Issue 96Places for a Naturally Sociable Planet

Partner Sara Grohmann reflects on the importance of nature in how we relate to one another, and our planet

The term Social, in its most basic meaning, indicates the relationship between one human being and another. The ability of people to engage with each other, either formally or informally.

It applies a very human perspective to the world.

As Architects and Urban designers, a lot of what we do, even at its very best, has for centuries been mostly centred on the human body. The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci or The Modulor by Le Corbusier, by definition, are ways of measuring and perceiving the world through the human lens.

In whichever way we think about Nature: as the sublime, as a source of materials, or even, at times, the apparent absence of nature in our living environments, we have come to accept a very separate relationship with the natural world.

As we are all aware, the society that we have conceived is now on the brink of collapse, for social, economic, political or environmental reasons. Never as this summer, has this been more apparent. Forests burning, trees dying, lack of resources, extreme poverty, huge conflicts on our doorstep. It is therefore time to question our perspective of the world and look at it from another angle, so to conceive new models for us to “Socialise with the Planet”.

As we have often argued, no issue alone can resolve this, whether energy, carbon, transport, the biodiversity of the natural world or even better social integration. But a collective look at this increasingly complex set of issues will help us to get to an answer.

Through all lenses, Diversity seems to be the key word. For a start, we live on a very diverse planet. It has been proven that a more biodiverse environment has a greater benefit on our mental health. A diverse diet is good for our bodies. A diverse natural environment supports a great diversity of species and living organisms. A diverse society is one that is more integrated and accepting of itself, and in return more Sociable.

Current statistics in the UK are not brilliant and there is much space for improvement under all aspects. But there are some places that have started to really look at this and challenge some of the rules and assumptions of our current cities and landscapes. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Seattle, New York, London and Paris are just few examples of where a shifting mindset has allowed the creation of new types of spaces and places.

Spaces that perhaps are more tolerant, less precise or “tidy”, but deliver, at many levels, a much more integrated environment, that in return can support a much more integrated society.

As a practice we have aspired to this for a long time and our projects over more than 40 years are a testament to this. Our exemplary Accordia scheme, in Cambridge, is often referred to as the beginning of a shift in thinking about habitation in the UK. Others have followed.

As James Lovelock beautifully summarises it with this quote:

The Earth is more than just a home, it is a living system and we are part of it.”

And so, at whatever scale we are going to work, whether the micro of the individual buildings or the macro of the large neighbourhood and cities, it is perhaps to this sense of unity and ability to coexist in harmony with the ecosystems that surround us that we should aspire in our work and our living, with the goal of achieving a more Naturally Sociable Society.

Sara Grohmann

Sara is a Partner at FCBStudios, and leads our urban design sector. She is passionate about issues associated with modern living in dense urban settlements, her work in recent years has mainly focused on developing complex projects for existing and new communities in and around London.


1. Accordia, by FCBStudios uses networks of private and communal gardens to bring people together as a community
2. Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Da Vinci and Les Modular by Le Corbusier use the human form as a lens to the world
3. Amsterdam Canal frontages have evolved to be social spaces, 4. Residents take ownership of their road by adding plants
4. Superbloom at the Tower of London as an installation by Grant Associates brought diversity into the city on an unprecedented scale


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