Regenerative and Biophilic Design
Perspective by Gillian Holl
Veld Architects is a modern architectural firm in Johannesburg that is passionate about designing buildings that have a cohesive relationship with nature. With more than 20 years of experience in the trade, they skilfully combine sustainable, regenerative, and ‘green’ architecture principles with neuro-architectural disciplines to create conscious projects that consider the environment.
Join the Managing Director of Veld Architects, Gillian Holl, as she explains why regenerative and biophilic design is the future of architecture…
Nature doesn’t create problems. It solves them. When a leaf falls off the branch of a tree it is absorbed into the ground as food. Waste in the natural world is eliminated, because nature works together holistically. In order for humanity to curb climate change and improve human well-being, we need to mimic what nature does. We need to become problem-solvers by adopting a whole-system approach. In architecture, the adoption of regenerative and biophilic design principles can help get us there.
Restore, renew, revitalise
In essence, regenerative design means reversing the damage. It is not enough to just recycle, reuse, and reduce – this approach alone won’t save the planet. Real change requires actions that will restore, renew, and revitalise our natural landscapes. However, such a holistic approach to design does not begin with aesthetics. It starts with an in-depth analysis of the immediate environment and its surroundings, communities, and biodiversity. Every decision, no matter how inconsequential it may seem, is important, and innovation is critical.
The use of renewable energy is, of course, centre stage in a regenerative project, but that only addresses 55% of the problem. We have to change how we manage land and how we live in it. Apart from renewables, regenerative design requires the use of net zero materials (negating greenhouse gasses), and building with adaptability in mind. Would we have built so many skyscrapers ten years ago if we had known that remote and hybrid working would become the new normal? Who knows what changes the next decade will bring? That’s why we have to build with longevity in mind.
Innovation in regenerative materials
Hempcrete is made from the woody core of the cannabis plant together with a formulated lime mix. These wonderfully diverse and highly innovative blocks are carbon negative, meaning more carbon was taken out of the air while the plant grew to maturity than was set free during the manufacturing process. This material is a strong insulator, lightweight, fire and pest resistant, and breathable. Plus, it also prevents the growth of mould.
During production, plastic bricks emit the same carbon emissions as during the recycling process of plastic. However, a plastic brick is so much more than just ‘recycled’ material. It deals with waste in a positive manner while creating something that weighs 25% less than sand, with incredible thermal and acoustic value.
Rammed earth is remarkable. Its application involves removing the soil from the site and turning it into a beautiful, striking net zero wall. A rammed earth wall is strong, load bearing, and low maintenance. Plus, it’s also energy efficient and pest and fire resistant.
Yearning for nature
Biophilic design is such an interesting topic within the whole-system design approach. Where regenerative design looks at restoring nature with the built environment, biophilic design looks at restoring human health through nature.
On a very deep neurological level, every single human being has a yearning for nature – even if they don’t realise it. Scientific research shows that exposure to nature directly improves mood, relieves stress, decreases blood pressure, and enhances creativity, productivity, and brain function.
Biophilic design in architecture incorporates nature into a project through:
- Direct access to nature and views of the natural landscape
- Improved air quality and ventilation
- Ample natural light
- The use of natural materials (clay, cork, wood, etc.) and calming natural tones
- Using plants, trees, and living walls indoors
- The presence of water (i.e., ponds, fountains)
- The use of patterns or textures that mimic nature (i.e., beehive bookshelves)
For a biophilic design to succeed, it needs repetition of the above elements throughout the building so as to create a multi-sensory experience.
Biophilic design in the workplace
Architects’ recent interest in biophilic design has COVID-19 to thank for it. Being stuck in our houses either left us feeling exhilarated or trapped. We suddenly realised that our homes needed to adopt more than just one role. It needed to be our office, school, and gym, but most importantly, it needed to be our sanctuary.
Employees started to become more productive and creative at home. Therefore, employers soon realised that, if they wanted their employees to come back to the office and showcase that same level of heightened cognitive function, then they would need to incorporate biophilic design.
The future of architecture
The hard truth is that the majority of the buildings we see around us have not been designed or built with conservation and preservation in mind. This cannot continue to be the mainstay of architecture. So then, how can we adopt regenerative and biophilic design principles to restore the health of humans and nature all while addressing the challenges of high cost of living and building?
Let’s look to Mother Nature for inspiration. She teaches us the principles of simple living. She says, ‘Less is more. Work together. No waste.’
Imagine a world where homes are being built with net zero restorative qualities in mind. A world that goes back to the basics, working within local communities, local artisans, and regional, natural materials to leave behind a building that not only brings health and well-being to its occupants, but also enhances the natural landscape. That is the future I believe many of us would love to live in.
Although it is such a simple concept, I recognise that it is incredibly difficult to execute. When it comes to regenerative and biophilic design, the role of architects is to advise, educate, and create awareness. We need the help and expertise of contractors, construction companies, engineers, developers, hydrogeologists, crafters, botanists, renewable energy specialists, environmental experts, air pollution analysts, and climatologists to realise our dreams. But most importantly, we need consumers to buy into this vision first. Perhaps real change will start taking place once clients and end-users ask the right questions and insist on a different approach to the way things are normally done. Demand precedes supply, after all.
Managing Director of Veld Architects