Reimagining Nature

by Inga Yandell

Janet Echelman

Our growing populous has evicted nature to the fringes—with the exception of national parks and wilderness reserves, most city and urban folk must travel great distances to converge with nature. This dichotomy of expansion vs the need to commune and connect with nature is by large heavily unbalanced in favour of infrastructure. Yet pockets of green continue to emerge in our cities, roof-top and community gardens spring-forth determined to prevail alongside progress.

Architects have also begun reimagining nature to embrace the tranquil benefits of living ecosystems by exploring the potential of unlikely materials and engineering with the elements. One of the world’s foremost and celebrated innovators of this visionary approach to bringing nature back to public spaces, is Janet Echelman. Echelman’s ethereal sculptures celebrate natures whimsy in colorful displays that inspire the imagination and restore a sense of balance to the concrete worlds we inhabit.

In 2014 the Smithsonian acknowledged Echelman’s work lauding her as “one of the greatest innovators in America today!” Receiving the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Visual Arts for projects she completed in 2013 (including: Impatient Optimist, an iconic sculpture for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s headquarters in Seattle; Pulse, a Philadelphia commission for the City Hall’s Dilworth Park; Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, a 745-­‐ft aerial sculpture which premiered at this year’s TED Conference in Vancouver; and her first collaboration with live performance, commissioned by the Stuttgart Ballet).

Tapping this genius, I presented Echelman with two design challenges that address the foundational principles at the heart of her work.

1. The Office Challenge: How would you reimagine the working office to promote productivity and innovative thinking?

I would maximize exposure to natural light. When I was a kid, my elementary school had round classrooms and no cafeteria, so we ate our bag lunches in the trees. I suppose that created my ideal working environment.

2. The Bedroom Challenge: How would you cultivate a sanctuary of calm that inspires creative dreams and refreshing slumber?

I lived on the island of Bali, Indonesia for five years, and my house had a grass roof, thatched bamboo walls, and wooden floors. Instead of glass windows, I had bamboo panels that hinged open, allowing breezes to waft through. I slept so well in that house, I think partly because of the natural ventilation. If we could design to reduce our need for air-conditioning and heating, I think we’d all sleep better.

Read the full interview in Bare Essentials Magazine

Explore the Art and Imagination of Janet Echelman

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
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