Nature’s architects


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