This Building Technique Dates Back to Da Vinci—and It’s Making Comeback

The gabion, a steel cage filled with rocks or other natural material, has been used for centuries in military fortifications, civil engineering, and landscape architecture. In fact, when Leonardo Da Vinci was working on the foundation of Castello Sforzesco in Milan, he developed his own type of gabion—which he called the corbeille Leonard—by devising large woven baskets. Today, the basic concept remains the same, but thanks to hardier industrial materials and the imaginations of architects and designers around the world, gabions are being used as innovative architectural elements everywhere from museums to hotels to private homes. Discover how the gabion comeback is shaping the look of contemporary architecture.

Early gabions, such as these at Fort Sumter in South Carolina circa 1865, were used as structural or military reinforcements. Contemporary designs have swapped the wicker exterior for sturdy steel.

Byoungsoo Cho of Seoul–based firm BCHO Architects used gabions filled with discarded concrete to line an exterior wall at the Hanil Information Center and Guesthouse in Korea. The facility, which is part of a cement company, educates visitors on the possibilities of concrete as a recycled material.

Working with architect Scott Lindenau of Studio B, Kevin Jussila devised a unique facility at his Paso Robles, California, winery Kukkula. The gabion walls use stones sourced on the property and were inspired by the landscape and the vineyard’s dry farming process.

Architecture firm Kropka Studio used local limestone to fill the gabion exterior of a home in Zawiercie, Poland. The design element helps the structure blend into the landscape and references the ruins of several nearby castles.

For the San Antonio Children’s DoSeum, architecture firm Lake|Flato created a path lined with recycled-glass-filled gabions. The cages light up at night, illuminating the blue glass and turning the landscape into a work of art.

Gabions fortify the entrance to the wine cave at Trinchero Napa Valley, giving it the look of a guarded vault. The cave is set beneath the winery buildings, so the curving gabion wall supports the hillside.

At the Capri, an event space at the Thunderbird Hotel in Marfa, Texas, Lake|Flato and landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck created a outdoor area framed by gabion walls and a minimalist water feature. The gabion walls help shelter the space and provide privacy.

For its first project outside of Europe, Swiss firm Herzog & De Meuron created a striking winery with a gabion façade for Dominus Estate in Napa Valley. The gabion walls are filled with local basalt insulate the structure from Napa’s fluctuating temperatures.

Architect David Coleman flanked a home in Winthrop, Washington, with gabion walls filled with rock from the excavation of the site. The walls create a visual bridge between the home and the landscape.

For his 9×9 House in Augsburg, Germany, architect Titus Bernhard added a gabion curtain wall to the façade. The rough exterior, made up of 365 gabions, contrasts with the bright, minimalist interior.