On Restorative Design of the Built Environment

Intentionally acting to restore the world to a pattern of natural and cultural vitality can be done with guidance from the design profession. Preconsidering the artefacts of human society, and designing buildings, organizations, households, transportation networks (and more) to benefit the places of their expression has great potential to re-build the natural capital that industrialism has squandered. There may even be the potential to recover what are now deteriorating beauties of habitat and landscape, and perhaps also properly honor that which has been lost.

Restorative design will incorporate a broad bio-centric values system where humans are cooperative partners with, and responsible entities to, the surrounding ecosystem. A conservative land ethic will prevail where practicality, autonomy, interdependence and beauty are hallmarks of righteousness. The endeavors of humans will add to the health of the land, nature, and our egalitarian societies will nurture the innate contributory potential of each individual. The human project will proceed under the Golden Rule.

The laws of thermodynamics, the patterns of systems dynamics, and the four system conditions (of the Natural Step) will be observed and respected. In all aspects of human effort, and especially in our buildings, which we leave as legacy to our each-others of the future, there will be no waste. Energy and materials transformations for power and structural components will not injure natural systems. Our buildings will not exude toxic chemicals. Their production will not compromise habitats or natural resources. The communities we build will have systems of sharing and caring such that no one will be left slighted by anyone else’s gain, mimicking animal and plant communities.

Our buildings will not only do no harm, they will also help clean up the excesses, the effluents, the toxins of the industrial age. Our buildings will be living participants with their ecosystems, giving and taking cyclically, incrementally adding to the stocks of beneficial structures and compounds in the soils and surroundings. Our buildings will shine educationally for all visitors and inhabitants, instructing in practical ways the laws of nature.  Having gone through the crisis of the end of industrial abuses, we will learn how to better adjust to the seriousness of nature. We will incorporate much of what the gross margins of accumulation have supported through the centuries: the arts, scientific exploration, spiritual endeavor, but we will see how to spread these opportunities in a more balanced fashion, for the benefit of the many.

Restorative design has much in common with traditional design from the time prior to fossil fuel energy availability. As Wendell Berry describes it: “right scale, simplicity, efficient use of resources, a close fit between means and ends, durability, redundance, and resilience.” The tradition is the future. Solving for the pattern of the global problematique – the interrelated environmental problems of our times – requires a restorative effort. The tools are already here for the design practitioners to implement. It is easy: stopping the madness, stilling the stomping, and watering and watching the flowers in the garden of earthly delights.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *