Archive for September, 2011

September 30, 2011


For inspiration, I chose to look at the grapevine; a natural organism that works in interesting ways to grow, change, and evolve over time in the wild landscapes all over the world. Grapevines are predominant in the Northern hemisphere, and growing up near Napa Valley, California, I often associate this vineyard plant with home. Watching the way vines can twist and twirl around fences, trellises and anything they find is fascinating. They are quite beautiful in their leafy, intertwining appearance.

Ancient Egyptians used grapevines in art to symbolize the heart, the blood, and life. (4) The fruit of the vines is the grape, produced for selling, eating, and making wine. This feature is the most usable and interactive feature of the plant, with the vines, stems, and leaves as assisting agents for strengthening this purpose. In a building design, the spaces that are used most often and encourage engagement could be considered the “fruit” of this building organism, while the infrastructure and other parts that make up these spaces would be the rest of the vine’s structure.

As an organism that uses everything within reach to find its own strength, the grapevine has an amazing ability to utilize surrounding resources so that it can grow long and tall in order to reach sunlight. This is like all plants, where height is important to allow for the cycle of photosynthesis, but in this case, the grapevine cannot rely solely on itself to survive. (4) I think this brings up a great relation to the buildings in our cities. Most of the time they are created as one sole entity to serve a single function. Instead, they could be looked at as a system of buildings that are linked together to share utilities, structures, and functions in order to create a sustainable built environment that can rely on its connections over time.

The canopy of a grapevine plays a key role in capturing light energy for photosynthesis as well as regulating the water use of the plant through a process called transpiration. (1) The small openings on the grapevine leaf allows carbon dioxide to diffuse into the plant and releases water vapor, similar to evaporation. (2) This could direct the building envelope to have a perforated surface to help the ventilation and absorption of energy. The way light comes through the foliage of the grapevines can also be a part of the aesthetic, creating a screened view of the outside, while still preventing the inside spaces from overheating.

Another quality that I find interesting about the way this organism works, is its shapable structure that seems to grow back almost immediately, no matter how many times its stems are cut. (3) It is a persistent creature, constantly reforming and regrowing to new spaces and situations. This is similar to the way we expect our built spaces to withstand years of use and change in functions over time, yet they lack in the ability to be molded for a new purpose. When we “cut” out the current function of the building, we should be able to reuse the space for new functions to grow. An interchangeable feature is important for the design of these Ecodistricts in preparing for future use.

In terms of possible sites, I have been considering the Lloyd District of Northwest Portland. This location seems a probable choice, needing building development along the main Martin Luther King Boulevard for pedestrian use, housing, commercial space, and even some community public spots. This area has the potential to bring in people to the Convention Center, Rose Garden, and the Lloyd Center, making these places lively and usable for locals. I think it will be important to open up wider sidewalks and build up along city block edge, setting up a more “downtown” vibe that is proved successful on the opposite side of the Willamette River. This new Ecodistrict could be an extension of the progressive design of Portland’s developed urban fabric on the West side, and be the pull this city needs on the Eastern waterfront.



2 Benjamin Cummins (2007), Biological Science (3 ed.), Freeman, Scott, p. 215