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Nature inspired building design that meets human needs

In 1943, a hierarchy of human needs was proposed by Abraham Maslow. He stated that from bottom to...

Naturally Sustainable

Image courtesy of Anchor Corporation

In 1943, a hierarchy of human needs was proposed by Abraham Maslow. He stated that from bottom to top, these needs are: physiological (food, air, water, rest), safety (resources, security, wellbeing), love and belonging (building relationships and a sense of community), esteem (confidence, assurance in yourself and others), and self-actualization (fulfillment of one’s greatest potential). At the surface level, these needs may seem purely psychological, but they are in fact in line with the goals of sustainable building design: to create a space that guarantees shelter, comfort, a safe and healthy atmosphere, community, and avenues for personal development.

Do current urban and building designs meet the needs of the people? To achieve better quality of life and meet Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where can we find building design models? One solution comes as a surprise to some: by returning to nature through a process of nature-inspired design. Broadly defined, bio-inspired or nature-inspired design creates innovative solutions through the human-nature relationship and is motivated by how nature itself functions.

The intersection of biology and technology

The late Steve Jobs had a visionary statement: “I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning.” Nature’s design solutions have been tested for 3.8 billion of years and are both sustainable and harmonized with the ecosystem.  Ecosystems are resilient and utilize existing relationships for symbiotic advantage, adapting to disturbance and creating conditions conducive to ongoing life. Nature consequently provides the best sustainable and regenerative building design models.  For example, nature utilizes local natural resources to build; nature recycles, reuses and renews all materials constantly; nature produces neither permanent garbage nor toxic harm to their living environment; nature is resilient to unforeseeable changes to the environment; nature rewards symbiotic relationship; nature is adaptive and responsive. These principles from nature are the foundation of enhancing technology, sustainability and human wellbeing. In the end, we turn to nature as a means of fulfilling our needs because nature is most capable of meeting those needs, having self-organized and refined the support systems of life over several billion years.

At every level of Maslow’s hierarchy, we can find nature-inspired sustainable building solutions at work. Moving upwards on the hierarchy of needs, nature-inspired design can also aid social engagement to create vibrant communities and nurturing environments. One example of this can be seen in the school designs of the Six Nations of the Grand River territory in Brantford, Ontario. Here, we see how culture can be incorporated and transmitted in a community building process. A cursory glance at nature-inspired urban planning shows that not one but many of humanity’s needs are met by taking nature as the model.  Food and air quality can be increased, security and wellbeing be assured, a sense of community built, and people  given avenues of development to achieve their greatest selves, whether it be in a residential, commercial, or professional setting. This is the added value that building design aspires to through the use of bio-inspired design.

Some nature-inspired solutions have arrived to the building design scene, but only a few technologies stand out to us: emerging urban agriculture methods like aquaponics are able to recycle nutrients in closed loops similar to natural food webs. Constructed wetlands and biofilters purify water onsite and sequester greenhouse gas in living biomass. Urban indoor and outdoor gardens further address the needs of human wellbeing in the built environment, providing benefits to mental and physical health by connecting humans back to nature.

Regenerative design an overarching design principle

Regenerative design is the overarching design principle at Anchor Corporation, and nature is the corner stone of regenerative design.  Regenerative design restores, renews, or revitalizes architectural, engineering, and construction systems to provide ecosystem services and be conducive to ecosystem and human health.  Regenerative systems relieve the pressure on local and distant ecosystem services and thereby allow the degraded ecosystem functions to be restored and be able to support more species.  Regenerative design reconnects humans and nature to revitalize communities, natural resources, and human wellbeing as a whole for co-existence of humans with our natural environment.  Success in regenerative design is measured by the holistic improvements in health and wellbeing for humans, local living beings and natural ecosystems.

It is this standard that Anchor Corporation aims for, when we identified nature as the model for creating sustainable building practices. From concept to creation, we aim to use nature to its full advantage. At Anchor, we are excited to look at nature for informed inspiration using biomimetic, biophilic, and bio-synergistic design methodologies. It is with worldviews like this that we can start asking: how can we, as nature does, do better than be merely sustainable? Looking towards bio-inspired design is the first step we can take towards meeting the human needs of our society, wholly and efficiently.

Contact the author, Phil Fung, to enquire about how sustainable building can be achieved using natural methods.

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