Category Archives: NeoCon2012

Sydney: Wooly Bully

Interface

We can barely touch the surface of the science of Biophilia and the disciplines it encompasses, but to give you a glimpse, we present the second of four examples of how different peoples and countries are putting their biofeelings to work around the world. Each of these initiatives represents a way to reach thousands of other people with the message that biophilic elements have real value in the built environment. The more we each understand this, the more likely we are to protect the natural spaces we have left. 

Sydney, Australia is city of stunning architectural contrasts. It is well known for the Sydney Opera House, perhaps the most recognizable building of the 20th century. But eight kilometers north there is Castlecrag, a suburb with an Arts and Crafts feel to it. More to our point, it has a distinct Biophilia point of view. Castlecrag was designed in 1925 by Chicago Architect Walter Burley Griffin.

Burley Griffin, who had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright and created most of Frank’s early landscapes, designed Castlecrag specifically to celebrate the native bushland plants and natural stone of Australia. Many of the homes were built of the stone from the nearby cliffs so they could blend into the natural environment. Many also featured interior courtyards in the style of Roman villas. All this was decades before a national environmental organization formed to protect Australia’s native vegetation. Greening Australia, the 1982 collaboration between the United Nations Association of Australia and the Nursery Industry Association of Australia, began by focusing on declining tree cover. As needs changed, the group responded accordingly.

Which brings us, in a way, to the subject of green roofs. The idea of a ‘green roof’ is thousands of years old. The Vikings, the earliest Europeans and Native Americans, and the first American western settlers all had grass and sod roofs in common. It is a brilliant architectural solution: A natural heating and cooling system that’s easy to repair and (bonus) feeds livestock.

M Central Residential – Dale Jones-Evans Pty Ltd Architecture

Modern green roofs offer these benefits and more. Green roofs are marvels of biodiversity-enhancing, heat-alleviating, sound-insulating, stormwater-reducing beauties in urban eco-systems.

Since 2002, the country has embraced green roofs in every sector. Melbourne’s City Council House 2 Building set the benchmark for the rest of the country with its six-star Green Star Design certification from the Green Building Council.

In Sydney, two centrally located late-1800s ‘Wool Stores’ were restored into a loft metropolis with an amazing 2600m garden up on the roof.

M Central Residential is a massive but meticulously re-imagined heritage commercial warehouse site that began life during the heyday of Sydney’s wool trade. Built near the docks for ready access to clipper ships (such as the Cutty Sark), the buildings were made for storage; brick on the outside and good timber on the inside.

Architect Dale Jones-Evans retained as much of the original brick and timber as possible when converting the building into apartments and sky homes grounded by six retail spaces. He conceived the roof as an ‘elevated Australian parkland’ of savanna grasses, succulents, and timber boardwalks.

All of this, of course, is far above the streets of Sydney just a stone’s throw from Darling Harbour where the clipper ships (and later, the steamers) once came and left with the wool that was the country’s economic lifeline in the 1800s.

Any green roof, no matter how primitive, is a living, breathing thermal dynamics department. To find one that is beautiful, authentic, and anchored in a country’s national history like the one at M Central, is another thing entirely.

 Learn more about the rooftop garden at mcentral.com.au and see more great projects at dje.com.au.

Inspired to Act Natural? Learn more about biophilia and how it influences our design, and enter our Act Natural Sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip for two to Greenbuild 2012.

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Washington and New York: The Mentalists

Interface

We can barely touch the surface of the science of Biophilia and the disciplines it encompasses, but to give you a glimpse, we present the first of four examples of how different peoples and countries are putting their biofeelings to work around the world. Each of these initiatives represents a way to reach thousands of other people with the message that biophilic elements have real value in the built environment. The more we each understand this, the more likely we are to protect the natural spaces we have left.

Terrapin Bright Green is an environmental consultancy with offices in New York and Washington, D.C. They are an extreme environmental consultancy, you might say. Its founders and partners are intellectual heavyweights who are leaders in the green building and real estate movement, award-winning architects, biomimicry and sustainable design advocates, and forensic historic preservationists.

More than anything else, however, Terrapin Bright Green are thinker-strategists; a brave new breed of eco-infrastructure experts with scientists and policy makers on speed dial. This company has set new precedents for ‘think-do’ tanks for projects of global scale and strategic impact. Members have advised, among other entities, the White House; the new World Trade Center; Grand Canyon National Park; Algae Biofuels; Xihu Tiandi (Shangahi); Caicique (Costa Rica); and the Serengeti National Park (Africa).

Bill Browning, the founder of Terrapin Bright Green, cut his teeth on out of the green box thinking. Early in his career he helped build Buckminster Fuller’s last experimental structure. Browning is also a member (along with Biomimicry 3.8’s Janine Benyus) of the original Interface eco Dream Team.

“We are a small consulting firm pretty heavily involved in both Biophilia and Biomimicry,” says Browning. “These are two pieces that filter our world view in a really intriguing way. Both are core to our work as a practice.”

One of the projects Terrapin Bright Green is undertaking has the group collaborating with Janine Benyus and The Biomimicry Guild to provide technical assistance to the businesses in New York. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will fund workshops open to any business wishing to consider possible biomimetic solutions to their challenges.

“The idea of Biophilia has come into the mainstream population only fairly recently,” says Browning. “Although intuitively, people have been doing it forever.”

To put that in simple terms, we pay more for apartments in park like settings. We buy more (and pay more) in retail environments with plants, trees, and skylights.

Terrapin Bright Green has just published a comprehensive white paper on the subject titled, The Economics of Biophilia: Why Designing with Nature Makes Good Financial Sense. One morsel: The healthcare industry could save $93 million dollars each year if patients had views to nature.

The study examines the positive business impact—usually financial—of making room for nature in sectors from the workplace to the classroom to the courtroom. Scientific calculations and thorough references are included for those not easily convinced that the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku might lower blood glucose levels.

Browning says one issue that concerns him now is America’s election year politicizing of the environment. “The whole green issue is being defined as a republican/democrat issue. You don’t see that so much in other countries.”

It has been impossible not to speak to Interface Dream Team members about the legacy of Ray Anderson. Bill Browning put it thusly: “Now, there can and will be other Ray Andersons. But he was the first one. You know, it was fitting that the first major industrial company to step up to the plate was a carpet company. Because the first major industrial revolution started with fabric as well.”

Inspired to Act Natural? Learn more about biophilia and how it influences our design, and enter our Act Natural Sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip for two to Greenbuild 2012.

 

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What Rubbish can Learn from the Food Chain

Interface

Janine Benyus is a force of nature. Since the publication of her first book on Biomimicry 15 years ago, she has given the practice of Biomimicry global reach. She has inspired some of the world’s most innovative companies, starting with Interface, to clamor for a “biologist at the design table” to reimagine everything from organizational structure to product development. As of May 2012, she is the winner of the Design Mind Award from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.

Interface (IF) Let’s talk about the intersection of Biomimicry and Biophilia where the Urban Retreat collection lives. Because the products are so lovely, people may have a hard time believing they are made from, in part, recovered fishing nets, old carpet and other rubbish.

Janine Benyus (JB) You’ve got a point.

IF Some people may think of Biomimicry as mimicking how nature looks. How does it apply to rubbish?

JB Life Recycles Everything. Everything is food for something else. But life Up Cycles. Think of a log. The materials in that log will wind up first in the body of a fungus. Then a mouse nibbles on fungus. Then a hawk gets the mouse. Life is always creating new products on its assembly line.

Winter Hawk by John James Audubon

IF David Oakey said one of the biggest stories in Biomimicry today was the waste cycle. I’m paraphrasing but the example went like this. The misconception is that to build a sustainable hotel, one must build it with bamboo. We should strive for recycling synthetic materials that are already out there.

JB We are not the first ones [on this planet] to build. Most organisms have to be creative with what is available. What has gotten us into trouble is this un-natural waste process we’ve created. We take compounds like oil from the earth, make something, and then just dump it. No cycles.

IF Take-make-waste.

JB Biomimicry studies common patterns. Ubiquity. Whenever you see that, chances are you should pay attention. One of Life’s Principles—the overarching patterns found among species that survive and thrive on earth— is that Life Recycles Everything. Take a forest ecosystem. Trees there may have been in place for hundreds of years. There is unlimited energy coming into that forest. There’s a lot of carbon coming in also in the form of CO2. Other things, too. Nitrogen and minerals coming into the soil. But there is only so much nitrogen and so many soil minerals. Those things have to be recycled over and over again.

IF There’s no shipping department bringing them in.

JB Exactly. Life has learned to juggle those resources right where they are. It’s interesting also because when we think of recycling, we tend to think of turning pop bottles into more pop bottles. But that’s not what we’re talking about with Life. What life does is Up Cycle. So when Interface’s supplier “turns fishing nets into new carpets,” Interface is Up Cycling; following one of life Principles.

IF Petroleum. Cars. Plastics. Chemicals. Furniture. It’s a tragedy there aren’t systems for up cycling synthetics. Although Interface has done a great job reducing its dependency on oil which helps significantly.

JB Yes, it does help. But going back to our forest example for a minute, how did all those things get to be 100% recyclable? They are all edible. They are all life friendly. Life builds from the bottom up with a small list of common safe elements. Life uses these elements to create about five different polymers (like chitin, collagen, and keratin). Why so few? Because life has figured out how to add new design functionality to common polymers. By contrast, there are about 350 different synthetic polymers commercially available in the world today. Every time we need a new function our chemists create a new, non-recyclable material.

IF Although, there’s another aspect to waste, isn’t there? Ignoring abundance?

JB Yes. at the lowest prices on the market.

In the human economy the things that have the most value are RARE. Think of gold and platinum. The natural world values most what is ABUNDANT and LOCAL because it requires the least expenditure of energy to obtain. The minute a leaf falls in the forest, everybody knows about it and heads out to get it. If it falls right next to me, it is the most precious thing in the universe. Nature says, “Hey—I’m going to make a mouse body out of that someday.” Everything is eventually food for something else.

IF Whereas to most people, a leaf is a thing to be burned, blown, or raked.

JB Yes. Because “trash” is abundant, it isn’t valuable.

IF Last thoughts. Ray Anderson.

JB (Pause) Ray was the real deal. Interface was the first company we worked with. We work with more than 200 companies today. Not just on innovations, but also on this whole idea of what kind of standards do we hold ourselves accountable to. When Ray Anderson stood up, he was alone among the captains of industry in doing that. We are not alone anymore.

Biomimicry 3.8 is the global leader in biomimicry innovation consulting, training for professionals, and curricula development for educators.

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Enter our Act Natural Sweepstakes

Interface

This NeoCon, join us in celebrating something all seven billion people on earth have in common. We’re celebrating a love story – between nature and man; one that allows us to embody the natural world in our design. Explore this natural experience and be inspired.

LIKE US on Facebook for exclusive access to design inspirations and insights. Plus, enter our Act Natural Sweepstakes and vote for the most inspirational biophilia story for your chance to win a trip for two to Greenbuild in San Francisco this November 14-16, 2012! We’ll announce the winner on or around July 2, 2012.

Quick, Act Natural

Heading to NeoCon? Be sure to visit us at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago:
11-13 June | 9am-5pm, Suite #10-121

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