The tiny, precious, pale blue dot we call home.

Nothing like some global perspective and a bunch of good quotes to start the new year off with:

“In outer space you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

– Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut

edgar-mitchell

image from zenpencils.com

 

Earth

Earth-moon

Earthrise- Apollo 8. image: Wikipedia

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“If the earth improves because of our presence we will flourish, if it doesn’t then we die off”. -James Lovelock

And it’s as simple and as difficult as that – keep the Earth’s ecological systems healthy and functioning and we will ensure the continuation of human civilization. The key to evolving our technologies and developments in a way that increases the health of our ecological systems is to study nature in detail; study how sustainable solutions have evolved over 3.8 billion years and apply that knowledge to everything we create. In a word – Biomimicry.

Zygote Quarterly Bio-inspiration

What better way to spend this afternoon than clicking through the pages of the newly released Zygote Quarterly 3rd Edition.

This unique e-zine is a refreshing and inspiring view into the current world of biomimicry as it develops across multiple disciplines.

With it’s beautiful graphic styling and high quality original articles, its quickly become an inspiration favourite.

The Biophilia of Biomimicry

Biomimicry gives us a strong logical reasoning for turning to nature for design solutions. The living things on this planet have gone through 3.8 billion years of research and development, refining them into the perfectly appropriate and adapted solutions we see functioning around us today. So in our quest to create a more sustainable built world, it makes perfect sense to study how nature has achieved this successfully. But for many of us there is more to the appeal of Biomimicry than logical design solutions, there is a conscious or unconscious love of nature and a desire to live in a world that is linked more closely to the natural one.

image by alex bellink

Biophilia- the “love of life or living systems” is a term that was coined by E.O Wilson in 1984 in his book “Biophilia”. Wilson is a naturalist/biologist/researcher/Harvard professor who has spent a 60 year career looking deeply into the biology, evolution and socio-biology of life on this planet and the role of human beings within it. It is thought that the close relationship humans had with nature along the course of evolution for shelter and survival, has left a kind of genetic ‘memory-mark’ within us, and we seek out nature to fulfil these instinctual longings.

“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction”. – E.O Wilson

Wilson believes strongly in the need for conservation of natural habitats to ensure the continuation of biodiversity of the planet. He suggests that not protecting our natural world is actually the unnatural behaviour.

“Perhaps the time has come to cease calling it the “environmentalist” view, as though it were a lobbying effort outside the mainstream of human activity, and to start calling it the real-world view”. -E.O Wilson

In the design world, Biophilia has been most noticeable in medical and healthcare facilities. It has been well documented that patients who have a visual link to nature and natural light in their rooms have a faster healing and recovery time than those who do not.

Healing spaces of the Jurong Hospital, Singapore, incorporate views to nature and abundant natural light.

Links to the natural environment have also been shown to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism in offices by up to 20%, as well as improve relaxation and psychological wellbeing therapeutic facilities and homes.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s classic Falling Water house and a new drool-worthy favourite of mine in Hollywood Hills by architect John Lautner epitomise the appeal of living closer to nature.

On a city scale, biophilic design is gaining presence and popularity as our suffering from a lack of nature becomes more severe. Biophiliccities.org recognises the benefits of integrating nature more deeply into our cities and promoting a biophilic love for it:

Important ties to place: there are considerable place strengthening benefits and place-commitments that derive from knowledge of local nature; from direct personal contact; enhanced knowledge and deeper connections = greater stewardship, and willingness to take personal actions on behalf of place and home;

Connections and connectedness: Caring for place and environment, essential for human wellbeing and in turn essential ingredient  for caring for eachother;

A need for wonder and awe in our lives: nature has the potential to amaze us, stimulate us, propel us forward to want to learn more and understand more fully our world; nature adds a kind of wonder value to our lives unlike almost anything else; (see the post Springtime Spontaneity)

Meaningful lives require nature: the qualities of wonder and fascination, the ability to nurture deep personal connection and involvement, visceral engagement in something larger than and outside oneself, offer the potential for meaning in life few other things can provide.

Of course Biomimicry can function successfully without a hint biophila behind the intent or execution of a design. Studying a whale’s flipper to create a more efficient turbine design does not necessarily require a love of nature, but I have a feeling it is the driving force behind much hard work that goes into these innovations.

So whether your love of nature comes from a deeply instinctual place, or happy vacation memories, an appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of nature, or fascination for the life giving functionality of it, the more this biophilia is recognised and valued as an essential part of living, the closer we can get to achieving it in our designs. Design it for the love of it.

Lessons from nature: it’s ok to be imperfect.

Recently at work while doing some run-of-the-mill materials research I came across a completely non-run-of-the-mill range of carpet tiles that utilises Biomimicry and a unique lesson from nature to achieve sustainable innovation.

Traditionally carpet tiles are required to be identical in colour, pattern, size and must be installed uniformly in the same direction. This necessity for perfection has often led to large amounts of pre-consumer product wastage. Interfaceflor teamed up with Janine Benyus and the Biomimicry Guild to observe nature, taking inspiration from the forest floor and challenging these pre-existing assumptions and methodologies.

image by ((brian))

By observing the ‘organised chaos’ of the forest floor and the imperfect pattern that the different leaves and plants made, it was found that visually pleasing patterns could be made from patterns that were similar but not identical. Applying this to carpet tile design means that batches with slight imperfections, such as differing dye tones, can be harmoniously integrated into an overall flooring design where previously they would be discarded. This effectively reduces wastage at the manufacturing stage, and by introducing a new modular system that does not require carpet tiles to be identical in size, wastage is also avoided at the installation stage.

“in the industrial world, variation has traditionally been seen as imperfection. Using Biomimicry, Oakey was able to incorporate our natural admiration of variation into an industrial process that was traditionally intolerant of it”. –Interfaceflor

InterfaceFlor ‘Entropy’ carpet tile.

Of course there is more to sustainable flooring than producers reducing their wastage (and equally their financial losses). Carpeting is one of those building materials with an especially bad reputation for high embodied energy, short lifespan, high landfill presence, and a high possibility of poisoning you at your desk by VOC off-gassing.

Interfaceflor and the Biomimicry Guild attempted to tackle this problem of toxic glue reliance by studying the way Gecko’s feet adhere to surfaces. However this was leading them down a high cost path of technology research and development so they switched focus. Instead of asking the question “how does nature make glue?” they began to ask “how does nature keep a surface in place?” The answer is simply ‘gravity’, and with this new perspective on the problem the team was able to allow gravity to do its job and keep the carpet on the floor, and focus instead on the simpler task of keeping each carpet tile attached to the others in the modular. This ‘less is more’ approach found a low tech, logical solution in place of existing wastage or a potential high-tech high-cost solution.

Interfaceflor TacTiles

There are so many things we do in building and construction which are an unnecessary overkill of outdated ideas that haven’t been challenged since they started turning a profit. One of the best benefits of Biomimicry is its ability to question assumptions and radically shift perception, as was done here in the case of carpet tiles.  In particular the first two steps of the Biomimicry Design Spiral are crucial in achieving this, opening our eyes to the simple, logical solutions nature provides us with.

Check out the Interfaceflor Case Study.

HOK’s Architectural Biomimicry.

I just came across this talk and was really excited to get some insight into the current Biomimicry workings at HOK, arguably the most progressive architectural design firm when it comes to integrating Biomimicry into architecture. Unfortunately no insights were given here, just a brief and basic introduction to the general concept of biomimicry. But the title makes me smile so I think it’s still worth sharing.

Biomimefragilisticexpialidocious!

HOK started collaborating with the Biomimicry Institute in 2008, and I remember being so excited for the future of architecture when this happened. Being the global, innovative and trend-setting firm that HOK is, their alliance with the Biomimicry Guild meant all good things for spreading the wisdom of biomimcry within the architectural industry as well as the wider community.

The flagship project that kicked off the alliance was the Lavasa Hill City Project, a massive masterplanning exercise involving the design and construction of three new villages within a hilltop ecosystem in southern India. The approach was a mixture of basic sustainability and restorative design principles, attention to traditional Indian vernacular style, and an especially close examination of the existing ‘genius loci’ of the environment. By studying the unique ecosystem and local biome, the designers attempted to extract solutions to design challenges at an architectural and urban scale.

Sketches of the biomimicry design idea’s for Lavasa by HOK. Image from hok.com

By understanding the intricacies of the site ecosystem, the designers could identify important ecosystem services that must remain undisturbed to continue the ecological functioning of the area. These were:

  • Water collection and storage
  • Solar gain and reflection
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Water filtration
  • Evapo-transpiration
  • Nitrogen and phosphorous cycling

“Design strategies include roof lines that create the wind turbulence that aids the evaporation, green roofs that prevent soil erosion, and a polymer product that stiffens soil to create the same stabilising effect as a cliff swallow mixing saliva with mud to create a mortar that adheres their nests to buildings”. hok.com

Initial conceptual renderings of the Lavasa Hill City Project and current photograph of the site. Image from hok.com

Today, four years after the initialisation of this project and eight years before it’s proposed completion, phase one is almost complete with some apparent successes and failures. Construction was halted in 2011 after a report from the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests identified negative impacts on the environment by the development, and some controversy about methods of obtaining the land was encountered.

What I’m looking forward to and hoping to see one day soon is the sharing of knowledge gained from this project about real world applications of Biomimicry into architectural and urban design; what worked, what failed, what could be done differently. Things have been a little quiet as far as new architectual Biomimicry projects starting up since this one made headlines, and the rapid spread of Biomimicry hasn’t quite occurred how I thought maybe it would (outside of architectural schools). It’s proven to be a tricky concept/method to convert from theoretical to practical, so the Lavasa Hill City is a vital case study for so many designers unsure about how to successfully introduce Biomimicry into a project. The sharing of this knowledge is something that would surely progress the entire field of sustainable architectural biomimicry.

Springtime Spontaneity

Blooming cherry tree structure by Vision Division

Following along the idea of lessons from nature which are broader than specific design solutions comes one of the most underutilized, I think, in the human world: spontaneity!

As the May blossoms spring into life here, and a walk through a brown defrosting park one day could a couple days later be a fresh green hive of life; Surprise, spontaneity and wonder are in the air.

Of course the seeming spontaneity of nature is actually the result of a hidden and complex natural process of germination, that I, the casual gawker, only see the end product of. Similarly with architecture- months sometimes years of thought, discussion, planning and careful design go into the germination of each project. So for the designer the process and product of architecture may not feel at all spontaneous especially with the amount of constrains and compromises often placed on a fresh idea. However for the general public and roadside passersby, not only is the sudden springing up of scaffolding sometimes a surprise, but the building design itself has the ability inject some spontaneous delight into the everyday experience of the city.

Delight is sadly an often neglected trait of architectural design. Although we are all taught early on in architecture school about Vitruvius’ founding rules of ‘firmness, commodity and delight’, delight in this context generally means a pleasing built appearance, but why not take a more literal approach? Nature reminds us of the refreshing power of delight in life, it can rekindle that childlike wonder we had before the world was dulled by routine and expectation. The built environment is capable of inspiring wonder as well, not only by large formal and structural gestures like those of Ghery, but also by small unexpected details that challenge expectations in a playful way.

Ghery’s Guggenheim Bilbao and City of Wine building create delight by contrasting the existing city vernacular and challenging expectations of what a building should look like.

Storefront for Art and Architecture NYC transformation of the building edge creates temporary public spaces, and unexpected permeability for a spontaneous city experience.

Renzo Piano (top left) among many who use colourful building facades to insert a ‘joyful vibrancy’ into the cityscape.

Creating a sense of wonder and cheer by vivid color lighting where it is needed most, Children’s Hospital Phoenix USA.

Expo pavilions blur the line between wonderous imagination and useful buildings, i wish more of these delight filled buildings would spring up in our cities for a more permanent purposes. Image by Matthew Niederhauser.

Kelli Anderson gives a great TED talk about ‘disruptive wonder’ proposing that by rejecting the normal order of everyday objects and experiences that frame our realities, we can expand what we expect from reality. She urges us to creatively mess with the complaisance of the little things that reinforce the assumptions we make about the world.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxPhoenix-Kelli-Anderson-Disr/player?layout=&read_more=1

Of course the best kind of spontaneously  wonderful insertions into the built environment are the living green ones. There are so many creative people out there finding innovative, beautiful and witty ways of introducing greenery into our lives, using the element of spontaneity to wake us up to the delight of the natural world and expand what we expect from the reality of our cities.

Moss graffiti-artists include Anna Garforth and Edina Tokodi.

Pothole gardener Pete Dungey and Guerilla Gardeners transform the concrete jungle.

Architectural green walls are always a delight to stumble on, whether engineered or natural.

Inspired by nature: Lessons from Fossils and Photography.

Two things really captured my imagination and inspired me last week, linked by an unexpected thread. They were a piece of news about an ancient fossil forest in New York, and the Edward Burtynsky photography exhibition I checked out.

First up, the discovery of a 385 million year old forest floor, fossilized in New York state USA. The “Gilboa forest’ was originally discovered in Schoharie County in 1850, with further discoveries of the fossilised tree stumps happening in 1920, 2005 and 2010. The trees present in the Gilboa fossils were named Eospermatopteris, or “ancient seed fern” believed to resemble modern day tree ferns, and are acknowledged to be the earth’s oldest trees.

This latest discovery by New York state museum and university researchers sheds light on the complexity of the forest, having found the root systems of a variety of fossilised plant species, giving evidence of an intricate forest floor and canopy system. The fossils create a picture of the planet as vastly different from the one we live in today. The Gilboa forest area of New York would have been a tropical wetland coastal plain environment 385 million years ago when these plants existed. Scientists are now using the information from this fossil forest in relation to information about global climate patterns of that time, to further understand the links between the trees, drops in global carbon dioxide levels and climate change leading to glaciation during that period.

“The complexity of the Gilboa site can teach us a lot about the original assembly of our modern day ecosystems…. As we continue to understand the role of forests in modern global systems, and face potential climate change and deforestation on a global scale, these clues from the past may offer valuable lessons for managing our planet’s future”- Dr. William Stein (associate professor of biological sciences at Bingham University).

Gilboa tree root mounds

If it is true that “failures are fossils” and that what is living on the planet is the key to success through trial and error, as the biomimics state, we can learn a lot about survival and adaptation from these fossils. Learning from ‘failures’ is as critical as leaning from success, and learning about adaptability is probably the biggest take home lesson here. In fact I think it is one of the most fundamental lessons that we can learn and emulate from the natural world: Nature is adaptable.

Implementing adaptability in design is crucial for survival in rapidly changing times like now. Adaptability not only in our physical structures, architecture and products, but also adaptability of systems, policies and technologies. Stagnant political and commercial sectors rigorously cling to old damaging ways of doing things,  reliance on fossil fuels,  meaning that we continue destroying the natural environment and inevitably ourselves. If our human systems were quicker to adapt and change to suit the current reality of our environmental situation, we would be in a much better position now to avoid ending up as a fossilised civilization ourselves.

Marine reptile fossil

There is an irony here, the very fossils we can learn so much about global sustainability from are what makes the crude oil we are so dependent on,  and that it’s often the mining of land which leads to these discoveries. The Gilboa site was discovered from the excavation and building of the Gilboa dam in  the 1920’s; a couple of weeks back a 300 million year old fossilized forest was found below a coal mine in China; and a few days ago an employee at an ammolite mine (only an hour drive from where I live) found a 75 million year old marine reptile fossil. It makes me very uneasy that this ancient biological database being in the hands of mining companies. The preservation or destruction of the fossils relies on one employee’s ability to notice an archaeological gem from the regular dirt and rock they are paid to excavate. What have we lost already that we didn’t even know we had?

This brings me in sideways to my second piece of inspiration for the week, the photography of Edward Burtynsky that was on exhibition here at the Glenbow Museum. Burtynsky is a Canadian photographer who focuses on altered landscapes and  industrial intrusions into nature, which remain beautiful while revealing some confronting environmental realities.

I hadn’t seen his work before this exhibition, and it had an unexpected jaw-dropping-eyes-widening affect on me. The abstract beauty of the colour and composition of his pieces, and the realisation that occurs about the scale and destruction that is being shown was transfixing.

Edward Burtynsky - Silver Lake Australia

Edward Burtynsky Iberia Quarrie

“These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire – a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times”. – Edward Burtynsky.

Edward Burtynsky gulf of mexico oil spill

Burtynsky doesn’t politicize his images, although they could obviously be used for environmental protection campaigns etc. Instead he lets you ponder the images and really absorb them in a different way, from the perspective of art and beauty first with the slow realisation for what is really going on in the picture. This angle might reach people who otherwise would shut off if confronted with the environmental protests behind it, especially here in Alberta, oil and resource extraction capital of North America (and proud of it).

In his documentary ‘Manufactured Landscapes’ Burtynsky talks a little bit about this approach, and how he doesn’t want to label things as right and wrong and try to punish the wrong doer, but rather make us all realise that most parts of our daily lives are reliant on these resources industries, we are all accountable, and we need an entirely new way of doing things. I really respect this approach and agree we are all currently dependent on these industries and a complete paradigm shift is needed. However I still believe there is a place for naming and shaming companies who spend millions of dollars on political lobbying to prevent change and block new innovation (who really killed the electric car? and why are solar technologies moving at snails pace?) just to ensure the continuation of demand for their industry, regardless of the environmental cost.

Photography can be an extremely influential tool for raising environmental awareness, it can change your perspective and understanding of a topic in a very powerful, non-verbal and emotional way.  I came across Garth Lenz’s work and Blue Earth Alliance while I was exploring Burtynsky and was also very moved by his images. Lenz captures industrial destruction from landscape and human perspective. They are beautiful visual pieces like Burtynsky’s but with loud environmental protests clearly attached. Lenz’s TED talk was an impassioned plea to be aware of, and to end, the destruction caused by the tar sands mining operations in Canada. I hope that his exhibition “The True Cost of Oil” also makes it here to Alberta, the scene of so much crime, and home to the most “collossal fossils” on the planet.

Is Biomimicry actually sustainable?

Sounds like a silly question for a technique that uses nature as it’s “Model, Measure and Mentor”, but sustainable outcomes cannot be guaranteed from even the best intentioned methods, and it can all depend on what your definition of ‘sustainable’ is.

Biomimicry had a slightly dubious reputation among my lecturers at uni. I think the main reason for this being one too many students coming up with building designs that have some vague (or literal) resemblance of a plant etc, calling it Biomimicry and expecting automatic sustainability points. Also the success of Biomimicry coming from producing more efficient marketable items seems to cause some distaste from a group dedicated to knowledge without the financial rewards of the commercial world. All this leading to a general suspicion about the sustainability legitimacy behind Biomimicry.

Greenwashing

The greenwashing of products to make them appear more sustainable or eco friendly than they actually are is a big problem today. It not only allows products to continue damaging the environment while fooling consumers into thinking they might be helping, when the truth is exposed it damages public trust and belief in green solutions.

There are some pretty obvious examples of greenwashing out there, products that slap a picture of nature on their bottle, increase the amount of the colour green they use in branding, and start including vague phrases like “environmentally sensitive” in their advertising  with no real sustainability science or product changes to back it up. It happens in architecture too, put a livingwall on a buildings street facade, call it sustainable and see how much publicity you can get. Then there are more insidious examples of greenwashing, like oil companies that make big public performances about how environmentally responsible they are, then destroy anti-pollution laws in secret.

Why pretend to be green when they are not? The power of people voting with their wallets about how they want to see a greener and cleaner world has made sustainability profitable, which some scumbag companies want to exploit. There are numerous blogs and up to date lists of greenwashing exposed out there, add even more power to your consumer choices by finding out which companies are doing the wrong thing and try to avoid them.

Green colour background- check. Out of context use of the word 'eco'- check. Pretending that making their bottles lighter is for the environment rather than to save them money- check. Greenwasharama.

Where Biomimicry could possibly step over the line into the realm of greenwashing is a little more complicated. In her book Positive Development: From Vicious Cycles to Virtuous Cycles through Built Environment Design (2008) one of my lecturers Janis Birkeland discusses the danger of using natural metaphors to make mechanical systems appear greener than they actually are, and for symbolism to substitute content. She goes on to say that in the context of market capitalism, Biomimicry applied to building technology “could perpetuate the current tendency to substitute nature with resource intensive and often unnecessary production lieu of passive solutions”.

An example of this would be instead of designing a space that allows for natural ventilation with thoughtful placement of windows and vents, but rather adding a fan based on a efficient natural design to ventilate a space. Even if it is more efficient than a normal fan, it is unnecessary if smart free passive design is possible.

Effieciency Vs Ecologically Restorative

Birkeland’s criticisms go deeper than greenwashing however, to essence of her view of sustainability (and my own educational foundation) that ‘doing less harm’ to the environment is not good enough, our designs need to make positive impacts on restoring ecologies. This sentiment is embraced by other sustainability and green design experts such as Ken Yeang and William McDonough. It is based on the realisation that eco-efficiency does not halt the depletion and destruction of the natural environment, it only slows the process. They believe the ultimate failure of the ‘less bad’ approach is a failure of the imagination, to believe that poorly designed and destructive systems are the best that humans can do.

The 1987 definition of ‘sustainable development’ is still widely accepted as the global standard for sustainability:

“development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability for  future generations to meet their own needs”.

But this vision doesn’t take into account the enormous damage already done to the natural world by human development, and the critical need for immediate restoration to prevent ecosystem collapse. Sustainability experts recognise this and are looking far beyond more efficient and less damaging designs, to a whole new level of restorative, eco nurturing design.

McDonough’s goal is to ‘close the loop’ of development so that materials and resources are recycled and regenerated in a ‘cradle to cradle’ cycle like in nature, rather than in the linear extraction-consumption-waste system currently prevalent. Like Biomimicry, his approach “recognize(s) the natural world as the unrivaled model for human designs” .

http://www.ted.com/talks/william_mcdonough

Ken Yeang uses the term ‘ecomimicry’ to describe architectural systems that emulate the properties, structure, functions and processes of in nature, and enhance the ‘bio-integration’ of man made and natural environment. His ecoarchitecture goes beyond the current LEED and BREEAM standards of sustainability, utilizing passive design techniques as well as exploring a new eco aesthetic.

Birkeland presents the theory of ‘positive development’, suggesting that the built environment “could generate healthy ecological conditions, increase the life support services, reverse the impacts of current systems of development and improve life quality for everyone”.

Bioconfusion

There is also a general confusion over the term ‘biomimicry’ and other similar fields such as ‘bionics’ and ‘biomorphic design’ which perhaps have edges that overlap with Biomimicry, but are distinct areas. Biomorphic Architecture (sometimes called biomimetic architecture) uses natural algorithms to develop forms and structures that certainly can look organic and ecological (and sometimes fantastically beautiful), but they don’t actually achieve sustainable outcomes. Sustainability is not generally the intent of this specific line of study and design, and it doesn’t usually propose or pretend to be sustainable, it’s purely focused on the exploration of form.  But the linguistic similarity and the use of nature as the basis of design can cause confusion about the true sentiment behind Biomimicry, and give the impression that it is only about a visual replication of natural form.

Benyus’ Biomimicry

Biomimicry as put forward by Janine Benyus has much deeper links to whole systems sustainability. She acknowledges the superior model of  nature and “the intricate interliving that characterises whole systems” which are able to maintain dynamic stability while continuously juggle resources without waste. She envisions this application of Biomimicry is what is required to achieve the complexity of sustainable solutions in the future. The Biomimicry Design Spiral created by the Biomimicry Institute helps innovators in a practical way to follow the biomimicry process, while ensuring a deep consideration for biological problem solving, rather than a superficial replication of nature.

So for Biomimicry to be considered a legitimate sustainability process to the academics out there, it needs to go beyond increasing efficiencies of products, to improving ecosystem health through design. I think that with Benyus’ theoretical roots, and a designers intent for positively contributing to ecologies, Biomimicry has the highest of all potentials for achieving genuine sustainability through design.

Uuuuuuuh climate change…. sigh.

Uuuuuuuuuh climate change…. Will we ever reach a consensus on you? So many talks, so many conferences (including the recent UN Climate talks in Durben) and still no decisive actions to be taken. Frustration is an understatement.

Al Gore’s 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” really got the ball rolling on this topic for a lot of people, sparking renewed and intensified public concern about the state of the environment and our future in it. Frightening predictions are made about the impacts of current human behaviour, warning that coupled with exponential population growth we are looking at a high potential for ecological disaster and mass species extinctions, maybe including our own.

It’s fair to say that in the 6 years since then a lot of green initiatives have been set off, and a pretty widespread moral shift has happened regarding our role in ruining the planet. The architecture industry has followed the public demand for sustainable buildings, as inhabitants start demanding healthier environments, tenants see the economy of passive design features and developers see profit in the green building market. Green building councils have been set up and green design rating systems implemented to assure that progress in this area is recognised and encouraged and standardised.

“There is enough peer pressure within the culture of architecture now for architects to be uncomfortable with, if not ashamed of, being associated with the more obvious examples of energy profligacy or material waste”.

But the total inability of the global political community to take decisive action on environmental and climate change issues is so disappointing, and my frustrations are running high at our supposed ‘leaders’. From what I can figure, there seems to be three main reasons why they are still in stalemate…1) Inability for global political collaboration and compromise, 2) underlying fear of economic loss from changing the status quo, and 3) the complexity of the science behind climate change.

Al Gore put forward a lot of persuasive graphs and charts illustrating the scientific evidence that human actions are thickening the layer of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, enhancing the ‘greenhouse effect’ and leading to global warming and the variety of natural disasters this would cause.  Since then there has also been a huge amount of information  put out that contradicts this ‘science of global warming’. Whether this is legitimate data and scientific discussion or oil company propaganda is pretty unclear to non-scientists, and this confusion has made it very easy for change makers to put off making change until it is clear.

This  infographic from the marvellous informationisbeautiful.net, attempts to clarify both sides of the argument.This is a fascinating video that solves the whole issue for us as an exercise in logical reasoning and risk management. Greg Craven asks the question ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’: The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See – YouTube. Would you rather global economic collapse or global environmental collapse? Well it’s not really that simple, holes have been found in his theory since the time this video was made (which Craven explores on his website).

My personal view on this topic actually has very little to do with the science and politics of it all.1) I love and treasure the beauty and function of the natural environment, 2) I feel the direct effects of breathing smog and pollution everyday on my health and I don’t like it, 3) As a designer, I believe if that if there is a better cleaner way of doing things that supersedes old damaging patterns, then bloody do it! For a civilization that loves progress it’s incredible how unwilling some sectors are to change to the new and improved methods.

Anyway, now that I’ve vented some of my big picture frustrations, and before i get totally dis-heartened by the scale of it all, I’ll remember my mantra ‘small flowers crack concrete’ and get back to work.

¹ Bennetts, H., Radford, A., and Williamson, T. Understanding Sustainable Architecture.