Art & Design

LAVA Founder Chris Bosse Is Changing the Nature of Architecture

Art & Design

LAVA Founder Chris Bosse Is Changing the Nature of Architecture

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Chris Bosse is smarter than you. Each of his sentences is assembled meticulously; each phrase Spartan and economic; each word parsed, filtered, and carefully applied. The 41-year-old architect speaks like he builds, and builds like he speaks—no extemporaneous flourishes, no hyperbole. Right now, sitting in his stark-white Sydney office, he has his sights set squarely on the future. “People,” he insists, “are ready for a change.”

As the Asia-Pacific director of the Australian-German firm LAVA (an acronym for the Laboratory for Visionary Architecture), Bosse and his colleagues are responsible for some of the world’s most astounding and accomplished feats of modern engineering: the Harbin Ice Hotel, a series of livable, crystallized monoliths; the Shenzhen Jungle Plaza, a five-star hotel and retail space in one of the fasting-growing cities on the planet; and the JeJu Hills Hotel Resort, mountainous, terraformed living spaces jutting out from a world heritage island in Korea. Their designs inspire in people a primal excitement and stand as a promise of the future. Bosse, dressed down in a black sweater and sporting rough stubble, handles that promise well. He’s been living with it his entire life

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1971, Bosse’s future felt almost predetermined. His father was an architect and professor, and his home played host to a revolving faculty of academics. His kindergarten years were spent next to the University of Stuttgart, and he fondly recalls his playground, the Institute for Lightweight Structures. “Normal families went to Disney World,” he says. “We would go see new buildings. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it obviously shaped me.” Twenty-five years later, he returned to the University of Stuttgart, where, under the tutelage of legendary architect Frei Otto, he started to manifest his architectural destiny.

Otto taught a young Bosse the philosophy of “form finding”—throwing aside rigid architectural conventions to “find shapes, not create them.” That search involves close inspection of the minutiae of everyday life, an observance of what Bosse calls “the natural structures in animals, plants, soap bubbles, and spider webs, and translating them into an engineering thesis: bridges, lightweight towers, and more.” This bio-inspired philosophy is ingrained in all of Bosse’s work, a kind of implicit trust that nature has done it  first, and done it best. “We believe that nature and manmade technology can be merged into one new language,” he says. It’s a language that has, until now, been largely ignored. “The 90-degree angle has been the preferred angle of architects and engineers, but you won’t find it in nature at all. It’s just not efficient,” Bosse says. LAVA’s dramatic design principle is disarmingly simple: “If design follows the structure of a tree, it will eventually become the tree itself.”

But what does that mean for the buildings of tomorrow? Imagine trying to erect a city in the middle of the desert. Parameters dictate that it must withstand the blistering heat of the day, house 50,000 people, and remain completely carbon-neutral, waste-free, and car-free. Four years ago, Bosse was issued that very challenge. Masdar City, 30 minutes from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, will be the result: the world’s first expansive, hyper-sustainable “eco-city.” Inhabitants will be able to traverse Masdar via a free, magnet-propelled railway system. The downtown plaza—the heartbeat of any city—will be even more astonishing. Bosse and his team designed a “system of ‘sunflower’ umbrellas that adapt to the environment and open and close, collecting solar energy during the day and releasing the cool air into the sky at night,” while heat-sensitive technology lights up sidewalks at night in response to pedestrian traffic. It’s poised to be one of the first adaptive and responsive living environments, which Bosse describes humbly and simply as “important.”

Yet the promise—and reality—of the next generation of nature-inspired environments isn’t reserved for wealthy principalities. “There are two mega-trends now that are quite obvious,” Bosse says matter-of-factly. “One is technology, and it changes daily. The other is nature. What we’re trying to do is bring these two together to create a hybrid.” For Bosse, it’s about time. In high-rise cities like New York and Chicago, people live in homes that are “artificially lit and artificially ventilated—they’ve essentially shut out nature and replaced it with machines,” he says. “The city of the future is a place where all the elements compete, but don’t fight with each other. When you think about the lengths people go to buy the latest organically grown food, why would anyone actually choose to live in an airconditioned box?”