on the earth. Paradoxically it seems that with our big cities we have somehow created some of the most hostile and volatile environments for us to live in. It is estimated that today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. (UN, 2014).
One can argue that this is alarming because of the way that cities are built up today. Large cities today are very much built up like islands, isolated but at the same time completely dependent on the natural environment surrounding them. Generally, instead of being produced within it, all vital goods (food, energy, water, medicines) are transported into a city and just the slightest irregularity or halt in this linear supply chain can potentially cause severe and lethal consequences. In addition, large cities tend to operate with a relatively low resilience to external climatical factors and natural disasters. The global research community seems to agree on the fact that these natural disaster now occur more regularly as a direct effect of human activity. Through increasing global media coverage this ´volatility’ of cities becomes more and more evident to us yet we all rush to large cities to work and live.


The living bridges of Meghalaya (Rex features)

Nature and Machine
In the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, the native Khasi people use the roots of living banyan fig trees and a tree shaping technique to literally ‘grow’ bridges. These living bridges operate with an excellent strength to weight ratio, they are free (except for labor costs) and no CO2 emissions or other climate hostile processes are invoked in the making of them. Because they are made from living species that have adapted to the local climate over hundreds of thousands of years they are also extremely resilient to decay and they are self-repairing. I would argue that this is about as close one comes to ultimate sophistication. The world engineering elite seems to agree as they voyage in from all corners of the world to study these bridges.

True innovation is not about technological advancement or complexity; it’s about simplification and doing more with less.  Leonardo da Vinci put it like this, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. I think it’s safe to say that the seductive notion of the machine as the solution to all our problems initiated during the industrial revolution is slowly falling apart. Some of us have already realized that the machine as it is today is not the answer- nature is.

Wood as a construction material is arguably the most sophisticated, versatile, sustainable and technologically advanced building material in the world, yet it is theoretically free and so simple to manufacture that any human can theoretically produce it in their backyard. Structurally, wood has an excellent strength to weight ratio, it works well not only in compression but traction and flexion as well, it is relatively soft and moldable, it´s durable, it breathes and is capable of storing excess humidity and it’s versatile (can be used in a building as everything from structure, cladding, flooring, roofing, insulator, interior, etc).  The best part is that while relatively time consuming, the production of a tree is totally free because though an industrialized product, it is a completely natural product, cradled by nature itself.  In addition, trees, even those growing to be an industrialized product generally impose significant positive contributions to the environment they are planted in. Some of these positive contributions are oxygen production and C02 binding, soil stabilization and aesthetical contribution.

In 1911, a historical race took place between the British and Norwegian explorers Robert F. Scott and Roald Amundsen to be the first human to reach the South Pole. Though both carefully planned beforehand, Scott’s expedition relied on large/scale forces, a large team and new European industrial methods such as motorized sleds. Amundsen had acquired knowledge about arctic survival skills from the local Netsilik Inuit in Canada during an earlier expedition, including the use of animal skin clothing and sled dogs for transportation. Amundsen set out with a relatively small team of specialized members and his expedition relied solely on the use of sled dogs. Scott’s motorized sleds failed relatively early in his expedition, and the reliance on the ponies and few dogs he had brought proved to be a struggle. On the 17 of January 1912, Scott reached the South Pole only to find out that Amundsen had beaten him by 5 weeks. Amundsen’s team of 19 men returned safely from the expedition while Scott’s caused the death of 5 of his crew of 65, including his own.


Roald Amundsen in the Antarctic in 1911 (Apic – Hulton Archive via Getty Images)

Needless to say, the success of the Amundsen expedition is attributed to the careful study and preparations of the local conditions and the use of relatively simple methods based on the ways of nature. On his success, Amundsen said, “Victory awaits him who has everything in order—luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” (Amundsen, 1912)

With respect to the two systems of thinking presented by Kahneman, the first system, also called the unconscious and intuitive can be said to relate more to the way humans are programmed by nature through countless evolutionary chains. When our hand is exposed to an open flame we don’t dwell on whether or not to remove it from the flame, we don’t even think, because it’s naturally programmed to do so, the first system acts overrides and acts on its own in matter of milliseconds.
Just as Amundsen redefined the terms good or bad ‘luck’ as good or bad preparations and the vernacular can be redefined as the climatologically adapted and prepared, Kahneman’s first system can arguably be redefined from something unconscious, irrational and impulsive to something ultra rational because its logics and the actions derived from is not shaped by the individual in question but rather the sum of the actions and experiences of the thousands of ancestral individuals chronologically preceding it.

This, in turn relates to the topic of the machine and the nature because the first system can be seen as something natural that is programmed within us as a sort of natural heritage while the second systems can be seen as something we invented, something that depends on the culture, traditions and social customs of the environment surrounding the particular human in question.

Delacámara (2014) argues that,”Just like most economic analyses lack a proper spatial research, even within the scope of spatial economics or economic geography, urban and architectural design tends to overlook microeconomic and macroeconomic variables.”

This is a peculiar paradox because it seems that in this situation both parties have in their hands the solution to the other party’s problem. In what better way can an economist understand economics and politics than with a good map or drawing of a city? Is the built environment not the direct outcome of the economical and political landscape of the place in question?  Yet, it seems that these professions operate with a certain distance between them, sometimes even with a sort of distrust. This is something both parties should work to overcome because both work within fields that are incredibly important for humanity and both can benefit considerably by learning from the other.


Amundsen, R. (1912). The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the ‘Fram. London: C. Hurst & Company.
Delacámara, G. (2014). Life, entropy and resilience in the city. IAAC Bits, Implementing Advanced Knowledge ,
(2014). World’s population increasingly urban with more than half living in urban areas. Retrieved 12 16, 2015, from

Picture 1 The living bridges of Meghalaya (Rex features). Dailymail. 2011. Webpage, accessed 12.12.15

Picture 2 Roald Amundsen in the Antarctic in 1911. NBC News. 2011. Webpage, accessed 12.12.15

Resilience, Nature and Machine is a project of IaaC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia
developed at Master in Advanced Architecture,
in 2015/20126 by:
Students: Peter Geelmuyden Magnus
Faculty: Gonzalo Delacámara