Both buildings and gardens begin as ideas. Someone sees what exists, and then begins envisioning the potential for something more. Although constructing a building is generally a more formal process, the fundamentals of these enterprises remain much the same. Ideas amalgamate and solidify into sketches, then plans, which ultimately concretize through sheer physical force and ingenuity.
Despite not actually living, buildings share much common ground with plants. Both are physical structures springing up from the earth and consuming energy – sometimes even from the same source! But digging a little philosophically offers more fertile ground for comparison. Through their own tangible nature both buildings and plants help us form tethers to the surrounding landscape. Whether it’s caissons or root systems, digging into the ground demands a large investment, one whose cost in effort and spirit begs a certain rootedness and commitment to continue in a particular place.
An iconic Atlanta landmark, The High Museum capitalizes on the site’s shifting topography allowing visitors multiple opportunities to enjoy Art both in and outside the building.
A commitment which is necessary, since from the procurement of financing, to workshops and design, through demolition and then construction, the building process can easily take years. That length of time alone might render a garden comparison far-fetched, especially considering the speed at which flowers wilt in Georgia’s late summer heat. But both gardens and buildings are not singular entities. Rather they are components within a composition, part of a landscape which shifts seasonally and best maintained with a plan for the future.
An iconic Atlanta landmark, the Atlanta Botanical Garden melds multiple programmatic elements within its landscape to create a unique sense of place within the city.
Part of planning ahead properly involves understanding a project’s broader environmental factors. Siting a garden without understanding sunlight, shade and soil will probably perform as well as a building sited without consideration for daylighting, circulation paths and end-user needs. Taking into account the physical environment, surrounding communities and its own programmatic functions, successful designs meld aesthetic vision with pragmatism. When fully matured, neither bears the imprint of a singular creator but rather the handiwork of a thousand forces.
“Every garden is a marriage of sorts,” Allison Glock writes, “between plant and planter, between intention and limitation.” Constructing a building is much the same, for each project necessitates an interwoven relationship between client and design team, between understanding the project’s highest aims and knowing the tools and resources at hand. Part of this understanding means comprehending the needs, desires and dreams bound within each project. While fact-finding is a fundamental first step of any design process, if essential relationships are not understood, be it Atrium or Apple Tree, the end product will struggle.
Soon to be an iconic Atlanta landmark, the Engineered Biosystems Building at Georgia Tech addresses both user and environmental needs through its sensitive engagement with the site.
In the end both gardening and building – and probably everything else – comes down to patience. Patience, in the process of making imaginary things precisely manifest, rapt with attention to what already exists. Patience, in adapting with the ebb and flow of events beyond our control, while re-strategizing with what’s at hand to produce our best. Patience, in embracing our better nature, waiting in the present for some promised future benefit – such as the first bloom of Spring or truckload of dirt hauled away.