Biophilic Design

“The plantings that are around those landscapes or those buildings are chosen for the birds that follow migratory paths, to support the bugs those birds eat,” architect Justin Crane says … This could be described as an example of “biophilic design”, in which buildings and even interiors strike a better balance between people and nature … “And so, whenever we build something, it’s our responsibility to accommodate wildlife that would be displaced otherwise.”

                                                                                                ~ Chris Baraniuk

As a civil engineer, I was trained to build in ways that benefited people. We learned to make structures and the areas they occupied “user-friendly”, the users being the human occupants and visitors.

Being engineers, we liked straight lines and right angles. However, most humans aren’t that enamored with those features, and like to meander or curve or take the shortest or prettiest or less crowded or shadiest, etc. path. These “desire paths” showed where people chose to go, regardless of where the sidewalks went. Nonetheless, we designed using rulers and triangles. Of course, today, we have much more sensitivity to what our “customers” want, and are more driven by the artistic appeal of our spaces.

 And, there is a greater sense of how nature is integrated into our daily lives now. Bird feeders abound, butterfly- and bee-friendly gardens and flowering shrubbery are encouraged. Even the much-hallowed perfect lawns are slowly changing to wildflower- and dandelion-infested patches of native grasses.

Technology journalistChris Baraniuk observes, “Part of the problem is that human civilization, so dependent on built infrastructure, has colonized swathes of land once home to wildlife. While just 1% of the planet’s habitable land is towns, cities and urban infrastructure, the UN expects the square footage of all the buildings in the world to double by 2060.”

“Every time we build something, another patch of ground that could have been a home to wildlife disappears. But ‘green roof’ consultant Dusty Gedge, an advocate of carpeting flat roofs with soil, mosses, plants and even ponds, argues that, in many cases, we can return that patch of ground to nature — up on the roof … He’s witnessed birds flying to high-rise roofs, populations of rare butterflies dancing around flowers, orchids blossoming, and insects scurrying around, including grasshoppers … These visions of wildlife atop city buildings aren’t just picturesque, they’re often hailed as one solution to the world’s rapid loss of nature.”

Some of the specifics for improving the accessibility of our built environment for wildlife include bird feeders, bat boxes, bee bricks, green roofs, green walls, artificial nesting boxes, and even hedgehog drawers.

Architect Wolfgang Weisser “… seeks to improve the biodiversity credentials of proposed buildings. The approach … involves engaging the owners, residents or users of a planned building in a discussion about which local species they would like to support in and around the property once it is constructed.”

“The basic idea is to make the animal a stakeholder in the building process,” explains Weisser.

Architect Justin Bere notes, “By making our buildings just a little more accommodating to this complexity, we could reap ecological rewards as well as personal ones. It will take more than carpeting roofs and walls with plants to stop the biodiversity crisis – but it could be a stimulating start.”

Baraniuk adds, “Becoming aware of effects like this — called ecosystem services — may lead to a deeper appreciation of how we humans, despite living in relatively sterile boxes ourselves, still depend on a certain equilibrium in nature around us.” 

We need art in our designs. After all, it’s only natural.

Additional Information:

Chris Baraniuk, Why We Should Build For Wildlife as Well as People, July 27, 2021, BBC Future Planet | Sustainability

Steve Tarlton, The Fallacy of Biological Deserts, Writes of Nature, 7/29/21

Steve Tarlton, Not Man Apart, Writes of Nature, 6/24/21

Steve Tarlton, Close to Home, Writes of Nature, 6/17/21

Steve Tarlton, Roof Deserts, Writes of Nature, 4/29/21

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