Being Green – ‘Biophilic Design’

Hi Folks:

Friday once again, and time for this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post.  The title for this week’s post came from a webinar I watched this week called, “What is Biophilia, and What Does It Have To Do with Sustainability and Illusions of Nature in Architecture?“  It was the title of that webinar that attracted me to it, because ‘biophilia’ translates as ‘love of life’.  It’s a term first coined by biologist E. O. Wilson and described in his book of the same name.  Basically, biophilia means that we have an innate and unbreakable connection to this little blue marble we call earth.  Nalini Nadkarni’s TED talk “Life science in prison” speaks well to this.

It also got me thinking about what ‘biophilic design’ or more specifically ‘restorative design’ would look like.  My first thought went to the forest industry, one that for the past few decades has been increasing the rate of replanting forest cutovers.  People like George Marek were talking about this back in the 60s and before, but simply planting one tree for every tree removed wasn’t going to be good enough.  For one thing, not every tree planted survives to maturity.  For another, we have decades if not centuries of forest removal where there was no replanting at all.  Some countries have taken this even further.  Realizing that it’s impossible for us to recreate the intricate complexities of an ecosystem, teams of people have been engaged in what’s known as ‘companion planting’.  In addition to replacing the trees removed during logging, they’re also planting shrubs and other plants important for wildlife – giving Mother Nature a helping hand.  Another TED talk by Willie Smits on his work in Indonesia shows how well this idea can work to benefit the forest, the wildlife and the local people at the same time.  A couple of other examples come from the Global Coral Reef Alliance, who are using electrically-stimulated metal cages to accelerate coral reef growth, and a group called Nature Iraq, who are working to restore the once-giant Mesopotamian Marshlands that were destroyed during the reign of Saddam Hussein.  What was once a fully-functioning wetland ecosystem became a sparse desert as the water was dammed and diverted.  However, within months of returning some of the water to the marshlands the reeds began to grow again and the fish and birds began to return.  Nature is highly resilient and will happily build on whatever support we can provide.

These ideas and more got me thinking about restorative design for buildings, wondering if it’s even possible.  Most green building today is focused around reducing a buildings environmental ‘footprint’.  Net-zero-energy-buildings are those that generate all of the power they require, and the best we’ve been able to do so far are ‘Living Buildings‘, those that have net-zero energy, water and waste, and who combine a complex integration of factors into several design ‘petals’.  That’s a remarkable achievement in itself, and certainly nothing to disregard.  We also have ‘Cradle to Cradle‘ certification, whereby a product is taken at end of life and made into another or similar product rather than being sent to landfill.  But can we do more than that?  Rather than reducing our individual and collective ‘footprint,’ is it possible to create buildings, neighbourhoods and even cities that produce more energy than they require, that clean and purify more water than they use, that improve the land on which they sit?  I don’t know what that would look like, but I am certain that I’m not the only one to consider it.  Even if our first efforts aren’t quite perfect, we can improve and try again.  As Matt Mullenweg wrote recently, “1.0 Is the Loneliest Number”.  But it’s a great place to start.

Okay, the links for this week include:

That’s it for now.  Have a great week!

P.S. How cool is this? (pun intended) The Science Behind Why We Love Ice Cream

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