The aim of the Plants & Architecture Research Cluster is to understand how buildings and plants interact with each other, and their environment, so that we can develop the cities and crops of tomorrow. We look to the future of smart cities and regions which will need, and benefit from, the greater coexistence of plants and buildings. Historically plants have been used as renewable raw materials in buildings, a source of design inspiration, and grown in cities to improve air quality, human health and well-being. This project seeks to revisit the relationship between plants and architecture through biomimicry which is a contemporary philosophy in architecture that seeks solutions for sustainability in nature. Through this approach we seek to improve the overall sustainability of buildings and plants as well as making our future buildings and cities smarter and greener. Architecture has the challenge to provide society with a future built environment that is efficient in its use of resources, effective in providing good conditions in which to live and work, and pleasing to the senses. Plants offer a number of possibilities to help inform future sustainable building design solutions, whilst architecture offers tools and thinking to help design crops that produce more sustainably. For example we will apply knowledge of how plants use resources such as light, minimise waste, and are tolerant to stresses to create new design strategies for buildings and cities, whilst at the same time seek to improve the efficiency by which crop plants use light and are tolerant to strong winds.
In future cities we will need to consider not just how plants can grow but also how some crop production can occur within them. This is beginning to happen and brings advantages in terms of sustainability through reducing transportation costs, as well as improving the city environment through aesthetic and health benefits. Modern technologies such as photovoltaics and LED lighting also mean that future buildings will be able to generate and store electricity which can be used to grow plants and crops in areas of poor or no light. We will study the use of plants on buildings, including green roofs and walls, which can reduce the energy demand of buildings and the urban heat island affect where city temperatures particularly in the summer can rise significantly compared to the surrounding countryside. Within buildings we will study the benefits of plants in the living space and the use of plants as a source of low carbon materials to store carbon and improve sustainability and in-door air quality. Nature inspired architecture and modern plant breeding both seek to move toward radical increases in efficiency, including use of available energy, water and light, as well as of tolerance to extremes of climate. We therefore believe that through the exchange of thinking between our disciplines we can generate the dramatic changes needed to deliver the essential increases in the sustainability of cities and crops for future generations.