Digital model: The model shows an overgrown building whose two halves each represent a season, summer and winter. Small groups or individual people can be seen on the forecourt of the building.

Closer to Nature

Building with Fungi, Trees, Mud

Find out more about the historical background, methods and protagonists behind three approaches to architecture for the future: fungal biology, botanical building and mud houses.

Architecture versus nature?

The original function of architecture was to protect humans from natural forces like weather and wild animals. So its purpose since early times has been to keep nature at bay, to suppress it or at best to exploit it. This deeply engrained conflict is reflected in modernist Western architecture: buildings and organic vegetation face each other, alien and isolated, across a divide.

A city! It is a human sequestration of nature. It is a human assault on nature.

Le Corbusier, architect, 1925

Critical responses
and counter-proposals

Critical responses and counter-proposals have always existed. In Berlin, in particular, there was a movement for ecological architecture in the 1980s. It looked to natural materials and aimed to integrate buildings into environmental cycles more effectively by drawing on solar energy and rainwater, respecting the vegetation available and combining it with the built fabric.

Redesigning the city along ecological principles was first addressed at the International Building Exhibition in 1984/87. After German unification in 1989/90, Berlin increasingly lost sight of ecological questions.

Inken Baller, architect, 2019

Building with nature
instead of against it

The relationship between architecture and nature is still a prime driver behind the competition for space and resources. But the time seems to have come for a shift in perspective. Discover three ways to revisit that relationship by building with nature instead of against it.

Fungal research

Some materials have always attracted particular interest and popularity in art and architecture. Will glass, concrete and plastic now be followed by fungus? Quite a hype has grown up around these living organisms that play an invisible role in our everyday lives. About ten years ago, artists and designers began to experiment with fungi in architecture and furniture-making. The global community of fungus enthusiasts has been growing steadily ever since – and research into new, sustainable fungal products has been stepped up.

This stuff can be used to replace a lot of engineered woods, a lot of plastics, a lot of materials that we can't even think of. It just seems like an inevitability that this is going to be a popular material

Phil Ross, artist, 2014
A group of people stand in a forest and look head-on into the camera.

The MY-CO-X collective inside the Brandenburg Forest, 2021

© Martin Weinhold
Photo: Two hands in light blue laboratory gloves hold a fungal panel covered with a whitish layer.
© Martin Weinhold

Building material
for tomorrow

With the help of the native hoof fungus, the Berlin-based SciArt collective MY-CO-X have developed a building material that recycles leftovers instead of consuming resources. Mycelium is combined with organic substances like hemp or sawdust. The composite has already demonstrated a number of beneficial properties. Research continues into others, such as resistance to weathering.


MY-CO-X was able to realise its first experimental building in 2021: MY-CO SPACE - a mobile dwelling for sleeping, living and working. The wooden structure of the house, which measures around 20 square metres, is clad with 300 panels. These panels are filled with the composite material developed by the collective from mushroom mycelium and hemp shives.

An interview with Friederike Hoberg and Sven Pfeiffer

Biotechnologist Friederike Hoberg and architect Sven Pfeiffer from MY-CO-X talk about their work in the collective, bringing together perspectives from science, art, design, architecture and interested members of the public to make building more sustainable for the future. And they share their fascination for the power of fungi, those living organisms that act as an invisible force in our everyday lives.

Building with fungi

Botanical building

OLA – Office for Living Architecture, a practice based in Stuttgart, designs and implements buildings where living trees are an integral component. The team apply an approach called “Baubotanik”, fusing natural and technical elements to make hybrid buildings. For centuries, building with nature has been at once a reality, an architectural vision and an ideal construct.

Living material

For over 1,000 years, the Khasi, an indigenous people who live in north-eastern India, have been building bridges from the aerial roots of rubber trees. These are used to cross rivers and valleys, and they can also withstand earthquakes. The bridges are maintained and improved for generations.

In Europe, lime trees often served as public venues. Dances and festivals were held in their crowns. The “dance lime” or “tilleul à danser” was at the heart of many a village and its folklore. In 2017 a “Tanzlinde” was planted on the disused Tempelhof airfield in Berlin.

Arthur Wiechula, a landscape engineer in Berlin, argued in the 1920s that any kind of building could be constructed out of trees. He claimed that by pruning he could train them to merge and create closed spaces. None of Wiechula’s adventurous arbotectures were ever built.

For a long time, building close to nature was seen from a Eurocentrist, evolutionist perspective as sentimental hankering for the remote past. Theoreticians of architecture, especially in the 18th century, regarded the “Primitive Hut” – built entirely of natural materials using the simplest methods – as the first sign of a cultural technique aimed at creating habitable space. It was an ambivalent ideal, illustrated here by a “Primitive Hut” in a stand of natural trees.


The fascination of botanical building is direct. It unites two things that we think can’t be combined: the load-bearing frame, which naturally has to be conceived as a piece of structural engineering, and the tree, which grows with all the dynamic features that entails. It broadened my understanding of architecture.

Ria Stein, editor, 2024

An interview with Ferdinand Ludwig

Architect Ferdinand Ludwig founded “Baubotanik” as a field of research in 2007. In 2022 he joined with architects Daniel Schönle and Jakob Rauscher to set up OLA. In this interview he talks about buildings that grow – the ideas behind them, the work involved and the challenges.

Changeable, ever-unfinished buildings

In the elevated walkway established in 2005 by Ferdinand Ludwig together with Oliver Storz and Cornelius Hackenbracht, nature is quite literally a mainstay. A 22-metre platform about 2.5 metres above the ground rests on two rows of willow trees. The experimental structure has grown over the years, demonstrating the nature of botanical architectures , which change constantly and never achieve a completed state.

Schematic representation of the principle of plant addition

Schematic representation of the principle of plant addition

Photo: Intertwining of tree and building, 2011
© Photo: Cira Moro

Manipulating the skill of plants

“Baubotanik” draws on age-old gardening techniques for training plants to grow in certain ways. It deliberately manipulates the ability of plants to graft onto each other and to heal scar tissue. By integrating a quantity of trees, botanical architecture creates big, load-bearing structures which still live and breathe as they merge with the technical elements of a building.

The unfamiliar shapes and those brutal-looking joints with dead material will sustainably alienate a lot of people.

Prof. Gerd de Bruyn, historian of architecture, 2009

Reshaping the relationship
between architecture and nature

Mud houses

Along with wood, mud is one of the oldest and commonest building materials there are. Even in Europe and less than a century ago, it was still everywhere, fired into bricks. But then those were largely replaced by concrete. And yet it has considerable advantages, especially the pisé technique, which means building with rammed earth: it requires minimum energy, the material – earth – is available almost everywhere and it produces almost no waste. Unlike most building materials, it can simply be fed back into the environment.

Mud buildings are not only exquisitely beautiful, but most important of all: sustainable.

Anna Heringer, artist and architect, 2023

Tradition and innovation

The Austrian earth artist Martin Rauch has pioneered modern methods of building with mud in Europe. For over 30 years he has played a key role in reviving and renewing this ancient tradition. His company in Vorarlberg is now producing ready-made sections of rammed earth on a big scale. Rauch has brought series manufacture to construction with pisé. A machine has been especially designed to replace manual tamping and this has speeded up production considerably.

An interview with Martin Rauch

Martin Rauch has devoted decades of work to loam and clay and he describes what the material means to him. This is a personal take on building with mud. What happens to the architecture when it is formed from this natural substance and begins to breathe?

Building with mud

The Media Station

Concept and text: Ursula Müller and Nils Philippi, Berlinische Galerie
Design and technichal support of the website: 3pc
Interviews and video production: 3B-Produktion
Translation: Kate Vanovitch
Projectmanagement: Linus Lütcke, Berlinische Galerie
Assistance: Sarah Marcinkowski, Berlinische Galerie



The projects

Lehm Ton Erde Baukunst – Martin Rauch
OLA Office for Living Architecture