Chicago Biophilic Design Think Tank Looks to Nature for Architectural Inspiration
Building owners, clients, government officials, and architecture/engineering/construction professionals convene at Legat Architects’ Think Tank to explore connection between natural systems and human productivity
[Chicago, IL] – The environmentalist in Robin Randall worries that people are more separated from nature than ever before. The architect in Randall hopes to bridge this gap through biophilic design (i.e., integrating nature into the built environment).
So Randall challenged colleagues, clients, building owners, and students to “look outside” traditional buildings and explore biophilic design at Legat Architects’ second annual Think Tank. Last week, over 100 participants gathered ten stories above the Chicago River at DIRTT’s Green Learning Center to learn from biophilia experts and engage in lively discussions.
Biophilic design visionaries from Portland to New York presented in person and remotely through a “robot buddy.” Breakout sessions brought together different viewpoints to reflect on the topics. At one session, village officials and healthcare providers talked about everything from therapeutic gardens to “gamifying nature” with architects and engineers. At another, interior designers and students sat beside educators and Public Building Commission representatives to discuss urban versus suburban challenges and creating “mystery” in design.
“Biophilic design really boils down to an irrefutable reality,” said Randall. “When people are exposed to nature—whether it’s in views, materials, or patterns—their productivity increases, as does the bottom line.”
Event speakers included the following:
- DIRTT’s Jessie Craigie welcomed participants and explained the venue setting.
- Jonce Walker of Terrapin Bright Green shared 14 practical tips for bringing nature into facilities. These ranged from long views and the presence of water to natural materials and refuge.
- Amy Coffman Phillips with Biomimicry Chicago showed the power that story has to change the longstanding mindset that the earth is a source of goods to be exploited and instead turn the focus to how ecosystems handle challenges.
- BuroHappold Engineering’s Tommy Zakrzewski showed the symbiotic relationship between buildings and the environment, then proved how biophilic elements can increase workplace productivity.
- Richard Piacentini of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens shared lessons learned from one of the greenest buildings in the world: the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. He also discussed the impact the organization’s biophilic art program has had.
- VMDO Architects’ Dina Sorensen challenged the participants to go “beyond the way nature looks, and look at how it works” to inspire places rich in human interaction and success.
- Glumac Engineers’ Nicole Isle shared examples of biophilic design in action highlighted by living walls, daylighting systems, and a smartphone-accessible air monitoring device that compares indoor and outdoor conditions at any time.
Slowing Down for the First Biophilic Age
Amy Coffman Phillips showed the plight of two raindrops. The first falls in a forest, where it rests on leaves to be evaporated, or it slowly makes its way down to the soil to nourish the trees and eventually return to the air. The second raindrop falls in a city. It speeds toward the gutters. It picks up leaves, trash, and chemicals. It strips the soil of nutrients and brings on pollution.
Coffman Phillips said, “We have to change our relationship with nature to create buildings, communities, and cities that perform as well as the ecosystems that they inhabit.”
Dina Sorensen added, “Nature begs us to design ways for people to fully experience her power . . . her power to inspire, to influence, and truly to impact the way we feel, see, eat, and live.”
When the 2016 Think Tank started, Randall encouraged participants to remove themselves from their 150 emails (or whatever pulls them away from their natural surroundings) to become present in the moment.
“The irony is that to improve productivity, we first have to slow down . . . like that forest raindrop,” said Randall. “We are the inhabitants of the First Biophilic Age, so we have to take stock of nature’s lessons and apply them to buildings. When that happens, our people perform better and our children live and learn in healthier environments.”
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