Bill Browning, Terrapin Bright Green: Crafting biophilic solutions

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Bill Browning, Terrapin Bright Green: Crafting biophilic solutions
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Bill Browning, Terrapin Bright Green: Crafting biophilic solutions

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Bill Browning, Terrapin Bright Green: Crafting biophilic solutions
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As a species, we seek closeness to nature. Designing for well-being, therefore, aims to bring nature to the heart of the built environment. But what do these ‘biophilic’ spaces feel like? And how do we set the stage to reap their benefits?

This episode’s guest is uniquely qualified to answer these questions. Bill Browning is the Managing Partner in Terrapin Bright Green, an environmental strategies research and consulting firm, based in the US. He is an internationally renowned expert in Green design and sustainable solutions, who is also a researcher and practitioner in the science and craft of human well-being.

Bill’s work is a blend of scientific and design-based thinking. He translates cutting-edge research from the domains of environmental psychology and neuroscience into guidelines for better buildings.

Episode outline

00:06:58 Biophilic design
00:12:35 “We realised that these experiences of nature fell into three general categories. The first, we called [it] ‘Nature in the space’ — which were direct experiences of nature in the built environment. The second were representations of nature or indirect; so what we called ‘Natural analogues’. And the third category had to do with spatial conditions themselves — which we called the ‘Nature of space’.”
00:13:17 Portland International Airport
00:27:33 “There are always the conversations about, ‘What’s the intervention? What happens if it fails? […] How do you maintain it?’ Those are always real concerns that need to be addressed when you’re thinking about design.”
00:29:40 Applying biophilic principles
00:32:09 “The first thing we’d ask is, ‘Who’s going to be using the building? And what experiences do you want them to have in the building? And what outcomes do I need to support for those users?’ […] Different patterns support different outcomes. Some support stress reduction, others cognitive performance. Some enhance mood, some encourage more prosocial behaviour.”
00:39:57 “[…] Quite frankly, if I’m using carpet, the cost between a biophilic pattern and a non-biophilic pattern, there’s not [much of] a difference […] So why not make biophilic choices?”
00:42:27 Beyond biophilic
00:44:20 “[…] We’re also interested in biomimicry: not just at the individual object scale, but at a larger scale. Literally, asking, ‘What is this ecosystem doing and how is it doing it?’ […] We want to move beyond sustainability. We can’t just stabilise what we have now. We need to do restoration. We need to regenerate. We need to do better. We need to restore ecosystem services that have been lost or degraded in our building(s), in our urban habitats. And so, how do we do that?”
00:53:33 Becoming Bill
00:56:37 “Find things you’re passionate about and be persistent in pursuing them — and sometimes it just takes patience […] It’s been frustrating and scary at times. But being patient… trusting the universe sometimes…”

Summary

Bill opens the episode by tackling the ‘why’ of biophilic design. The case he makes – that we all feel better when we are in close proximity to natural elements and processes – is one that has been backed by research and intuition extensively.

The question of how to operationalise this approach starts with the simplest of measures: the placement of natural elements such as water and plants within a built environment. Bill refers to these components as ‘Nature in space’.

The AquaArt office in Germany illustrates the use of simple biophilic elements to enhance the user experience such as plants and art pieces.
© Bill Browning

Abstractions of Nature – ‘nature analogues’ as Bill calls them – are the second category of biophilic interventions. Analogues include statistical fractals and biomorphic forms, already found in nature, which can likewise trigger positive human responses.

The facade of the Interface Headquarters in Atlanta (US) greets visitors and passers-by with a ‘nature analogue’: a forest-inspired mural.
Courtesy of Bill Browning

A third category of biophilic measures is ‘Nature of space’ wherein spatial arrangements convey experiences such as prospect and refuge.

Bill uses the upcoming Portland International Airport to illustrate the integration of these three categories. By tapping biophilic precepts early on, the designers were able to shape form – i.e., the articulation of space, materials, landscapes, daylight, views, and structures – towards desired outcomes.

In the upcoming Portland International Airport (US), a timber roof and skylights frame views through the terminal building which is populated with plants.
© ZGF Architects

Buildings the size of airport terminals call for rigorous preliminary assessments on where biophilic design features will beget optimal impact against budget. Designers map out user journeys and expected responses by establishing where, along the pathway, one will likely feel stressed, and what can be accomplished at these intersections to mitigate the experience.

The Portland airport terminal conveys the comfort of ‘refuge’ from the outside while offering passengers inside a sense of ‘prospect’ with views of the aircraft and parking aprons.
© ZGF Architects

Bill’s publications, like the ‘14 Patterns of Biophilic Design’, help document the process of prioritising options: from articulating desired outcomes to shortlisting patterns known to trigger the intended responses.

Research into a nature-based design approach has widened in scope in recent years. Today, much effort is invested in finding how buildings can better emulate processes found in nature, how project teams might benchmark, say, a building to a forest standing in its place on the same site. Bill is one of the most prominent voices in this burgeoning and momentous discussion.

Gallery

Images

Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:07:20 “…Enter biophilia…”
Biomimicry versus Biophilia: What’s the Difference?” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:08:29 “…we published that in [the] beginning of January of 1995, a publication called ‘Greening the Building and the Bottom Line‘…”
GREENING THE BUILDING AND THE BOTTOM LINE” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:12:29 “…and the book, ‘Biophilic Design‘, was published in 2008…”
Biophilic Design” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:17:47 “…that biomorphic form, those lines moving in the same direction…”
BIOMORPHIC FORMS & PATTERNS” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:18:19 “…that give you this really beautiful undulating co-linear pattern overhead…”
THE NATURE OF WOOD: AN EXPLORATION OF THE SCIENCE ON BIOPHILIC RESPONSES TO WOOD” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:18:42 “…And so now, you’re getting a statistical fractal…”
WORKING WITH FRACTALS: A RESOURCE FOR PRACTITIONERS OF BIOPHILIC DESIGN” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:25:47 “…It’s a kind of a backcasting from the human experience…”
INTEGRATED DESIGN IS NOT ENOUGH: THE BACKCASTING METHODOLOGY DRIVES CONSISTENT EXCEPTIONAL OUTCOMES THAT EXCEED THE RESULTS OF CONVENTIONAL STRATEGIES” | ScienceOpen
00:25:50 “…Is that what’s meant by stress mapping?…”
Stress Mapping In The Workplace” | E3 Consulting Corporation
00:31:02 “…in the whole concept of green area ratio…”
Green Area Ratio Overview” | Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE)
00:36:35 “…We also did biometric testing…”
What is Biometrics?” | Biometrics Institute
00:42:35 “…in many ways, biophilic design is at heart anthropocentric…”
Anthropocentrism” | ScienceDirect
00:42:55 “…So one of the terms that I see a lot in your writing is bioinspired solutions…”
WHY BIOINSPIRED INNOVATION?” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:43:11 “…the term Janine Benyus really popularised, biomimicry…”
Biomimicry versus Biophilia: What’s the Difference?” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:46:08 “…and the biggest carbon footprint in New York…”
carbon footprint” | Britannica
00:47:29 “…What we realised going back into the Mannahatta project…”
THE MANNAHATTA PROJECT” | The New Yorker
00:52:53 “…Almost 80% of the water in that ecosystem is evapotranspirated…”
Evapotranspiration is the sum of plant transpiration and evaporation” | USGS (United States Geological Survey)
00:02:52 “…I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder…”
University of Colorado Boulder
00:03:41 “…and did a master’s degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology…”
MIT’s Center for Real Estate (CRE)
00:03:38 “…But you started work with the legendary Buckminster Fuller, am I right?…”
R. Buckminster Fuller” | Britannica
00:04:01 “…One was that I had a chance to study with Amory and Hunter Lovins…”
For pioneering soft energy paths for global security.” | Right Livelihood
00:04:35 “…when I was up swinging a hammer on the construction of what became the Rocky Mountain Institute building…”
RMI (Rocky Mountain Institute)
00:04:42 “…I wandered over to Windstar, John Denver’s Foundation…”
Windstar Foundation
00:04:42 “…I wandered over to Windstar, John Denver‘s Foundation…”
John Denver” | Britannica
00:05:50 “…which was your involvement with the Green Building Council?…”
U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
00:06:17 “…asking me to join the group that was trying to do a green building rating through the American Society for Testing Materials…”
ASTM International
00:06:31 “…And David Gottfried, the leader of that committee…”
David Gottfried” | U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
00:07:57 “…increased sales in the Walmart…”
Walmart
00:08:40 “…My co-author, Joe Romm, left the institute…”
Joe Romm, Influential Liberal Climate Change Expert and Blogger” | U.S. News
00:08:44 “…and took a job working for the Clinton administration…”
Presidency of Bill Clinton” | Britannica
00:08:48 “…at the Department of Energy with the finance group there…”
Energy.gov
00:08:54 “…Herman Miller, [the] furniture manufacturer…”
Herman Miller
00:08:58 “…was working with [the] Green architect Bill McDonough…”
William McDonough” | William McDonough + Partners (WM+P)
00:09:51 “…was an environmental psychologist named Judith Heerwagen…”
Judith Heerwagen” | (College of Built Environments) CBE Research Portal
00:11:35 “…We also got to know Steven Kellert at Yale…”
Remembering Stephen Kellert, Who Explored Links Between People and Nature” | YSE (Yale School of the Environment)
00:11:35 “…We also got to know Steven Kellert at Yale…”
Yale
00:13:28 “…It’s for the Port of Portland…”
Port of Portland
00:13:30 “…with ZGF as the lead architect…”
ZGF
00:13:33 “…and a large team of consultants, Terrapin included…”
Terrapin Bright Green
00:20:37 “…I’m probably arriving by Lyft or Uber or one of those services…”
Lyft
00:20:37 “…I’m probably arriving by Lyft or Uber or one of those services…”
About us” | Uber
00:20:54 “…I probably have the TSA pre-screening…”
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
00:29:51 “…Favorites of ours are Foster and Associates — Lord Norman Foster…”
Foster + Partners
00:29:51 “…Favorites of ours are Foster and Associates — Lord Norman Foster…”
Norman Foster” | Foster + Partners
00:30:02 “…Heatherwick‘s studio, also in the UK, has done some extraordinary buildings…”
Thomas Heatherwick” | Architectuul
00:30:53 “…one of our absolute favorites is WOHA in Singapore…”
WOHA
00:31:20 “…Moshe Safdie — going all the way back to Habitat in Canada in the 1960s…”
Moshe Safdie, CC, FAIA, FRAIC, OAA, SIA” | Safdie Architects
00:31:33 “…Kengo Kuma in Japan does extraordinary buildings that connect people…”
Kengo Kuma” | KKAA (Kengo Kuma & Associates)
00:35:42 “…with the neuroscience team at Salk Institute…”
Salk Institute for Biological Studies
00:35:47 “…and for design tech Steelcase…”
Steelcase
00:43:11 “…The term Janine Benyus really popularised, biomimicry …”
Janine Benyus” | The Biomimicry Institute
00:48:02 “…While we were doing this work, Google bought the building…”
About” | Google
00:50:30 “…in partnership with the biomimicry folks, B-3.8…”
Biomimicry 3.8
00:51:20 “…the term came from a conversation that Ray Anderson had with Janine Benyus years ago…”
Biography” | Ray C. Anderson Foundation
00:55:34 “…I had a chance to study with Ansel Adams, the photographer…”
Ansel Adams, Photographer – Bio” | The Ansel Adams Gallery
00:55:51 “…I had a chance to go spend a week with the Cousteaus on a great barrier reef…”
Jacques Cousteau” | Britannica
00:58:16 “…The economist Kenneth Boulding used to say…”
Kenneth Boulding” | The Montgomery Fellows Program
00:02:52 “…I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder…”
Boulder” (Colorado, United States) | Britannica
00:04:12 “…I was working on a huge solar project proposal to make a large-scale addition to the University’s Memorial Center…”
University Memorial Center” | University of Colorado Boulder
00:13:20 “…one that illustrates biophilic design in a very complex setting: the Portland International Airport…”
ZGF Gives a New Look at Portland International Airport’s New Main Terminal” | ArchDaily
00:13:46 “…This is a place that people in Portland really love…”
Portland” (Oregon, United States) | Britannica
00:15:19 “…the culture and history of Portland and Oregon…”
Oregon” (United States) | Britannica
00:30:14 “…for people with cancer diagnosis, the Maggie Center, which [is] in Leeds in the UK…”
Maggie’s Leeds Centre / Heatherwick Studio” | ArchDaily
00:30:53 “…one of our absolute favorites is WOHA in Singapore…”
Singapore” | Britannica
00:31:22 “…going all the way back to Habitat in Canada in the 1960s…”
Architecture Classics: Habitat 67 / Safdie Architects” | ArchDaily
00:31:22 “…going all the way back to Habitat in Canada in the 1960s…”
Canada”  |  Britannica
00:31:50 “…I’m an architect working in a densely populated city — let’s say Mumbai…”
Mumbai” (India) | Britannica
00:33:45 “…in a sixth-grade classroom in [the] inner city of Baltimore…”
Baltimore” (Maryland, United States) | Britannica
00:35:04 “…We see carpet companies like Interface and Mohawk…”
Interface
00:35:04 “…We see carpet companies like Interface and Mohawk…”
Mohawk
00:43:49 “…a five-year-long project for the state of New York…”
New York” (United States) | Britannica
00:46:14 “…What’s the name of the project? 111 Eight…”
Google 111 Eight Ave Commons” | HLW (Haines, Lundberg and Waehler)
00:47:16 “…That water, we thought might be — because it’s right near the Hudson — might be Hudson River water…”
Hudson River” (New York, United States) | Britannica
00:50:17 “…You were working on a project with Interface: Factory as a Forest…”
Factory as a Forest” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:51:42 “…and we also used it on their new headquarters building in downtown Atlanta…”
Atlanta” (Georgia, United States) | Britannica
00:52:31 “…So, in the outer southern Piedmont mixed forest…”
Piedmont” (United States) | Britannica

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

00:15:36 “…So, it is huge glulam beams that are 4-5 meters deep each…”
INGENIOUS SOLUTION: PREFABRICATING PDX AIRPORT TIMBER ROOF” | Timberlab
00:40:23 “…It’s all pothos or something like that…”
pothos” | Britannica
00:43:41 “and winds up creating Velcro…”
Biomimicry – The Burr and the Invention of Velcro” | Micro Photonics
00:49:43 “…and prototyped four different designs that included light shelves…”
Light shelf” | Designing Buildings

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editorial assistant
Abhishek Srivastava

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

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