The process is the journey, it’s all about the journey.
Our journey began more than 20 years ago with a focus on system thinking and an integrative process. We wrote a book on the subject with Bill Reed in 2009 that has become the definitive guide to the integrative design process as applied to green building projects.
A successful sustainable, or green, project is a solution that is greater than the sum of its parts. By intentionally building connections and cross-linked support between the engineered, cultural and natural systems present in all building projects, significant efficiencies, as well as natural system regeneration, can be achieved. Project and operating costs can also be reduced. Simply adding or overlaying individual “environmental” systems in isolation will not allow buildings and communities to benefit from the available connections and interdependencies that can be identified in an integrated, or whole system, design approach. This is the fundamental challenge of sustainable design.
The core concept of integrative design is simple – most everything in a building project affects everything else. Consequently, we examine how to integrate site parameters, solar orientation, water, stormwater systems, thermal envelope, lighting, window performance, heating and cooling supply systems, ventilation, and air distribution in a way that all of these systems are working together, much like those within an organism.
This design methodology constantly examines the tradeoffs between the up-front costs for pursuing the project goals and the benefits that are derived from achieving them. Design decisions are based upon analyzing, quantifying, and evaluating the synergistic interactions between building systems. Unlike conventional design, though, integrative design mandates closer interaction among the owner’s representatives, architects, engineers, and operations staff while they work together from the earliest pre-design phase to evaluate measures that can produce overall project savings, higher performance, and environmental benefits. We will initiate this interaction at the very beginning of this project by convening a goal-setting session with all stakeholders, followed by a focused and collaborative design charrette with all team members.
All projects have great potential for incorporating the most advanced green building design techniques and systems. However, there can a cost to pay in terms of budget as well as untested techniques; technically feasible solutions may not be right for operational simplicity and budget. Part of our job is to help find an optimal balance between the economic, cultural, and ecological areas of sustainability that will meet the objectives of our clients, yet allow for future adaptation of new technologies and interactions with the community. Our approach is one of common sense application of thoughtful and integrated solutions.
While we still apply an integrative process to all of our work, the epilogue to the book, Evolving the Field, foreshadowed when we were headed. The book ends with the question, “Where do we stop integrating?”. While working this way we discovered that applying an integrative process to technical systems was not enough. Our focus needed to shift from seeing buildings as the outcome, to buildings as a developmental instrument to achieve a larger purpose. The process requires an aim or direction toward regenerative, living systems.
Regenerative Whole-Systems Approach
Each particular place is alive, unique and evolving. If we want to flourish over time, we must understand that we are in mutually beneficial relationship with each particular place and that humans play a participatory role in the vitality of the living systems in which we are nested.
The basis of regenerative whole-systems approach lies in understanding that role through understanding the uniqueness of each place we live and work – and what created and continues to create that unique identity. The cultural environment we call a community is a living system composed of many complex cultural and natural systems that form a web of mutual support. The health of cultural (and economic) systems is ultimately dependent on the health of natural – or living – systems.
Regeneration is rooted in the belief that healthy living systems have an inherent capacity to continually generate new sources of life for and within themselves and their environment – i.e., to re-generate. This work is grounded in a philosophy that humans (and human activities) are not apart from the development and ongoing evolution of such healthy living systems; rather, humans serve a participatory role in their continuing viability and vitality. Through the practice of developing how we are thinking in this way about whole living systems, any project can be leveraged as a highly effective acupuncture point for helping transform community vitality and regenerating life.
There are two interrelated dimensions in this regenerative planning work:
- At its entry level, Regenerative Design is a practice for reversing the systemic decline in living systems and creating the basis for self-renewing socio-ecological vitality.
- Regenerative Development is a continual process that builds the capacity, capability, and will of stakeholders to serve as co-designers and active participants in the continual evolutionary transformation of their unique place.
Regenerative Development and Design comprises a meta-discipline that combines the pattern thinking and practices of Ecological Design, Permaculture, Biophilia, Organizational Psychology, Neuroscience, and Integrative Design.
The purpose of regenerative development and design is to facilitate and guide the evolution of a place toward its highest creative and productive potential in a way that explores its unique nature and capacities (essence), so that planning and design efforts improve the capability of all living systems (including the larger whole-system in which each place is nested) to evolve towards higher levels of vitality and viability indefinitely. Through a series of workshops, participants experience this work through highly interactive engagement and discussion around how building and development can be seen as an instrument for healing, sustaining, and regenerating the community of life in each unique place by re-membering that we play a participatory role in the vitality of the living systems in which we are nested.
The process of working on projects from this whole living-systems perspective shifts the focus of everyone’s attention from simply solving problems and working only on “things” (such as buildings) to seeing any such project as an instrument for working on realizing the highest creative potential of the larger systems in which the project is nested (and inter-dependent). This shift in focus builds an understanding of the particular nature of each unique community/place and the particular reciprocal interrelationships (between human and “natural” systems) that create that uniqueness.
Working in this way awakens a deep and caring sense of place and meaning that becomes transformational by serving as the source of new community spirit and individual Will grounded in what people really care about. Communities all over the world currently engaged in this process are reconciling longstanding deep divisions, improving the quality of life for all inhabitants (all species), and delivering real value to all stakeholders by collaboratively co-creating processes of reciprocal exchange aimed at the health of the whole, not just the pieces.
The journey continues . . .