Geodesign #2: We have identified eight key defining moments as an introduction to this emerging design movement—from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to vertical farming.

Our backyards, balconies, indoor plants and flowers arrangements on the table are pieces of heaven and our little paradise on earth. This is exactly what they are supposed to be. According to Persian literature, the word paradise (originally derived from: paridaiza) describes the ancient Persian Gardens.  An extraordinary imitation of the Abrahamic Garden of Eden, in the midst of harsh and arid environments. The gardeners created picturesque scenes marked by evergreen trees, harmonious water flows and heavenly use of sunlight. Thereby, the 'good gardeners' were designing geoscapes as an earthly paradise. One of the most fascinating large-scale landscape designs were the Hanging Garden of Babylon. 

Ancient wonders of geodesign

As one of the seven ancient wonders in Hellenic Culture, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were among the most fascinating gardens in history. According to legend, they were built approximately 600 BC near a grand palace and destroyed around 1200 years later. The gardens were often described to resemble a green mountain as the variety of trees, flora and fauna ran over a series of ascending terraces. The stone terraces were constructed with carefully selected materials and connected through a remarkably engineered irrigation system for its time. Even though they are still speculated to be merely a myth, the gardens served as a great inspiration for artists, writers, engineers, scientists, architects and gardeners alike.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon represent one of many Persian gardens which were defined by strict design principles

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon represent one of many Persian gardens which were defined by strict design principles. Serving as an illustration of the fusing mortal and material world in the eternal universe, they were designed with sacred geometry forming a harmonious combination of the four elements - Earth, Wind, Water and Fire. The resulting symmetric rectangular plan separated the landscape into squares which became of the distinct features of Persian gardens. The individual squares were separated by paths with adjacent trees which rejoined the pavilion in the centre of the garden. Water represented the most important component of the Persian gardens in the arid lands marked by drought and harsh climate. The water for the water channels often came from far distances. Hence, the irrigation system determined the design of the gardens to ensure a minimum loss of water. Besides the very distinct water features, ever-green and flourishing trees played an important role in Persian garden design. The gardens were enclosed by green walls and green paths providing shade in the burning middle eastern sun. Through the integration of water channels defining the north south axis with fresh and green trees, the gardens created a microclimate and thereby fulfilled important functional and aesthetic purposes. 

With their aesthetic and functional value, the Persian gardens represent an ancient design solution to build more resilient landscapes in response to the harsh and morbid surroundings in the Middle East.  

As the Persian garden culture started to spread throughout the Egypt Mediterranean, North Africa  and India in the 13th century, the gardening practices continued to develop. In the Roman civilization, the administrators actively exchanged information on agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, hydraulics and budging. Many of these elements built the foundation for contemporary systems and continue to inspire techniques for tackling and mitigating climate change today. With their aesthetic and functional value, the Persian gardens represent an ancient design solution to build more resilient landscapes in response to the harsh and morbid surroundings in the Middle East.  

Drawing design inspiration from ancient gardens to respond to climate change

Urban planners around the world have knowingly or unknowingly drawn inspiration from Persian gardens to introduce greenery in urban areas. In particular, recent techniques including vertical walls, vertical farms and green roofs are becoming a prominent feature of cities. 

Similar to the design of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, today's green walls are usually marked by a wide variety of exotic plants with large biodiversity. Green walls, roofs and gardens hold similar important functions to help in stormwater retention, purify air, mitigate the urban heat island effect and regulate temperature in buildings, decrease noise and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They can be found throughout the entire city on buildings, indoors and outdoors, tunnels, slopes, or walls.  This form of urban gardening is often designed as an art form to decorate cities and has been praised as one way to make more enjoyable, healthier and greener cities. 

Also, urban farming initiatives are booming. Singapore is building extensive urban farms and the Netherlands are increasingly exploring the opportunities for extensive vertical farming opportunities, especially in the metropolitan area of Amsterdam. Urban agriculture not only increases the area of green and blue spaces in the urban environment but helps to infiltrate, buffer and retain rainfall and surface runoff while providing food. As we are trying to create resilient and smart cities these methods are continuously being explored and integrated into urban areas.

One such integrated system was designed by Vincent Callebaut who tried to reshape the city environment in Anger, France. His design of arboricole integrates functional space, such as office space, restaurant, apartments and fused intricate series of garden balconies into a circular system. The over 9,400 sqm covering construction fills the sky with vegetation and greenery in the warm months creating the illusion of hanging gardens. 

What has once been a symbol of divine creations - The Hanging Gardens of Babylon - has inspired anything from large scale constructions that represent circular systems for the future living, working and producing to vertical walls. Potentially we can draw inspiration in our own home, freshen up our gardens, balconies and windows with a variety of plants and turn our apartment complexes into the next Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

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