Saturday, June 6, 2009

Biophilic v. Technophilic Solutions

As part of an ongoing mapping project of green building and sites being conducted through a group of local architectural and environmental groups, a small side-committee of Oregon ASLA members is looking at dissecting the idea of sustainable sites. To this end, we are using the Sustainable Sites Initiative (as well as some other systems) as guidelines to provide a metric for which sites get on the map. More on that project soon as it fleshes out, but a recent discussion uncovered an interesting conceptual polarity of biophilic solutions vs. technophilic solutions in our quest for sustainability (thanks Anneliese for describing this idea in these great terms, it definitely stuck with me).

:: Victoria amazonicus - image via PlantWerkz

This distinction is particularly important, both in how we approach problems and how we think about the solutions. Are these simply machinic analogs using the operations that nature provides us frame in our human ingeniuity? Or, are they more natural biomimicry-based evolutions of thought that utilizes natures innate processes to achieve our ends in a simpler and cheaper way. Are we thinking of function without consequences, are are we looking at things holistically in terms of both their contribution to humanity, and their ecological value as well?

:: Stagnant canal - image via Vulgare

:: Duckweed, bad... for biofuel, good? - image via Treehugger

:: Machinic system of the 'Floating Garden' - image via The Design Blog

The bigger question is how to we look beyond the function, to include something that include cultural, habitat, and other multi-functional landscape benefits - a range of ecosystem services. One recent post by Pruned (with a fancy new look) featuring the excellent Sidwell Friends School in Washington DC - which features one of the best integrated design solutions between building and site that offers biophilic and educational benefits - along with just enough technology to make it work. It's a living & functioning landscape that doesn't forget that it's a landscape and not a machine. Read the entire case study at Pruned, it's a great summation of a great project.

:: image via Pruned

Trevi sums up the project in typically hyper-efficient prose: "At Sidwell, we get a hint of an alternative system for stormwater management: hyperlocal, lo-fi, modular (i.e., implementations at multiple sites would be needed to bring about an appreciable effect on urban hydrology), soft and comparatively cheap."

Another recent post from Pruned (along with a shout-out to my new Veg.itecture blog) connected to the blog 'Water in the Sustainable Environment' by one of the Sidwell consultants, Natural Systems International.

:: images via Pruned

This project reminded me of one of the great presenters at the Soak It Up conference last April, Dave Maciolek, Principal Engineer from Worrell Water Technologies - who does great work in the biophilic amenity of living machines. A recent project on Treehugger featured another of their great project. Some info: "In the EcoCentre, home to the Romano Law Group which calls its green office space the Living Building, the “aquatecture” uses environmental features like an 8,000 gallon cistern to collect rainwater on a green roof and 150-square-foot fountain in the lobby that’s a “turbo-charged” wastewater treatment system, transforming grey water and saving the structure 200,000 gallons of water annually."

:: image via Treehugger

Another resource that I heard about recently was Whole Water Systems, a company working with 'decentralized, sustainable water treatment' and bridging the bio- and techno- with living systems as well. Here's a link to one of their recent presentations at the Living Futures 'un'conference here in Portland showing off some of their work in the field. I'm just starting the visuals and hope to be working with them on a project that should be emerging soon, so more to come on this.

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