Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Glass and steel may be essential ultra-modern elements for building cities of the future, whose skylines are constantly invaded by towering skyscrapers.
Instead, some architects are looking forward to the oldest dwellings known to mankind, that is, the humble caves.
With well-insulated and energy-efficient interiors, building materials partially provided by the existing structure, and a sense of harmony with the natural world, the caves offer an alternative way of ecological living, either as a secluded paradise for introverts, or as a hillside community.
Perhaps the most famous of these is the Cappadocia Caves in Turkey, which has rooms for rent and a luxury thermal hotel.
In 2005, teacher Jiang Lu conducted a study, supported by EarthWatch, of traditional cave dwellings in the mountainous Shaanxi Province of China, which shelter millions of residents to this day.
It was found to be consistent with contemporary sustainable design principles.
But caves, while being the oldest habitations of humans, are often seen as a radical option.
In 1958, when Life magazine visited the cozy Mexico City home of painter and architect Juan O’Gorman, a lava cave decorated with animal prints and built-in ceramic shelves, the writer described it as “the most bizarre.”
Today, O’Gorman’s house, along with modern cave designs explored by three other Mexican architectural artists, is on display in an exhibition entitled “On the Exaltation of Caves,” at the Isamu Noguchi Foundation, in New York City’s borough of Queens.
While the exhibition is not an invitation to find the nearest cave to live in, it does introduce the concept of the cave as a source of inspiration for architects, particularly in how we think about the shape of our homes.
“I think the immediate thing about[the exhibition]… is that these Mexican artists are not talking about looking back as a kind of nostalgia for (the caves), but looking forward,” said Dakin Hart, the museum’s chief curator.
Javier Sinocyan, the gallery’s sole living architect, is the most famous of the group, with his vibrant and eye-catching projects, such as the animal den-like Casa Organica where he and his family once resided, west of Mexico City.
For the exhibition “On the Exaltation of the Caves,” Senosian created intricate models of his own designs as well as O’Gorman’s underground house, which has since been partially demolished by a new owner, and the preemptive concepts of Carlos Lazo, who died young in a plane crash before his vision was born. in full.
Each architect associated with Mexico’s contributions to organic architecture, believing that rekindling our relationship with the natural world was key to living well.
Hart explained that the architects at the fair were also developing their ideas in the shadow of the Cold War, when the development of the atomic bomb caused many to consider underground bunkers.
Although the architects have different visions, the exhibition indicates that they agree that modern architecture does not do enough in terms of design.
“Boxes didn’t make us happy,” Hart said of Senocian’s beliefs. “It’s not a way to blend in well with our environment.”
So, for Senossian, his point is that we should go back to normal models as much as possible.
One of the most ambitious projects was the “Civilized Caves” project, which Lazo did not live to achieve.
The project consists of excavating 110 homes on a hillside in northwest Mexico City, with his two project partners, Augusto Palacios and Jorge Bravo.
While the stage of carving the spaces was completed, the model of the houses was completed, but the project died with the death of Lazo, who was the city planner and public servant.
While floating cities and treehouses have become popular design solutions, adopting cave homes as a model can also help us plan for a future in which a climate crisis looms.
The caves have already become the inspiration for some 3D-printed homes, such as TECLA’s model, which is made from local clay and whose rounded shape allows for easier printing and greater energy efficiency.
“We’ve been very immersed in these kinds of unified styles, and when you look at the New York City skyline, you’d think these tall towers are normal, with each apartment valued at $50 million per floor that no one lives in,” Hart said.
He added, “(Caves) are an alternative way to think about building in a different way that is compatible with our environment.”