GG-Loop and Arup demonstrate the principles in a proposal for Amsterdam.
By Lloyd AlterPublished November 19, 2020 01:00PM EST
Treehugger recently showed an interesting small building in Amsterdam that was designed by Giacomo Garziano of GG-loop around principles of biophilic design. Biophilic design is a theory described by designer Neil Chambers as “a new approach to the built environment based on our instinctual passion for wild places.” Chambers wrote:
“If green building focuses as much on biophilia as it has on saving energy and water in the past, it could help us rediscover the ecological interaction and relationship we need to thrive. At a minimum, biophilia brings about a new dimension for sustainable design that necessitates the integration of nature to trigger human health and wellbeing. At best, biophilia can radically alter the entirety of the built environment.”
Now Garziano and GG-loop are scaling it up with the “MITOSIS Biophilic Regenerative Ecosystem” which he calls “a modular building system created by a parametric design tool following biophilic and user-centric design principles.” This all sounds a bit like architectural buzzwords piled together, but they are important concepts that are worth looking at more closely.
Relevant points of biophilic design, as described by Chambers and Terrapin Bright Green ,include a visual connection with nature, with views to elements of nature, dynamic and diffuse light, like you get in a forest, a material connection with nature, for instance, building with wood, and biomorphic forms and patterns, or “symbolic references to contoured, patterned, textured or numerical arrangements that persist in nature.” My colleague Russell McLendon has described the benefits of biophilia:
“The beauty of biophilia is that, beyond making us feel drawn to natural settings, it also offers big benefits for people who heed this instinct. Studies have linked biophilic experiences with lower cortisol levels, blood pressure, and pulse rate, as well as increased creativity and focus, better sleep, reduced depression and anxiety, higher pain tolerance, and even faster recovery from surgery.”
Garziano interprets these principles to build “an ecosystem where dwellers experience a unique way of living and fulfill their innate desire to reconnect with nature,” describing them:
“Exposed to green shared areas, tiny forests, and gardens that cascade up and down the entire building, dwellers can benefit from the direct and indirect connection with nature. Health and well-being are fostered through careful material choices, flexible layouts, organic interiors, and large outdoor spaces.”
Building out of wood provides that material connection with natural materials, and all the curvy balconies covered with planting provides biomorphic forms and a visual connection with nature.
Treehugger has always promoted sustainable design, defined as design which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But many believe that we have to move beyond this definition and actually make things better. The term Regenerative Design was first used by Professor John Robinson of the University of British Columbia, who wrote that “we can no longer afford the current practices of pursuing goals that simply reduce environmental impacts.” Jason McLennan has built an entire school around it, writing “In everyday terms, regenerative design is about moving away from just doing ‘less bad’ and instead using design to help heal and restore the environment.” I have written:
“Regenerative design is really hard, especially at any kind of scale. You have to build with renewable materials that are carefully harvested and replanted (which is why we love wood). We have to stop using fossil fuels to heat and cool and get to them, we have to stop wasting water, and we have to plant like mad to make more wood and suck up more CO2.”
Giacomo Garziano is trying it at a vast scale. Working with engineering company, Arup, he describes the “multi-functional regenerative CLT [cross-laminated timber] collective housing”:
“Mitosis generates urban clusters using prefabricated timber and bio-based modules that are cost-efficient and flexible in its construction. By consciously choosing materials that capture carbon and using resources more efficiently, Mitosis constructs a net-positive built environment that produces more energy than it consumes and uses resources in a circular way.”
This is a term made famous by the work of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, who use parameters and algorithms on computers to design those swoopy forms, which then talk to other computers that can cut and bend the metal in ways that humans reading plans never could. Critic Witold Rybczynski called one Zaha building “a poster child for the caulking industry” but it could be said about many of them.
Garziano uses the parameters and algorithms to generate all the curvy forms, but also get into the really fine detail of how the building deals with all the complex variables of a building. He writes:
“The volumes and internal layouts derive from the calculation and simulation of parameters related to specific conditions of the site: solar radiation, wind impact, privacy, population density, common spaces index, and vertical connections. With the parametric design tool, Mitosis explores how buildings can grow, evolve, heal and self-sustain, similar to human bodies, as well as use biological metaphors to design buildings capable of regeneration, resilience, and self-sufficiency.”
These computer tools not only generate complex forms, but also complex, photorealistic, and detailed renderings, which can make you wonder if the project is real or just an architectural exercise. In fact, it appears to be a bit of both; GG-Loop tells Treehugger: “Mitosis, in all its possible scales and declinations, is meant to be built in the near future. At the moment we are in the process of arranging the agreements to realize the first one. We can’t disclose more than that though but we will be happy to keep you posted!” And we will keep readers posted too.
Whether this particular project ever gets built or not, the basic principles of biophilic and regenerative design should be in everyone’s vocabulary.