Tuesday, February 15, 2011

BBBD 2011 - Bill Reed on Integrative and Regenerative Design

Almost a week ago at the annual Efficiency Vermont Better Buildings by Design Conference Bill Reed opened the conference Wedensday, Feb 9th with a galvanizing keynote address.  He spoke about how important it is to start the design process back out at the water ecosystem not on the perimeters of a project site. I've seen Bill speak before at AIA National conference in San Antonio in 2007 and at the USGBC 2008 Greenbuild in Boston. He's inspirational as a keynoter.  Here as then he reminded me and the likely 500+ in the room of the importance of seeking to understand the interaction between natural systems and forces on and around a site in our design work.

As a founding member of the USGBC, Bill also reiterated his view the LEED rating system is not an end unto itself but rather a means to the end point of creating sustainable places and communities.  Often as he said "In
the chase to ensure qualifying for LEED credits and the detail involved in obtaining certification owners and design teams sometimes forget to be able to tell the forest from the trees, losing perspective on the greater whole.  LEED was originally envisioned to move industry forward which it continues to do."  Sometimes doing LEED may not be appropriate for a given situation, budget, project type.  However as he said, it's template is a valuable approach towards achieving the greater goal of systems thinking and a greater wholism in design.

As in the LEED process, too often we move to simplifying how we think about and conduct our design process leaving a lot of information and valuable connective tissue on the table so to speak.  Instead of looking at the overall interaction of systems whether natural or human-influenced, we move towards reapplying prior solutions or design strategies.  Often we're pressured to do that with tight schedules, stakeholder expectations and fees which aren't set up to support a wider inquiry and information discovery process.

We forget to find out as Bill says, the "Story of a place", the patterns of life in the greater region and specifically at the site at hand.  We forget to really understand how the sun, water, earth, winds work upon it as well.  Particularly, when you speak in terms of regeneration and restoration which is what Bill was here to largely speak about through recent projects he's been involved with.  It's something I'm taking back with me to my work with clients and seek ways to re-engage with this wider frame of design.

Bill said "Restoration is not bringing a system back to its original (apriori, natural, undisturbed) statebut rather restoring the natural system's ability to evolve on its own...That's in fact restoration.  "It's the giving back to a place the capability to self-evolve."  He offered examples he's "seen time and time again where natural systems and places out of balance reach a tipping point in eighteen months (18) where a wounded system can come back to a naturally evolving state."

sketch adapted from slide from Bill Reed's Keynote
talk at Efficiency Vermont's Better Buildings By
Design Conference Feb 9-10th 2011
He spoke about a ranch out west which had been farmed and drained of its lively ecosystem with white western European farming methods damaging both the fertile agricultural land of a proposed development but the outlying mountains beyond.  Through years of insensitive farming and land usage the mountains and foothills beyond health were at risk. He told how through a variety of land restoration methods and thoughtful development patterns seeking to re-establish dormant natural systems involving flora and fauna, stream bed areas leading to to the river and balance not seen in many generations could be restored so they could once again "self-evolve".  I sketched and adapted a diagram he showed us in his presentation outlining these influences on design.  It's organized with the site in the center, watershed around it and the greater cultural region around that.   I added the force fields radiating into this diagram around its perimeter.  The arrows indicate how the greater whole impacts the specifics on the site and how the site impacts the greater whole of the region.  These forces energize the relationships of these "levels of interaction and realization" and a yin and yang is created.

I admire this natural self determination idea, of learning how to help heal natural systems so they can re-energize a place in concert with thoughtful and integrative development patterns.  It fits very closely with the idea central to this blog, that of cultivation through intentional design or designcultivation. Thanks Bill for reminding me of the power of integrative whole system thinking!  Readers, what do you think about this?  Do have examples you can share with us of this kind of system's thinking? What do you think about Bill's suggestion we start our design thinking at the level of water ecosystem?

He also mentioned when developing overarching project goals with a community of stakeholders it's important to speak of seeking the "vocation of a project".  Wow!  Just hearing that said transformed my thinking about how to ask the question we often ask clients and their stakeholders.  Such as what are the key goals of this or any project.  Putting in terms of "vocation" really energizes the kinds of answers around which to rally the troops when conceiving project parameters, mission, goals and objectives.  He offered an example of how this could transform designing a house for a family.  Why not redefine the challenge of designing a residence for a family of four, used on weekends perhaps to something else entirely?  What would happen to your house design if you set a goal that designing and realizing a new home would bring the family closer together and create a stronger sense of community?  All of a sudden you're not designing a "house" but attempting to create a place helping nurture and sustain a family so it can as Bill says, powerfully self-evolve.

I think this mindset can really resonates with many of the values held by Vermonters and those passionate about creating sustainable communities.  Whether on the scale of home or college campus or museum it all applies. Tell me what you think?  I'd like to know.  Thanks to Efficiency Vermont for bringing Bill to the conference!  Bill, a warm thank-you for sharing your thinking and innovative process with us.  We're better for it!

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