Springtime Spontaneity

Blooming cherry tree structure by Vision Division

Following along the idea of lessons from nature which are broader than specific design solutions comes one of the most underutilized, I think, in the human world: spontaneity!

As the May blossoms spring into life here, and a walk through a brown defrosting park one day could a couple days later be a fresh green hive of life; Surprise, spontaneity and wonder are in the air.

Of course the seeming spontaneity of nature is actually the result of a hidden and complex natural process of germination, that I, the casual gawker, only see the end product of. Similarly with architecture- months sometimes years of thought, discussion, planning and careful design go into the germination of each project. So for the designer the process and product of architecture may not feel at all spontaneous especially with the amount of constrains and compromises often placed on a fresh idea. However for the general public and roadside passersby, not only is the sudden springing up of scaffolding sometimes a surprise, but the building design itself has the ability inject some spontaneous delight into the everyday experience of the city.

Delight is sadly an often neglected trait of architectural design. Although we are all taught early on in architecture school about Vitruvius’ founding rules of ‘firmness, commodity and delight’, delight in this context generally means a pleasing built appearance, but why not take a more literal approach? Nature reminds us of the refreshing power of delight in life, it can rekindle that childlike wonder we had before the world was dulled by routine and expectation. The built environment is capable of inspiring wonder as well, not only by large formal and structural gestures like those of Ghery, but also by small unexpected details that challenge expectations in a playful way.

Ghery’s Guggenheim Bilbao and City of Wine building create delight by contrasting the existing city vernacular and challenging expectations of what a building should look like.

Storefront for Art and Architecture NYC transformation of the building edge creates temporary public spaces, and unexpected permeability for a spontaneous city experience.

Renzo Piano (top left) among many who use colourful building facades to insert a ‘joyful vibrancy’ into the cityscape.

Creating a sense of wonder and cheer by vivid color lighting where it is needed most, Children’s Hospital Phoenix USA.

Expo pavilions blur the line between wonderous imagination and useful buildings, i wish more of these delight filled buildings would spring up in our cities for a more permanent purposes. Image by Matthew Niederhauser.

Kelli Anderson gives a great TED talk about ‘disruptive wonder’ proposing that by rejecting the normal order of everyday objects and experiences that frame our realities, we can expand what we expect from reality. She urges us to creatively mess with the complaisance of the little things that reinforce the assumptions we make about the world.


Of course the best kind of spontaneously  wonderful insertions into the built environment are the living green ones. There are so many creative people out there finding innovative, beautiful and witty ways of introducing greenery into our lives, using the element of spontaneity to wake us up to the delight of the natural world and expand what we expect from the reality of our cities.

Moss graffiti-artists include Anna Garforth and Edina Tokodi.

Pothole gardener Pete Dungey and Guerilla Gardeners transform the concrete jungle.

Architectural green walls are always a delight to stumble on, whether engineered or natural.