Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Exploring Synergies: Biomimicry's Genius of Place and the Living Building Challenge

I recently started a conversation with biomimicry friends and colleagues about the synergies between The Global Biomimicry Network's Genius of Place initiatives (affectionately referred to as "GoP") and the Living Building Challenge ("LBC"), specifically Imperative #9: Biophilic Environment. For those of us interested in emulating nature's forms, processes, and systems in the built environment, it is an interesting area to explore! I've synthesized initial our thoughts in this blog entry, but we need to continually adapt and grow our thinking on this subject. We would love to hear your thoughts as well - please join the conversation and let us know what you think!

Here is how the LBC 3.0 Imperative #9 is written:
Living Building Challenge 3.0: Imperative #9 Biophilic Environment
Of the imperative's above, I would like to particularly highlight the following:
"(Show) how the project will be uniquely connected to the place, climate and culture through Place-based Relationships."
"The plan should include historical, cultural, ecological, and climatic studies that thoroughly examine the site and context for the project."
So what does this mean for practitioners who are interested in meeting Living Building Challenge standards while fostering an intrinsic connection to place through biomimicry? And how do we communicate the value of a regional and site-specific Genius of Place initiative without confusing people with all the "Bio" terms? (See Terrapin Bright Green's amazing post on this subject to learn more about the distinction.)


Some of our collective thoughts initially include:
  • Biomimicry and biophilia aren't the same. A good biomimicry-inspired GoP would start to assess more functional criteria, whereas the LBC "ecological study" imperative is more about data collection. If a GoP had been created for a region, we believe it could be used as the ecological study and simplify work for a project team. The important point is to make things easier for the design team and not add layers of confusion. (Kathy Zarsky & Chris Garvin)
  • The scales are different. While the LBC imperative, as written, seems a good fit for adding GoP information at the building scale, the scale jump between building and community, where a GoP typically resides, is a steep one. We need to approach a GoP from both scales: what information is relevant and can be scaled to buildings so that it is usable by LBC project teams and what information should be included in the larger-scale Living Communities Challenge? (Kathy Zarsky & Amy Coffman Phillips)
  • We need a good definition of what a Genius of Place is and is not. Elements include: The story of the place (what are the unique ecological, social, economic, political aspects), the historical or reference ecology (at site, ecosystem, eco-region, and biome levels), and lastly the specific functions of organisms found in that location that are responding to the variety of contexts the environment presents. However - regardless of what we all mean I think the value of both biophilia and a 'genius of place' is that it provides first the design team with a tangible tool to disrupt their traditional thinking, and integrate nature. And second it produces a result that people find more compelling or intuitively sustainable. Where I think they begin to differ most is that a genius of place ideally begins to connect the design intention to the broader world in specific ways - whereas biophilic design intentions connect the design in more abstract human centered-contexts. (Tim McGee, word for word)


As a collective, we need to now begin exploring the following: 
  • Develop a consistent structure for local Genius of Place studies to include historical and cultural frameworks in addition to ecological and climatic data, as well as a mechanism for individual LBC projects to feed back information to the GoP. Make these case studies accessible and open to the public as a part of GoP initiatives.
  • Write a "Pattern of Place" white paper, modeled after the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design by Terrapin Bright Green. Their biophilic pattern #7: Connections to Nature is particularly relevant.
  • Create a framework for local networks and their affiliates to offer local and regional workshops on biomimicry and biophilia, as required by this imperative. 
  • Work with the Living Future Institute to continually develop the Living Communities Challenge (LCC) standard to include Genius of Place information.

In summary...

My purpose in starting this conversation was to help us think about the Genius of Place framework and be sure that we are adding the necessary components so that designers and owners interested in Living Building Challenge would also understand its value and begin to apply it to their LBC projects. What emerged from this discussion is that we need 1) greater clarification about what a GoP is (and is not), 2) we need to provide tools and workshops to help practitioners understand the process and how it can be brought to work for them, and 3) we need to continually work with the Living Future Institute to incorporate biomimicry and Genius of Place into their standards at a variety of scales. This is just the beginning...

Explore possibilities for yourself!

I began this conversation because I truly believe biomimicry has a natural place in the built environment and I continue to enjoy exploring possibilities. Speaking of possibilities, join me at Prairie Lab's Chicago Biomimicry Immersion, starting April 25th! Enter promo code "PraLab10" for 10% off the cost of registration!


Amy Coffman Phillips @amycoffman
Tim McGee @PlumeriaTiki
Joe Zazzera @joezazzera
Chris Garvin @cwgarvin
Kathy Zarsky @kathyzarsky
Jane Toner @Jane8Toner
Jack Mevorah @jackmonn


Chicago's Prairie Project: A Genius of Place Initiative
Terrapin Bright Green: 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design
EBN article on new documentation synergies between LBC and LEED!

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