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Living, Regenerative and Adaptive Buildings

by Can Uludag

It is a great progress for humanity that new age buildings can achieve to minimize environmental harm, promise decrease in carbon-emissions, more dedicated to energy efficiency and so forth. Nevertheless, what would happen if we went further? Could we give back to nature more and make a positive contribution to the environment or people’s lives? Probably, this would be a kind of new breakthrough and regenerative buildings come forward as one of the most powerful candidate to achieve it.

The concept is generally known as regenerative design. The word of “regenerative” means “to create again”. A regenerative system is a waste free holistic framework because it uses it as an input to be able to create further output which is equal to or greater than its input.

Although it is a part of sustainability issues, it is not the same. Sustainability refers to enduring of something over time without losing its main functionality, but it does not regenerate or create something new. Therefore, sustainable designs service more to maintain fundamental functionalities necessary for human needs whereas regenerative designs go further. It creates a co-existence and co-evolution between human and other eco-systems. The model can be applied to many different aspects from urban environments, buildings, economics to industry, social systems, agriculture and so forth. Simply, it is a biomimicry of eco-systems to function as a closed loop of human habitats. The model respects more for ecological limits, heals damages on the environment, integrates green infrastructure and creates a constructive relationship with the land.

Living, restorative and adaptive buildings are a part of this concept, but still in their infancy. Current green buildings focus primarily on individual buildings without thinking of a larger system design and their fundamental purpose is limited to creating less damage on human health or environment. Regenerative approaches challenges current green building practices and offers a pathway even beyond sustainability.

EnvironmentMeeting the needs of a sustainable, efficient or green lifestyle is like meeting the minimum requirements for life in the now and in the future. We might build for the requirements of today, yet again it should not mean to ignore the problems of tomorrow. Our ultimate goal should not be a sustainable or a similar human dynamic; it should be a regenerative dynamic.

Mitchell Joachim, a professor of architecture a Columbia University, and ecological designer says about sustainability in an interview with Tom Vanderbilt of Wired Magazine, “I don’t like the term. It is not evocative enough. You don’t want your marriage to be sustainable, you want to be evolving, nurturing, learning. Efficiency doesn’t cut it either, it just means “less bad”.”

Consider hybrid car models as a solution to help the environmental damages. The technology still uses burning fuels. We know that fossil fuels cannot be an answer to a sustainable mode of personal transportation, yet again we largely encourage the proliferation of the tech because it is at least intended to reduce pollution, but has not any further intention to solve the problems forever. Current building practices have the same logic as hybrid vehicles. Therefore, we can conclude that we are trying to solve a similar dilemma to save environment with using the wrong solutions.

BioDesign Futures

What if, like forests, our buildings could grow over time to accommodate changes in the environment? What if they could produce their own energy instead of constantly sucking energy from pollution-generating fossil fuels? What if they could heal and help their occupants instead of making them sick? These are the new visionary questions asked by game changers of the new world.

Today, we know how buildings can generate their own energy, how they process their own waste and how they clean water. Furthermore, we know how buildings can avoid cancer causing-chemicals. Therefore, we do not need further innovation to achieve more with the current available know-how.

What we can next is how we construct buildings which make us well, how we construct buildings which makes us heal or how they make us feel better.

Imagine A New Vision

When you touch the materials, you are absorbing vitamins instead of absorbing known carcinogens. Materials heals their selves. For example, floors would become stronger the more you walk. Buildings grow like a plant instead of being constructed. And imagine a new biosphere constantly evolves to adapt to any climate zone, and meets its inhabitants’ fundamental needs for food, water, shelter, sanitation, energy – for free – from sunlight forever.

This is a new vision we should embrace and where the world should be heading to because it is about completely reshaping humanity’s relationship with nature and realign our ecological footprint to be within the planet’s carrying capacity. 

Tyson Living Learning Center – Case Study of Living Building

It is an environmental field station for Washington University in St. Louis.

The existing site was a degraded parking lot, but it has been re-designed with wildlife in mind. The center’s development improved the habitat substantially with the introduction of a rain garden and landscaped area having an impervious surface.

Tyson_Living_LearningThe building has a system to infiltrate grey-water discharged from sinks, showers, laundry, drinking waters etc. Black water containing solid & liquid human wastes from toilets and urinals is naturally broken down via composting system. Drinking water is sourced from rainwater and treated non-chemically which makes it healthier than available city water resources or local water well.

Multiple energy options were considered for the project, but ultimately solar electrical power generation was selected to achieve net zero energy based on supplying 100% of building’s energy needs by on-site renewable energy. For this purpose, ninety-six (96) 195 Watt photovoltaic modules have been installed. The owner has entered into an agreement with the local utility who will buy back excess power production the facility has.

Every occupied space has both natural daylighting and a view to the outdoors. At least, one operable window has been provided for each occupied space to allow natural ventilation. Zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compunds) and zero VOC wood finishes were used to minimize toxins when new buildings were built. Permanent walk-off mats were installed to reduce amount of particulates as people enter the building. Janitor’s closet is separately ventilated to reduce contamination in the air. Tyson has also a green cleaning program which does not allow any toxic cleaners.

Tyson Institute opted to use several woods within the property having 2,000 acre forested area.  First, several harvested woods from storm-downed or dead trees that were near roads were used. Second, a considerable amount of Eastern Red Cedar and Hard Marple are harvested. These trees are considered invasive in the areas they were harvested from because they are able to grow in shallow soils. All appropriate trees were carefully chosen to remove with minimal impact to the surrounding forest.  Furthermore, salvage products were sourced from many suppliers. They save a lot of time and money.

Sustainability Snack.

From Sustainable to Regenerative Design, “Bill Reed”

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