Week 11: Establishing Permaculture in New Generations

The Living Building Challenge is less popular/spoken about than certifications such as LEED and WELL. Perhaps this is because the Living Building Challenge is more involved, and difficult to achieve. The challenge also requires twelve consecutive months of building operation before it can receive certification.

LBC has a lofty mission: to “make the world a better place,” and it aims to do so in a manner that is elegant and thoughtful.

But isn’t this the motivation for most architects and designers? We should strive to make a place better than we found it, whether it be an interiors office renovation or an urban design project that uplifts a city community.

I was especially inspired this week by a project that received Net Zero Energy by the LBC…

Case Study: Hood River Middle School

Hood River, Oregon
Architect: Opsis Architecture, LCC (alongside a large team of landscape architects and civil engineers)

Image result for hood river middle school

The design of Hood River’s new Music and Science building not only achieves Net Zero Energy standards, but also teaches incoming generations about the importance of sustainability and serves as a connection to the environment.

An important strategy for the design of this project was to consider Net Zero on the front end of design development. Rather than relying solely on applied photovoltaic panels and renewable sources of energy, the team first developed passive systems and optimized the site’s natural resources.Image result for hood river middle schoolHood River Middle School Music & Science Building

Images courtesy of Opis Architecture

Daylighting studies that informed window/partition placement, and natural ventilation systems greatly reduced the need for extensive mechanical HVAC. Hood River’s energy reduction and metrics can be found here 

Aside from the extensive work that was done to achieve Net Zero, the project also integrated the design principles of Permaculture. Permaculture, a concept developed by David Holmgren in his book Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, is a whole-system approach that aims to change human behavior the ultimately use less energy and resources. By involving the students in building the school’s community garden and rainwater irrigation systems, the school is able to develop an early connection to nature and an understanding of sustainable living.

The place petal, and human-nature connection are both achieved through hands-on outdoor learning. Not only is this approach beneficial for the environment, it also has incredible benefits for student health and learning.


Week 10: It’s a Bird…It’s a Bridge

This past week I was fortunate to attend the ASID SCALE Student Summit in Oklahoma City. The keynote speakers who attended the event were incredibly inspiring, and spoke about many subjects we are touching on in school. One particular keynote speaker, Hans Butzer, stood out for me as he presented some projects that demonstrated biomimicry.

His approach to design is that “everything should have an impact,” and that design can be a leveling field amongst different cultures and mindsets. What can be more universally meaningful than looking to nature?

Case Study: Skydance Bridge, Oklahoma City

Architects: BAU Butzer Architects and Urbanism

Butzer and his team won a design proposal to design a new pedestrian bridge to connect Oklahoma City. The bridge was meant to serve as a symbol of Oklahoma and to become a “postcard” moment for the city.

BAU Architects derived inspiration from Oklahoma’s state bird, the Scissor tailed Flycatcher. The name, Skydance, came from the unique V-shaped flight that the Flycatcher bird demonstrates in the Spring during mating season.

The bridge structure and supports were informed by the physical structure of the Flycatcher, which is adapted to the strong Oklahoma winds and local climate.

“The bird’s distinctive tail feathers demonstrate an evolved necessity to navigate swirling prairie winds. Its lightweight frame is held strong by hollowed bones”

-Butzer Gardner Architects

The design team took the bird concept down to the details of design, and even used Rhino to create 668 “feathers” for the skin of the bridge structure. Not only does this design speak to the local culture of Oklahoma, it is also a SMART design which looks to nature for guidance.

Week 09: Topiary Therapy

Recently I stumbled upon an article by Dr. Mark Rowe, an author and speaker on Wellness and Happiness. He was describing a beautiful new Greenway in Ireland, and expanded on the importance of “Green Exercise” and “Forest Bathing.”

At the end of a long work day, many of us lace up our sneakers and hit the treadmill or indoor gym. We could be getting so much more out of our exercise if we stepped outdoors to sweat.

So what on earth is Forest Bathing?? Japan coined the term Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, in 1982 as part of a national public health program. This concept is so simple and yet so underrated. In order to practice forest bathing, all you need to do is wander along forest trails and surround yourself with nature.

This practice has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. Doctor Rowe goes as far as to encourage practices such as these over prescription medication and modern medicine.

Case Study: A Forest Bath Retreat

Location: Nagano, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Architects: Kyoko Ikuta Architecture Laboratory

Japanese architecture is often beautifully simple, and understated. It is often this way so that the built environment does not compete or take away from the surrounding environment.

This Summer home by Kyoko Ikuta Architecture Laboratory acts as a canvas for the surrounding layers of woods to “paint” on. The triangular roof allows the residents to gaze up into the forest canopy, and windows are placed to capture the ever changing light and shadows from above. The clients for this project wanted a home where they could literally do nothing…and just be with the trees all day. I wish I had that level of patience.

Images courtesy of ArchDaily 

Week 08: Human-Nature-Building Connection

In our Advanced Design Research course, we read about the 14 concepts of Biophilic design in a paper by Terrapin Bright Green. Strategic environmental consultant for Terrapin Bright Green, Catie Ryan, served in an item writing group for the WELL Building Standard and noted many connections between the standard’s imperatives and Biophilic design.

Although Biophilia is specifically called out in the “Mind” concept of WELL, there is much overlap between the human-nature connection and other items listed for wellness:

Image courtesy of Terrapin Bright Green

The WELL Building Standard encourages Biophilic design in two approaches:

  1. Qualitative: “the thoughtful incorporation of environmental elements, lighting and space planning at each design stage of the project”
  2. Quantitative: number of connections to the outdoors (you can never have too many…right?)

Case Study: A Positive Bend in the River

Federal Center South, Building 1202 , Seattle Washington
Firm: ZGF Architects

The massive 209000 square foot campus for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was designed to redevelop a brownfield site and previous warehouse in Seattle. The shape of the building was inspired by the “oxbow” formations in the adjacent  Duwamish Waterway (thoughtful incorporation of environmental elements!). The U-shape provides energy-performance benefits and creates a collaborative environment.

Inhabitants not only get access to plenty of natural light and views to the outdoors, but also have a visual connection to nature in the “commons” interior landscape.

Image result for Federal Center South, Building 1202

Images Courtesy of ArchDailey

Week 07: Here Comes the Sun

This week I returned from a week basking in the Caribbean sunshine in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Upon arriving in paradise, my mood was immediately lifted. I took walks in the sunshine and was thrilled to see tan lines and freckles pop up for the first time in years.

So I of course got to thinking…what IS it about the sun that makes us so profoundly HAPPY?

The visible part of the sun’s light spectrum communicates with the brain via the eye, affecting melatonin and serotonin rhythms. When we shelter ourselves from the sun, or even use too much sunblock, we put ourselves at risk of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Serotonin levels increase when you’re exposed to bright light, a major reason why moods tend to be more elevated during the summer.

Scientists now say sunlight exposure in the Summer can affect your mood months later in the Winter!

We are only human, we are only animals:

Sunshine and the Spring/Summer months are linked to mating seasons. Conception peaks in Finland in the summer months, when the sun shines for up to 20 hours a day compared to the darker winter months.

Humans and most mammals rely on the sun for sleep/awake cycles. A lack of healthy daylight can throw off our circadian rhythms.

So what does all of this mean for DESIGN?

Case Study: Sunlight in the City

Project: Arthaland Century Pacific Tower
Firm: SOM

Image courtesy of Rappler

Skyscrapers and city skylines do not have to mean less access to natural light. SOM designed this new tower in Bonifacio Global City, Philippines to maximize sunlight and perform efficiently. Full height windows are high-performing insulated glazing units with a low-e coating and frit pattern in order to reduce energy demands on the interior. The design provides optimal solar control, allowing for additional shading to the south and west.

Week 06: Innovation is Happening Outside Our Windows


“We are part of a brilliant planet, and we are surrounded by genius”

-Janine Benyus

Climate change, poverty, unpredictable weather, antibiotic-resistant strains of disease, and the increasing number of cancer cases worldwide are not going to be addressed by sticking to the status quo.

Nature is constantly adapting and reinventing itself to face new problems and survive…so why do we keep relying on fossil fuels and the status quo to power our lifestyles?

Case Study: A Building Powered by Algae

Project: Process Zero: Retrofit Resolution for Federal Building in Downtown LA
Firm: HOK

Image Courtesy of HOK

HOK’s design team took a literal approach to the concept of a “Living Building” when designing this Net Zero retrofit plan. The facade uses energy-producing microalgae to generate 9 percent of the renovated federal building’s power supply. Algae absorbs the sun’s radiation in order to produce lipids for on-site fuel generation. The algal modules also act as shading for the interior office spaces.

HOK has many projects that follow this biomimetic approach. The teams look to Biomimicry icons such as Janine Benyus for inspiration and guidance when applying the concepts.

In 2008, Janine Benyus and Biomimicry 3.8, a bio-inspired innovation company, teamed up to develop a new planning and design methodology called Fully Integrated Thinking. The (FIT™) tool has a biomimetic approach and draws from nature’s proven design solutions.

Here is an awesome TED talk by Benyus


Week 05: Our Alienation with Nature

“Fewer and fewer people, and especially children, have daily contact with nature, an ongoing alienation termed the “extinction of experience”

-Masashi Soga, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Journal

Infographic from “Extinction of experience: the loss of human-nature interactions” by Masashi Soga


For years, scholars and doctors have been writing about the rising human detachment from nature. Modern day amenities, including air conditioning and television, have been decreasing people’s time spent outdoors.

Research on the restorative effects of nature and the negative health impacts of indoor air shine a light on the frightening reality of our retreat from the outdoors. It is not only our job as designers to enhance the human condition indoors, but to also maintain a connection to surrounding context and encourage a healthy lifestyle.


Case Study: Blurring the Lines Between Indoor and Out

A Sao Paulo Home for Four: Dwell Magazine
Architect: Studio MK27


In the middle of a sprawling, traffic-clogged city, this home provides a needed connection to nature. Rather than bringing the outdoors in, or mimicking natural forms and patterns, this space blends the two together seamlessly.

“By keeping the front and back gardens at the same elevation as the living area, Kogan created one giant living space. A large overhang means that even on a rainy day, the Cósers can live practically without walls”


Framed views to the outdoors replace the typical flatscreen TV and celebrate what is just a few steps away.


Week 04: The Mathematics of Nature

With recent computer programs such as Grasshopper, there has been an explosion of futuristic//organic//downright bizarre building facades and ceiling canopy designs. Concept Tower by Valerio López Acevedo. Software: Grasshopper Vray Autodesk 3ds Max Rhinoceros 5.5:


Most popular appears to be the use of fractal geometry to generate patterns. This approach mimics the generation of crystals and cauliflower. I have seen this image below of Romanesco Broccoli on numerous inspiration boards in studio…it seems to be the go-to parametric veggie.

Romanesco Broccoli

Photo courtesy of Wired Magazine

ArchDaily terms this parametric approach “Scriptism” or “computational design.” These designs can be very successful, and create a responsive architecture that reminds us of patterns in nature. It is important; however, to make sure these designs are purposeful…and not just created randomly and for the sake of ‘looking cool.’

Case Study: A Pavilion Inspired By the Sea Urchin

ITKE University of Stuttgart, Germany

The Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE), together with students at the University of Stuttgart developed this temporary structure in order to explore bionic architecture and computer-based fabrication methods. The pavilion is created by ultra-light plywood “shells” held together by finger-joints. The design of the modular units was inspired by the sand dollar, a sub-species of the sea urchin (Echinoidea).

The modules morph and “grow” according to a natural pattern programmed into the computer.

“The cell sizes are not constant, but adapt to local curvature and discontinuities. In the areas of small curvature the central cells are more than two meters tall, while at the edge they only reach half a meter”


If used intelligently, fractal geometry and parametric modeling can create spaces that not only enhance the human-nature connection, but also generate less waste and function efficiently.

Week 03: Hydromimicry

What is up with this trend of undulating wave-like ceiling canopies? They seem to be everywhere from hospitality…to education…to healthcare.

Image courtesy of Design Boom Magazine

The answer could be hydromimicry:

~emulating water’s natural patterns, rhythms, and behaviors in the design of human products, technologies, and management strategies~

Water has been recognized for its healing, therapeutic properties for centuries. It has been attributed to lowered blood pressure, mental health, and assisting with sleep cycles. My younger brother has insomnia, and depends on his “sound machine” which produces wave like sounds throughout the night to help him rest.

“The presence of water can be healing. Human beings love to see water, and even better, hear it and feel it”
-Nikos A. Salingaros, Terrapin Bright Green

Case Study: Ocean Medical Center ED

WHR Architects

Image Courtesy of Healthcare Design Magazine

Patients in the Emergency Department at Ocean Medical Center are immediately put at ease with a quiet marine-inspired palette, soft lighting from wave-like sconces, and curved forms. Cove lighting curves in soft lines to act as wayfinding in the space, and gently guides visitors through what is often a traumatic and stressful experience.

Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Emergency Care Center Patient room

Image Courtesy of WHR Architects

Patient rooms have high clerestory windows to give unobstructed views to the sky.

“Views of nature reduce post-operative hospital stays by 8.5%.”

-Scott Seckel, ASU Now

It is no surprise that hospital interiors are adopting characteristics found in nature to inspire their spaces. Nature is not only healing, but recognizable by all generations and cultures.

Week 02: Biomimicry as a Catalyst for Efficient Design

“You could look at nature as being like a catalogue of products”

– Michael Pawlyn


Case Study 02: 3D Printed Plant Cell Chair

Design by Lilian van Daal

Image courtesy of Dezeen

This week’s case study is a 3D printed chair inspired by the structures of plant cells. The influence of this biomimetic design goes beyond the aesthetic appeal of natural patterns and forms, and actually eliminates the need for upholstery, framing, and adhesives.

The Design Catalyst:

Biomimetic structures –> Eliminates need for additive materials –> Reduces emissions from transportation required to move materials

This is not a crazy coincidence. Often, when we look to nature to teach us how to design, a domino effect of unforeseen positive effects arises.  Natural systems are efficient and sustainable by…nature.

Watch this TED Talk by Michael Pawlyn to see more examples of this catalyst effect. Not only does he have a great British accent…he also shows some quick sketching that can lead to ideas about biomimicry in industrial design!