Category Archives: Biophilic Design

From Daylighting to Skateboards: An Exploration of Restorative Potential – Part 2

This is the continuation of a discussion on the potential of restorative business between David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo skateboard company, and Bill Browning, expert in biophilic design and partner and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green. Lindsay James, vice-president of restorative enterprise for Interface, moderated the discussion.

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David Stover (left) and Bill Browning (right) discuss the potential of restorative business.

Lindsay James (Q): Do you think that there is potential for a restorative approach as more and more businesses embrace this idea and begin generating restorative technologies? Will those become leap-frog technologies that will allow our society to avert some of the pending crisis?

Bill Browning (A): I am going to go back to the social on that because I think it’s the mindset. When you have folks who are doing the work that David and his team are doing, it inspires other people to start thinking about different ways of doing things. When Ray first had his epiphany to go this route, a lot of folks doubted his proposal, but over time it became part of the culture. It inspired a lot of knockoffs—a lot of other companies looking at Interface and trying to do the same things. In some ways I think the technologies come along after that—after this inspiration and new way of thinking about the world.

David Stover (A): We founded one solution but we’re not in this alone. We look to other partners and other people doing great things around the world like Interface. We’re enticing people to do this on a broader basis. Bill’s point is that Interface is using its project to inspire others. Because we make skateboards, we get to touch a younger generation, which is really great.

Last year, we visited around 55 schools, telling kids our story. The younger generation is pretty inspiring. Last week I visited The Island School, which is a school set up in the Bahamas for people interested in ocean research. These are high school students from 15 to 18 years old. We watched a presentation about three 16 year-olds who were catching fish in the Bahamas, studying all the toxins in them and looking at their impacts on our environment. It made me realize that I became aware of environmental issues later in life. Through early awareness the next generation has a jumpstart on finding viable solutions.

Lindsay James (Q): What role should beauty play in designing our desired future?

Bill Browning (A): Everything. (laughs) If it’s not beautiful, we’re not going to take care of it. If it’s not beautifully designed, it’s not going to last. One example of biophilic design that we use quite a bit is the Great Workroom at Johnson Wax by Frank Lloyd Wright. A lot of times we’ll show a picture of that space and ask the audience how old they think the space is. It’s a contemporary picture that we took a couple of years ago. No one in the room guesses that it was designed between 1936 and 1939 and that it’s still used in the original configuration. We’ve talked to people who work in that space. Some of them are the grandchildren of the people who worked in the space originally. They love being there. It’s inspiring. It’s gorgeous. And it’s a productive space. Now think about that – an office design that is so good that it lasts that long.

David Stover (A): Beauty comes in from the beginning. You have to think about the end-product. We knew we wanted to set up a recycling project and make an eco-friendly product, but we had to make a great product that stood up next to competitors and in the market. If you don’t do that, then you really don’t accomplish what you want. If people aren’t buying it and people aren’t putting value into it, then you’re not able to create a sustainable program. It’s evident when there’s a lot of sustainability and eco-friendly practices going on, but most importantly there’s a beautiful product put in front of people. I think when you have that effect on people, you get them to smile and you get them to enjoy something. Afterwards, you explain that the product is created from collecting discarded fishing nets and cleaning up the water. You explain that the product is 100% recyclable. You’re able to capture them from the start with a beautiful product, then blow them away with the story behind it. I think it’s a powerful approach. I think it’s definitely changing the world of design and changing the way things are made.

Bill Browning (A): Look at this board! (holds it up) It’s beautiful with the reference to the fish tail and scales. How awesome is that?

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The “Minnow Cruiser Skateboard,” made from discarded fishing nets. Photo: @bureo Instagram

Lindsay James (Q): How important is happiness/well-being to the broader sustainability movement?

David Stover (A): There’s a saying on our team, “bringing joy in the marvels of risk.” This highlights the joy that you feel in nature, which was a lot of the influence behind our project. One of the things that hit home for us was that this place, the ocean, was special—being in the water, whether it was sailing, surfing, or swimming. This was where we were seeing the impact of pollution and we wanted to do something. But we also wanted to make a product that would bring joy and happiness to people while they were using it. I think a lot of people feel doom and gloom about what’s going on in the environment. But highlighting some of the more beautiful things that are out there and making sure to expose nature in design is really important.

Lindsay James (Q): If you had the power to change anything in our world, what would it be?

David Stover (A): Let’s go back to the issue of waste. Think about a cleaner tomorrow and what the world may look like without waste. If you can eliminate that word, you could live in a cleaner eco-system. I think that’s a pretty awesome world to think about.

Bill Browning (A): I want to conclude with the topic of restorative. One of the things that really pushed us when thinking about biophilic design is the fact that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Some of those cities around the world are huge and sprawling but they don’t have much nature. It’s about how we reconnect people with nature in the built environment as a way for them to be healthy and more whole.

About the Panelists
David Stover is a global citizen. He is the CEO and co-founder of Bureo, a skateboard company. Bureo recycles used fishing nets into high quality, high design skateboards. David holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering and has a background in financial analysis. He grew up in a small island community and that is where he attributes his love for the ocean.

Bill Browning is an advocate for sustainable design solutions at all levels of business as well as government and civil society. His organization, Terrapin Bright Green, has brought biophilic design into the spotlight with their research and practice. They are also leaders in bringing biometric solutions to the forefront. Bill has been a long time advisor of Interface, serving on our eco-green team and advising our sustainability journey for nearly two decades.

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From Daylighting to Skateboards: An Exploration of Restorative Potential – Part 1

Interface

Our relationship with the natural world should be a two-way endeavor. Understanding how our surroundings impact and restore us can help us to recognize our relationship with our environment as a reciprocal one. How do we expand our sustainability practices beyond eliminating bad behavior to actively creating positive impacts for us and the planet?

We had the pleasure of hosting David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo skateboard company, and Bill Browning, expert in biophilic design and partner and co-founder of Terrapin Bright Green, at our Chicago showroom during NeoCon for a panel discussion on the potential of restorative business.

Our panelists discussed the ways in which biophilic design practices and restorative business models take inspiration from Mother Nature to create a happier, healthier environment for earth’s inhabitants, with insights from their own unique experiences and compelling case studies.

Lindsay James, vice-president of restorative enterprise for Interface, moderated the discussion.

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Pictured left to right: Lindsay James, David Stover, Bill Browning

Lindsay James (Q): What does restorative mean to you and how have you established restorative practices through your business?

David Stover (A): Restorative for us is taking an eco friendly practice a step further. It’s not just worrying about the ecological footprint of your products. It’s about creating products that have a positive impact on the community as well as the environment. Through our Net Positiva initiative, we’re collecting and recycling fishing nets in Chile, providing local fisherman an environmentally sound way to dispose of nets and creating a source of recyclable materials for manufacturing Bureo skateboards.

Bill Browning (A): Our take on restorative is similar but we may be a step further. Through biomimicry we are looking at ecosystem services. For example, how does the ecosystem in your workplace deal with water? How does it deal with energy? What is its net biological productivity? Basically, developing a set of metrics around the ecology of your workplace, then asking yourself, “Could I design an operative building in a way that performs as well as the original ecosystem that was here?” It is really place-based.

In the conversation about resilience, you get into this question of how to harden technology. People are holding conversations about the next flood but the next natural disaster that could kill more people than another flood will probably be a heat wave. The way you solve a heat wave, besides building stuff, is setting up resilient social systems: resilience for the people themselves, restorative of community and restorative of social relationships.

Lindsay James (Q): I’m glad you brought in the resilience aspect of this as well. In the study of biomimicry, we learn that nature is not sustainable as much as it is restorative and resilient, and it is those two emergent factors that have allowed life to survive. So what would the world look like if every business embraced its restorative potential?

David Stover (A): I think our program and our system in Chile is honestly just a small part. We work in six communities right now. One thing that we have learned is this idea of utilizing a waste material to put into a product. It’s important to think about how you’re making a product from that material and what your end of life solution will be for the product. For us it was making a product that is recyclable – the skateboard decks. When you talk about the world and embracing restorative practices, I think one thing that we see is this idea of waste not necessarily going away immediately, but looking at waste as a different word. The thought of living an almost waste free lifestyle with compost and recycling solutions and the idea of a closed-looped system is something that we are really excited about. For us the biggest concern is the waste and toxins leaking into the water ways. This was our motivation for starting the project. We should be thinking about how a waste free life might impact the health of our society.

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“For us it was making a product that is recyclable – the skateboard decks,” said Bureo CEO David Stover.

Bill Browning (A): I love what you guys are doing with the nets. A fishing net, even after it is discarded, is still catching things; it is still having negative ecological impact. Besides the fact that it is trash and it is material out of place, nets don’t stop catching and killing things. Removing these out of the ecosystem and recycling that fiber is really beneficial for those places.

Lindsay James (Q): Bill, you and I were having a conversation recently on this topic. If every business embraced restorative potential, not just at this macro scale, but also at the individual impact level when talking about biophilic design, do you think that there is some potential to cultivate a shift in awareness for building occupants?

Bill Browning (A): “Connection to Nature” is one of our 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. It’s sometimes the hardest to explain because it’s not like “Prospect.” This is about how we, in our design, do things that make people aware of the processes and things going on around them.

For example our sister firm, CookFox Architects in New York, installed a 4,000 square foot green roof right outside the windows of the studio that can be seen from almost any desk in the work space. It was originally planted with Sedums and now has some native grass. When we put it in, it was beautiful, But it was beautiful in a way that people thought of as decorative. Then we started seeing insects and dragonflies hunting the insects, and birds chasing the insects. A pair of Kestrels (sparrow hawks) took up the roof as part of their hunting territory. One day a Kestrel killed a bird right in front of the windows and ate it. Some people were horrified; some were spellbound. But it got everybody’s attention and it shifted the whole culture of our relationship to that roof. People suddenly realized that this was not just decorative, it was a functioning ecosystem right outside. That led to people becoming much more engaged, so we ended up putting in a big vegetable garden and kept bees out there as well. It went from being a place of simple restorative effect to a place of deep engagement.

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Photo: ©COOKFOX Architects

The team I work with at Google has said publicly that this “Connection to Nature” pattern might be the most important one of all.

Lindsay James: It reminds me of the Rachel Carson quote, “The more clearly we focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

More Q&A to follow in Part 2.

About the Panelists
David Stover is a global citizen. He is the CEO and co-founder of Bureo, a skateboard company. Bureo recycles used fishing net into high-quality, high-design skateboards. David holds a Bachelor of Science and Mechanical Engineering and has a background in financial analysis. He grew up in a small island community and that is where he attributes his love for the ocean.

Bill Browning is an advocate for sustainable design solutions at all levels of business as well as government and civil society. His organization, Terrapin Bright Green, has brought biophilic design into the spotlight with their research and practice. They are also leaders in bringing biometric solutions to the forefront.  Bill has been a long time advisor of Interface, serving on our eco-green team and advising our sustainability journey for nearly two decades.

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The Future is Now: NeoCon 2015 Cultural Trends

Gretchen Wagner

There is a cultural shift taking place and it became largely apparent at NeoCon this year. More and more millennials are entering the work force, widening the generational gap in work environments and introducing fresh perspectives. It may depend on who you ask,but I’m looking at this through the eyes of a millennial and am filled with excitement and possibility. Renewed interest in the individual versus the collective is rising to the surface, inciting interesting conversations about how design can be a solution for the diverse work environment. There is no better time than now to talk about the future of the workplace.

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How can design provide solutions for the diverse work environment?

Haworth was a must see at the Merchandise Mart this year, and for those not in attendance, take a quick trip to their website for a capture of their space. The discussion was about balance in the work environment. Balancing work and play, color and texture, digital and tactile and the individual versus collaboration. Throughout their showroom you experienced beautiful, soft, pastel color palettes, a nod toward mid-century modern furniture design and engaging activities like the interactive projection mapped table at the front of their space. The focus shift from collective was demonstrated with independent workstations for both individuals and small groups. Patricia Urquiola designed the “Openest” product line, which was expanded upon this year, and clearly links her own design aesthetic with Haworth’s message of creating balance through design.

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Environments that balance digital with tactile, energy with serenity, and work with play create inviting spaces that draw people in. Photo and caption courtesy of Haworth.

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People desire the freedom to move throughout the day, gravitating toward the places that help them perform their best. Photo and caption courtesy of Haworth.

Steelcase is also assessing the work environment. As a global company they have interest in how this trend will reflect on a larger scale outside our local markets, and their research was mirrored in their product offering. In collaboration with Susan Cain, author of best selling novel Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, they have designed five unique “Quiet” spaces that offer variety in how people focus and are productive at work. Whether it is a solo private office with minimal distraction or a small collaborative space where individuals can come together to be inspired by one another, the options are there for the individual to choose.

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Susan Cain Quiet Spaces. Photo courtesy of Steelcase.

Teknion is also engaging in the same conversation by offering the new “upStage” platform that challenges current workstations’ benching formats. It can easily be modified to reflect an individual’s particular needs, whether it is standing, lounging or being seated at work. The furniture system is designed to adapt in a moment’s notice to keep individuals feeling focused, inspired and energized.

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upStage from Teknion. Photo courtesy of Teknion.

And here at Interface we are echoing the same sentiments. Our continued research and understanding of biophilic design has shown us the many benefits of surrounding ourselves with nature, which has led to new product introductions that feature neutral, sophisticated designs following nature’s model. With the introduction of Human Spaces we have created a forum to discuss design solutions for the workplace. We have collaborated with anthropologists, architects, designers and sustainability experts to bring their research to one place with the intention of cultivating and designing spaces with the human in mind. Together we are understanding more and more that it is human nature to not only crave areas of refuge where we can detach from the physical and mental stress of work to recharge, but also areas filled with prospect, inspiration, color and collaboration.

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It’s human nature to crave areas filled with prospect, inspiration, color and collaboration.

We tend to look toward the future as a lofty idea further down the road. But today is the future of yesterday and we are already here. While each company has its own vision for how products will shape and redefine us, we all share one thing in common—by cultivating the individual and allowing them to thrive in their own way, we can create a more relaxed, inspiring and collaborative place to work. And I think we can all get down with that.

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Part of Nature, Not Apart from Nature

Interface

Our offices can be more than spaces to work. They can actually work for us at a deeply biological level. We know that exposure to nature and spaces that are evocative of nature can help renew our bodies and our minds. Our brains and bodies evolved over tens of thousands of years without buildings, and research indicates that we are at our best when we can recreate physical and psychological reminders of our most ancient home, Earth.

(C) J. Albert Gagnier

Photography: J. Albert Gagnier

Biophilia is at the heart of these realizations – the innate, biological desire and need humans have to connect with other living organisms and the natural world in its entirety. Literally, it means life-loving. According to Dr. Judith Heerwagen, “contact with nature is a basic human need – not a cultural amenity, not an individual preference, but a universal primary need. Just as we need healthy food and regular exercise to flourish, we need ongoing connections with the natural world.”

In fact, we are nature. Interface’s founder, Ray Anderson, often reminded us, “Anything we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves.” Biophilic design holds the promise of embedding this reminder — that we are a part of the web of life and not apart from it — in every space we create.

RESOURCES

Human Spaces

“14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health and Wellness in the Built Environment”
by Terrapin Bright Green

“The Economics of Biophilia: Why designing with nature in mind makes financial sense” by Terrapin Bright Green

“Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life” film by Tamarak Media

WELL Building Standard

“Biophilia and innovation: Can changing your view change your worldview?” by Lindsay James

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Raising the Bar

Jean Nayar

Known for his high risk efforts in advancing an eco-friendly mission for decades, Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, has fueled the ever-growing environmental movement in America since he organized the first Earth Day in conjunction with then-Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. Thanks to his efforts as a leader on environmental issues, sustainable strides in this country have been taken on multiple fronts. And if his most recent bet on creating the first significant net positive energy office building in the country pays off, then the world will likely be inspired to get a whole lot greener in the years ahead.

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The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center stands as a shining example of the accomplishments Hayes and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

Hayes opted to develop the building after searching to no avail in Seattle for environmentally sensitive office space that would meet his criteria. “We were looking for offices that reflected our values,” says Hayes, adding that “our focus is on human ecology with an emphasis on how we can design built environments that are proper, healthy habitats for our species.” Once the head of the Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter Administration, Hayes continues to advance environmental initiatives supported by the Bullitt Foundation, which offers grants to organizations working on environmental projects in the Pacific Northwest. The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center, which is owned by the Bullitt Foundation, stands as a shining example of the accomplishments he and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement.

The structure was designed to achieve certification as a Living Building, which is significantly more ambitious than LEED Platinum certification. To meet it, a building must generate as much energy as it uses each year and use rainwater for all purposes, including drinking. It must also meet lofty standards for eco-friendly materials and indoor air quality. Located on a site that was a forest filled with Douglas fir trees before European settlement, the building was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function, says Hayes, as a tree would. “Not only does it provide shelter and sustenance for its users, like a tree would for deer, elk, birds, and squirrels, it also produces its own energy from the sun and rain, it doesn’t produce toxins, and it recycles its waste as nutrients.”

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The Bullitt Center was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function as a tree would. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

Since the Bullitt Foundation operates with only seven employees and needed just 4,000 square feet for its own business, the building was designed to be leased out to additional tenants to make it commercially viable. Among the numerous companies and organizations that have opted to occupy the building are the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, which defines the standards for Living Building certification, various small companies, and a substantial engineering firm, which completely tailored its business processes to drive down its energy demand by 82 percent with no loss in productivity or convenience. “We tell our tenants how many kilowatt hours of energy they’re allowed to use, and if they exceed it they pay a stiff penalty for high energy bills,” says Hayes.

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The Seattle office of the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, calls the Bullitt Center home. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

The building relies on solar energy to meet its electricity needs, so educating tenants on ways to reduce consumption is necessary to keep the building’s energy use in check. Yet, since the building began operating about two years ago, its energy generating and energy conservation systems not only allow it to meet all of the energy needs of the Bullitt Foundation and other tenants in the building, but also enable it to produce more energy than it consumes, making it the first commercial office building of its size in the U.S. to operate as a net positive energy structure, generating 60 percent more energy than it used in 2014. “The Energy Use Index (EUI) for an average office in Seattle is 95, under our new energy code the index will fall to the low 50s, for LEED Platinum buildings it reaches the low 30s, and for our building we aimed for 16,” says Hayes. “But it has exceeded our wildest hopes. Our EUI in 2014 was 9.4, making it by far the most efficient office building in America.” Its excess power is sold back into the electrical grid for use by others.

A few of the building’s other eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage, composting toilets, and project certification from the Forest Stewardship Council—the first office in the U.S. to achieve this status. The building also excludes 362 “Red List” elements that are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or endocrine disrupting. Materials and furnishings devoid of “Red List” elements were also chosen by Robin Chell, principal of Seattle-based RCD, who worked with the Bullitt Foundation to design the interiors of its own offices. “Because we needed to avoid products that contained elements on the “Red List,” everything was rigorously scrutinized and had to be formaldehyde free,” explains Chell.

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A few of the building’s eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage and composting toilets. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

The Bullitt Foundation also needed soft furnishings that would serve as acoustical buffers in the space. So, in keeping with the notion of biomimicry, which guided the design of the building’s mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems, Chell chose felt art works, wool-upholstered soft furnishings, and earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection.  “We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Chell explains. “So we started with the carpet, which inspired the tones of the other elements. Aside from offering environmentally friendly products, Interface has an amazing array of design innovations that are almost always ahead of the curve,” Chell adds. Honored with IIDA’s People’s Choice award last year, Chell’s design is ultimately as eco-friendly as it is practical and appealing to the eye.

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In keeping with the notion of biomimicry, Robin Chell Design chose earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection for the space occupied by the Foundation. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography

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“We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Robin Chell explains. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography

Since Seattle’s climate is often cloudy and gray, creating a six story building that relies on solar energy to meet its power needs was risky. But Hayes was convinced that the potential return on the investment made taking the chance worthwhile. “Other buildings have been designed to meet these sustainable standards, but they are small—usually 2,000-6,000 square feet,” he says. “We wanted to dramatically increase the scale and felt it was doable. Even if we set out and failed, we thought it was still a heroic leap, so we decided why not aim for the moon and give it a shot? We wanted to be taken seriously not only by the academic community, but also by those who actually build.”

Judging by the number of tours (about six per week) that the Bullitt Center hosts in its building for developers, architects, and facility managers, Hayes appears to have succeeded in capturing their attention. And if the building achieves Living Building certification, which it hopes to do later this year, the building will no doubt generate even more interest.

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