Biophilic Design & Rewilding- the secret sauce of sustainability?

Biophilia is emerging as the secret sauce of sustainability. It is not just about being able to see trees and fields from our windows, or having green plants within rooms, but something deeper and more profound.

The Cuerdon Valley Park Visitor Centre in Lancashire, the first UK project to be registered for and working towards Living Building Challenge certification, recently staged a project team biophilic design workshop (1), led by Joe Clancy using the Terrapin Bright Green guide ’14 Patterns of Biophilic Design’ (Joe, as an intern with Terrapin Bright Green was part of the guide team and co-author)

The workshop reviewed the design, construction and operation of the building from a new perspective, through each of the 14 patterns, covering aspects from light through to the layout of chairs and food to be served in the cafe.

 

Biophilia translates as love of nature and in design terms the consideration of how our innate relationship with nature can be addressed within buildings. We have evolved as part of nature, and as such the human mind and body function with greater efficiency and performance when natural elements are present. Biophilic design is ensuring that these elements and patterns are present.

Biophilic elements enhance wellbeing, foster the feel good factor, reduce building related illness and even improve health. For example light as in daylight, circadian lighting, differing light spectrums is being considered as a form of medicine, not only to reduce illness, but to improve and maintain health.

ReWilding
There is much talk of rewilding at present, and as rewilding nature and environments is not just about reintroducing wolf, lynx or other top of the chain predators but more about restoring or regenerating the natural environment ‘creating conditions that allow the emergence of natural responsiveness and development’(2)

We should learn from and apply rewilding thinking to our built environment,and in doing so rewild people, those who inhabit buildings, creating the conditions, through for eg biomimicry and biophilic applications, that allow (new and existing) buildings to breathe and to respond to natural and bioclimatic cycles. We are losing or removing our natural barometers from buildings, increasingly replacing them with SMART technologies, to satisfy a blinked focus on energy performance. In turn, this has weakened our intrinsic relationship with nature.(3)

It is recognised that a lack of connection with nature reduces our tolerance to respect the environment. However, enabling biophilic conditions that ‘rewild’ our built environment will improve user behaviour and increase respect for the sustainable function of buildings.

Biophilia could, therefore be a root cause solution to addressing our buildings sustainability performance, closing performance gaps, providing salutogenetic improvement on the health & well-being of those using the building, and providing business benefits relating to people costs and productivity

And, biophilic workshops are not just for green building design, but should be part of the start-up activities for any project, considering in addition to the building in use, the biophilic aspects of the construction process. Biophilic thinking applied to construction environment can address the stress, mental health and safety, productivity, enthusiasm and wellbeing of those working on our construction projects. Therefore, biophilic thinking could be a key to improving construction quality, environmental and safety compliance, productivity and hence costs.

On two, very recent, project sustainability review/audits, it has been encouraging to hear of construction organisations increasing awareness of biophilia through training related to health, sustainability and design.

(1) Report available soon.

(2) George Monbiot in Feral

(2) extract from FutuREstorative

Lynx Kitten Image:   www.conservationjobs.co.uk

Rewilding Building Image: Cuerdon Valley Park Visitor Centre

Rewilding People image – see – Last Child in the Woods Richard Louv

Images from Sense of Urgency presentation available on Slideshare.

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Every Breath We Take

The 2016 Every Breath We Take report from the Royal College of Physicians is a sobering update on human and cost consequences of poor air quality. And not only outdoor air quality, notoriously poor within many of our cities, but also consequences arising from indoor air quality, significantly triggered through the design, construction and operation of the buildings we live, work and play in.

RCPCH-1“Each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with more linked also to exposure to indoor pollutants”

The report estimates that the cost to society, business and health services in the UK adds up to more than £20 billion every year.

This is a prime example of how, in the built environment we externalise the real cost of low cost construction.

The report focuses on pollutants from buildings that occur during operation, but also touches on pollutants during construction. The high volume of construction transport, predominantly diesel in addition to the pollutants known to be asthmatics, organic & mineral dust, or carcinogenic (asbestos fibres in older buildings, formaldehyde and VOCs in newer builds)

The built environment is responsible for an increasingly complex cocktail of air quality issues:

“Looking to the future, newer ‘green’ workplaces will be constructed, and newer technologies will be developed for use within them. The latter include significant developments in, for example, the use of advanced materials and three-dimensional printing. The construction, occupancy and exposure profiles of newer workplaces will lead to the potential for novel inhaled hazards and risks, and vigilance will be required in order to identify the occupational lung problems attributed to the workplaces of tomorrow”

Every Breath We Take makes a number of recommendations:

Lead by example in the NHS. Is it acceptable to design, build and maintain health facilities that themselves are not net health positive.

Quantify the relationship between indoor air pollution and health. Pressures for ever more energy efficient buildings with lower carbon footprints raise the potential of reducing air quality in homes, offices and schools. An holistic and collaborative effort is required across built environment organisations, research and health organisations to develop policies and standards.

Lessons:

Following the findings of the Every Breath We Take report, there really should be no air quality performance gap, even a small gap will result in human health issues and externalised health costs.

Adopting the increasingly popular Living Building Challenge and Well Build Standard, air quality must become a key element of performance gap analysis. Design stage set the required air quality threshold that is validated post construction, with a fully occupied facility over a 12 month proofing period, and the on a regular on going basis. Established standards such as BREEAM and LEED must make award of certification dependent on proven air quality.

This is a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) issue of high magnitude for those who commission buildings, those who design and construction and those who manage buildings, anything less can not be acceptable to a responsible built environment sector.

Based on extract from FutuREstorative