Nature’s architects

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Paper wasp’s nest. Image: Su Leslie 2018

When we think of architecture, it is usually in terms of human achievements — skyscrapers, cathedrals, public buildings, that weird house round the corner.

But of course humans aren’t the only species to build individual shelters or indeed entire communities; beavers, birds, termites and paper wasps are just a few species that actively construct their living environment.

Paper wasps get their name from their ability to create a papery substance from collected fibrous material and their saliva. The queen uses this to build a nest into which her eggs are laid. The nest is also used as night shelter by adult wasps. If the queen is successful in attracting worker wasps to help her, the nest will continue to be used, and grow, for the queen’s lifetime.

Ultimately the nests are abandoned, and degrade naturally.

Unlike most human architecture. I read recently (Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth, The Guardian, 25 Feb 2019) that this most common of human building materials is the second most used substance on the planet after water, and probably the most damaging to our increasingly endangered environment.

“By one calculation, we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. Our built environment is, in these terms, outgrowing the natural one. Unlike the natural world, however, it does not actually grow. Instead, its chief quality is to harden and then degrade, extremely slowly.”

It is an uncomfortable article to read — so I thoroughly recommend that you do.

I guess it’s a sign of how distressed I have become at the state of the world that I have responded to this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge with a post not about the undoubted majesty and beauty of so much human architecture, but by thinking about how other species also create functional, beautiful structures with a much lighter footprint.

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.
Frank Lloyd Wright

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40 thoughts on “Nature’s architects

  1. I absolutely love your take on this challenge. Thanks for bringing our attention to this important issue and recommending a great, although disturbing, article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting take Su – funny you should talk about concrete. They are building a new hotel near my home and tore down the old one. My husband and I both remarked on the huge amount of giant concrete chunks that have accumulated at the site as the old inn comes down. Sigh

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  3. Didn’t want to comment before reading that article. And although I’m subbed to The Guardian, I hadn’t seen this – it made for a most chilling read! Suddenly, I’m VERY thankful for living in a stone-house from 1920. (Hopefully though not for too much longer as we try to sell it to return to our native country)….
    I realise, again and again, how little we really know. We know tons of things but are ignorant on the truly vital knowledge and even when we do (and we all have to live somewhere, and preferrably in a solid home, right?), we actually don’t know ANYTHING…. Sobering and not something one would like to spend overly much time on – and yet, we MUST. If not for us, then for our children and their children. That was also always the main argument in the Brexit discussions – all our friends fear for the future of their kids/grand children.

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  5. Frank Lloyd Wright’s one of my favourite architects and this quote illustrates perfectly why. 😊
    That wasp nest looks like a work of art to me, and its perfection regarding function and material use makes it even more awesome. I’m going to read this article you’ve mentioned, it sounds scary but important too.

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    • It is scary — but I feel like everything I read these days is. Which could be why my fiction choices are more escapist than usual 🙂
      Speaking of which …. not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but if you are interested there is a cool children’s novel by Blue Balliet called The Wright 3 which is a sort of detective novel centred around Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, in Chicago. It’s written for kids, but is such a good read!!! It’s a sort of sequel to Chasing Vermeer — which you might like too. 🙂 xxxxx

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      • I know what you mean, Su. I just reread one of Terry Pratchett’s novel just to read something funny and uplifting. 🙂
        And you haven’t mentioned these books before and you can bet that I’m more than interested!! Will have a look online right away if I can find copies at my local library of both the books you’ve mentioned. They sound fascinating and I don’t mind reading children’s books at all. In fact shortly before Christmas I had another go at Winnie-the-Pooh’s Complete Stories. 😀 xxxxxx

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      • I hope you can find the Bailliet books — I’m sure you will enjoy them. I haven’t read Winne the Pooh for ages — probably since the boy-child was small. It’s a very special book for us. T started reading The House at Pooh Corner to our baby when he was just a few hours old, and we were still in hospital 🙂 xxxxx

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      • Aww – that’s such a sweet memory! Now I see why it is so special for you. 🙂
        Just had a look online – my library has all four books by Balliett, and I’m looking forward to read them all soon!! 😀 xxxxxxx

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow. What a lovely tribute to Nature’s architects. Brilliant. We changed to our life in the wild to escape the congestion of concrete. We could learn a lot from the sustainability of natural design. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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