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    Default Fascinating Living, Growing Architecture!!!

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    Still-living plants can themselves be shaped into bridges, tables, ladders, chairs, sculptures - even buildings. Known variously as botanical architecture, tree sculpture, tree-shaping, tree-grafting, pooktre, arborsculpture, and arbortecture, the craft is, essentially, construction with living plants.

    Includes pictures from the root bridges of India to living islands!

    1. Root Bridges of India

    In the depths of northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren't built -- they're grown.

    Grown from the roots of a rubber tree, the Khasis people of Cherapunjee use betel-tree trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, to create "root-guidance systems." When they reach the other side of the river, they're allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time a sturdy, living bridge is produced.

    The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they're extraordinarily strong. Some can support the weight of 50 or more people at once.

    One of the most unique root structures of Cherrapunjee is known as the "Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge." It consists of two bridges stacked one over the other!

    Because the bridges are alive and still growing, they actually gain strength over time, and some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunjee may be well over 500 years old.

    But these are not the only bridges built from growing plants. Japan too, has its own form of living bridges.

    2. The Vine Bridges of Iya Valley

    One of Japan's three "hidden" valleys, West Iya is home to the kind of misty gorges, clear rivers, and thatched roofs one imagines in the Japan of centuries ago. To get across the Iya River that runs through the rough valley terrain, bandits, warriors and refugees created a very special - if slightly unsteady - bridge made of vines.

    This is a picture from the 1880s of one of the original vine bridges.

    First, two Wisteria vines -- one of the strongest vines known -- were grown to extraordinary lengths from either side of the river. Once the vines had reached a sufficient length they were woven together with planking to create a pliable, durable and, most importantly, living piece of botanical engineering.

    The bridges had no sides, and a Japanese historical source relates that the original vine bridges were so unstable, those attempting to cross them for the first time would often freeze in place, unable to go any farther.

    Three of those vine bridges remain in Iya Valley. While some (though apparently not all) of the bridges have been reinforced with wire and side rails, they are still harrowing to cross. More than 140 feet long, with planks set six to eight inches apart and a drop of four-and-a-half stories down to the water, they are not for acrophobes.

    Some people believe the existing vine bridges were first grown in the 12th century, which would make them some of the oldest known examples of living architecture in the world. But there is one ancient group of peoples who took the concept to an entirely new level.

    3. The Living Islands of the Uros People

    The Uros peoples' lives revolve around reeds. They make reed houses, reed boats, reed flower tea, and use reeds as medicine.

    But most amazingly, the Uros build entire islands out of those very same reeds. It is the fact that these islands are alive that makes them work. The dense root structures of the living reed masses keeps the whole island together and floating on the lake.

    As reeds disintegrate from the bottom of the islands, which are four to eight feet thick, residents must add more to the surface. The entire island moves slightly with the water, similar to the feeling of laying on a waterbed. The Uros, however, have gotten quite used to it, as have the cats, fowl and other animals that live on these floating islands.

    The Uros have been living on these floating islands since the 1500s when they were forced to take up residence on Lake Titicaca after the Incas expanded into their territory. While many of the islands are moored to the lakebed, they can be moved if necessary. One of the main advantages to living on a floating island is that when the enemy comes too close, you can just float the other way.

    Even tiny outhouse islands have been created, in which the living roots help absorb the waste.

    Today, in the shadow of the Andes, on the world’s highest navigable lake, hundreds of Uros (or descendants of the Uros, depending on how you define them) live on these floating islands and make their living from fishing and selling their reed handicrafts to tourists.

    4. "Espalier" Art Form

    Another more common form of tree shaping is known as espalier - the process of creating three-dimensional forms out of trees. A popular practice in Medieval times, the craft likely dates back to ancient Egypt. Espalier can be used to make ornamental trees, increase the yield of a fruit tree, or build a sturdy fence or wall from growing trees.

    On Pacific Street in Pacific Heights, San Francisco:

    One of the more famous examples of espalier can be seen at the Cloisters in Manhattan, New York:

    A Living Menorah in Illinois, Allerton Park - image via)

    Of course, not all living architecture is about building or shaping things out of trees. Sometimes it makes sense to build things inside of them...
    ...being a human...



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