The all-important interplay between humans and nature 

Deborah Singerman


Nearly half of millennials would take a pay cut to work in a field they are passionate about, according to research from REST Industry Super. Furthermore, Melbourne Graduate School of Education has revealed that living by ethical principles rather than making a lot of money are new goals (reported in a recent Eureka Street). Not only that, most millennials expect to work a long time for the same company (going against trend perhaps), value office design, flexible hours, social activities, wellness and access to green space, choosing their workplace with these in mind.

CBRE’s study of this core group in Australia, China, Hong Kong, India and Japan, may be on a different scale from style writer Melissa Penfold’s feel-good advice to “grab some leaves from the garden (which will) instantly soften a space and send a message that you care about where you live” but the timbre is the same.

The latest eating place at Wests Ashfield Leagues Club is The Garden. It touts “good food in good places”, proudly promotes its farm-suppliers, seats 500 in a space festooned with pot plants and will likely rival the club’s yum cha (the main reason I am a member).

Place Partners Research has found that the top three place attributes are “amount of public space, physical safety and walkability”. OK you will have heard these before but together they point to a softening approach that all-too often in the vast infrastructure and transport landscape, are being ignored. No wonder something like Sydney Park’s clever Infolink/BPN sustainability award-winning outdoor structure stormwater treatment water re-use project, (the steady water flow calms in an inner-west environment), and Junglefly’s toxic-sucking, breathing wall best green product, are so alluring.

In the US, Spencer Finch has transposed one state’s tree to another, bringing 320 hectares of California’s redwoods to downtown Brooklyn. Fed by a tubed irrigation waterway 400 saplings will be pruned to grow to go to no more than 1.2 metres not the 115 metres tall as in their totally natural habitat, the Guardian Weekly reports.

Spencer Finch brought 320 hectares of California’s redwoods to downtown Brooklyn. Photography by Timothy Schenck

Penny Craswell, founder of The Design Writer, organised a forum in November on biophilia, our human affinity for nature or as she puts it, “instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems”.

We may want to create distinctive spaces from former industrial sites, for example, providing residential communities with lungs, but with growing cities and densities, access to the natural environment is far from automatic. Sydney- based writer, landscape designer, garden columnist and founder and editor of online magazine The Plant Hunter, Georgina Reid argued with conviction for the transformative power of gardens and a changing dialogue between nurture and culture.

Philip Thalis, architect, urban design leader, founding principal of Hill Thalis Architecture and a City of Sydney councilor, public domain educator and co-author of influential book, Public Sydney: Drawing the City, with Peter John Cantrill, talked about the fractured history of city public space. Through all this, he is in no doubt that sprawl is the devil, not density.

Appropriately the forum was held at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation (SCAF) during an exhibition Fugitive Structures (on until December 10). Vietnamese architect Vo Trong Nghia’s grid-like bamboo frames hold a mini-forest of plants and other vegetation, and embody what Dr Gene Sherman, Executive Director of SCAF, says, is “his passion – and self-imposed duty – to green the world’s urban landscapes with plants and vegetation”.

Vo Trong Nghia’s Green Ladder. Photography by Dianna Snape

“I want to bring nature back to the city,” Vo says. “In Ho Chi Minh City, the population has reached nearly 10 million with only 5.35 km² of green space – only 0.25% of the entire city. Vietnam’s unrestricted economic development has devastated the natural environment across the country. This is the problem architects need to solve.”

Cosentino’s premium granite surface, Sensa. Image: Cosentino

With the health and wellbeing WELL building standard green infrastructure having two biophilic features we at least could see more rooftop gardens and potted plants which, of course, need watering. So Cosentino’s recently launched, richly veined, premium granite surface, Sensa, is timely. Rather than absorb liquid, it benefits from protection treatment that alters the surface tension of granite, making it smaller than that of liquid and repelling, rather than absorbing liquid particles, and reducing its stainability.

Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community. @deborahsingerma;