Maintaining the Connection

by Matthew Noffke, Nof Architects

From a young age I enjoyed being outside. The soil, water, trees, wind and waves made me feel something that I could not entirely explain.  I felt as though I was connected to something, something much larger than myself, something that made me feel, joy.

A number of years ago I purchased a nature refuge near Lake Cootharaba from a wonderful lady who, to my surprise, appreciated our endemic environment just as much as I did. The property is entirely vegetated, with multiple vegetation types that change in relatively short distances. This variation is a product of the low, seasonally inundated wet eucalyptus forest that runs through the centre of the property, creating gentle slopes that are orientated towards the North, East and South.

One of the main attributes that originally drew me to the property is the absence of introduced weed species.  Apart from the obvious signs of selective logging, the environmental systems are largely intact, with all the flora and fauna species symbiotically flourishing together.  The lack of mowing or weed work has therefore allowed me to indulge in some of the more intellectual questions that our landscape quietly asks, what do we take from our rich and beautiful environment?

Upon the purchase of the nature refuge, the response from the majority of my friends and family became surprisingly predictable.  What would you do with a nature refuge?  After further discussion the real question became quite obvious, what can you take?  You cannot take trees for timber, and you cannot use the ground to run cattle, you cannot even create lawn to play your favourite sport on.  The question always left me a little perplexed, as I always thought, do I need to take something.  After many more hours walking, climbing, sitting and discovering, I have come to realize that I do not take, I in fact receive something from the endemic environment.  It is something that I felt as a child and is something that can only be given, not taken.  The feeling I receive when I see the Boronia keysii in flower, when I put my ear up to a native beehive, when I run my hands through the moss growing over the surface of a fallen tree.  It is so subtle that it can often go unnoticed.  It is a transfer of energy, a feeling, it is the energetic connection that I value.

Being an Architect, the questions then beg, how do you retain that connection to the landscape?  How do you truly maintain a strong and honest connection with the environmental surrounds, with something so pure, when the majority of dwellings and workplaces are intentionally created to function as a physical barrier to the surrounding elements?

I do not wish to provide a definitive answer in this article, as I am sure the answer differs for each and everyone one of us.  I would however like to propose that we consciously try to maintain our connection with our endemic landscape, something that our built environment has been overly successful in shutting out, something that our practice would like to help change.

Maybe one way to start is simply a change in point of view.  Maybe if we can learn to love our endemic natural environment for what it is, allowing us to receive what it has to energetically give, then I am sure the world would be a much happier, healthier and brighter place.