Regenerative design goes beyond sustainability

By Brandon Smith

The Sustainable Sites Initiative, a collaborative group dedicated to creating voluntary national guidelines and performance ratings for land design, construction and maintenance across the country, recently certified 11 of its sustainable landscape projects.

The initiative is an example of how the combination of architecture, sustainability and business models can promote the idea that regenerative landscapes are an integral part of a community’s well-being, according to Lisa Storer, program coordinator for the initiative known as SITES.

Regenerative design is based on the idea that artificial structures and landscapes work the same way as natural ecosystems.

“Human health and well-being is something that is not usually looked at from an architectural perspective,” Storer said. “It is not really performance-based, and it is difficult to measure, but it is a really interesting and necessary aspect of SITES.”

The concept of designing buildings and landscapes that have the ability to regenerate their living aspects is something that will not only promote individual well being, but the health of a community as well, according to Storer. It is important to have new, practical models and standards for the things we create so they promote life, he said.

SITES provides a model for sustainable and regenerative design that focuses heavily on landscapes, according to Storer. Construction, whether it is of a single building, complex, park, or playground, should consider the landscape above all things, she said.

“There are green rooftops and that is one sustainable aspect,” Storer said. “But it is the landscape around the building that is fundamental to sustainability.”

Claire Latané, sustainable design manager for EPTDesign and an accredited professional of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, believes green spaces can provide important social benefits to communities.

LEED is a standard that provides building owners and operators with the necessary framework for providing and creating innovative green designs.

“A lot of the focus is on mental health,” she said. “Nature and green space lead to relaxation and can provide important places for community building, especially in places like cities where people don’t have gardens or yards.”

Latané said lately there has been a focus on introducing nature into urban areas, especially now that more than half of the global population lives in cities. Because of this, there is an importance to take the systems that people have created—whether it is constructing buildings, landscaping, manufacturing, or even cultures—and incorporate the idea of natural regenerative systems.

“My biggest hope moving forward is that we can start rethinking our systems not just in terms of efficiency, but in terms of how they regenerate,” Latané said. “That is an extremely difficult concept to wrap our brains around. It’s too often that we see buildings with gold and platinum certified LEED buildings that are surrounded by things that aren’t living. I think that LEED and SITES work together very well, [however] architects and developers should have more interest in this.”

But she is optimistic that developers and designers are truly pushing the envelope in terms of regenerative design, even in the face of a challenge that is altering the massive amount of infrastructure people have built.

“Ten years ago very few people were talking about efficient sustainable design,” Latané said. “Then Wal-Mart made the announcement to go green, and that’s when we saw it become mainstream. But now if we can do the same thing with regenerative design and really stretch the way we build healthy cities and projects, then we will see a massive shift in human consciousness.”