Chrisna du Plessis and Bill Reed: Regenerating life by design

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Chrisna du Plessis and Bill Reed: Regenerating life by design
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Chrisna du Plessis and Bill Reed: Regenerating life by design

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Chrisna du Plessis and Bill Reed: Regenerating life by design
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Should our buildings and cities minimise harm or do ‘good’ by design? In a world already at risk, less harm is no longer enough. We must repair, regenerate and create new life. So where do we start?

In this episode, I am joined by two global thought leaders of regenerative design and development. Chrisna du Plessis is the Head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pretoria, in South Africa. Bill Reed is principal of Regenesis, a research consulting firm with offices in the US.

Chrisna’s 2015 book, ‘Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability’, is a must-read on the subject of regeneration, a term that defines ‘good’ in the built environment. Bill is a practitioner of the regenerative approach; his projects illustrate its application to real-world, complex situations.

Episode outline

00:02:42 What is regenerative design?
00:03:06 “Regenerative development asks us to consider what does it mean to actually add value to life, to add value and encourage or participate in evolutionary processes.”
00:09:51 “Living systems incorporate geological systems, like water, soil, earth, air. [They] incorporate biological systems, [and] social systems, the systems that humans bring into place. We’re working with a social-ecological system that sees how humans and nature [are] actually one integrated living system. That’s the basis of a whole systems approach.”
00:21:46 “In order to get there, we do need things to measure. I’m a pragmatist. One way to look at this is through nested systems.”
00:24:08 Regenerative design: Doing good
00:33:39 “Humans have the potential to be good. That’s one of the main narratives of regenerative thinking, that humans shift from being the problem to actually being a positive influence and a positive contributor…”
00:35:02 Regenerative development: Transforming relationships
00:40:25 “The secret of [regenerative development] is not forcing people to do it, not creating policies to do it, but to create a pull phenomenon where people say, ‘I want to join that party because people are actually getting something done.’ Being effective and consistent is really important.”
00:43:13 “I’m deliberately stepping away from the term ‘problem’ because I think the moment we start thinking about a problem we’re trapped in that idea of ‘Oh, this is… these are the parameters of the problem’. We stop seeing the potential. We focus [only] on how we solve this problem.”
00:45:24 Becoming Chrisna and Bill
00:52:23 “That’s the relational fabric that ties us together […] My journey has been moving beyond stuff and self to nature of spirit and relationship.”
00:56:10 “[Regenerative development] is about how do we fall in love with life again… and with each other. It gives me hope is that… that we discover that love is the foundation for all of this work. And then from there, the universe is open.”

Summary

The conversation started with the meaning of words — and why it matters. Chrisna argues that ‘regenerative’ is often confused with ‘sustainable’ and ‘resilient’; and that confusion often leads to dilution. It is therefore necessary to delineate meaning carefully so that it can steer appropriate action.

Bill and Chrisna break down regeneration, along with other terms that are used in parallel, such as whole systems thinking, ‘Story of Place’ and co-evolutionary.

Process and outcome, in particular, are discussed in the context of several projects. One example is the Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont, USA, which started with the sole purpose of building a LEED-certified grocery store. Bill’s team persuaded the stakeholders to expand their understanding of what this future store would represent: the end-point of a bigger food system that, seen holistically, can be sustainable as well.

The Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont, USA, set out to transform a community’s relationship with its food.
© Bill Reed

The grocery store became the catalyst for a wider rethink, examining how food is grown and distributed. It also gave impetus to new ideas on local farming and the restoration of agricultural practices.

A second project, highlighted by Chrisna, is Singapore’s Khoo Teck Puat Hospital: a large public hospital which is today a social nexus for its neighbourhood, drawing the public with amenities, social space and community farming.

The rooftop community farm at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore creates a strong tie between the institution and its neighbourhood.
© Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

The goal for this facility was always a salutogenic environment for visitors, patients and staff. The solution, a remarkable feat of architecture and landscape design, is a true biophilic solution at its heart. Along the way, what was designed as a better building turned out to be a better socio-ecological system.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital has a densely vegetated central courtyard that provides a deeply biophilic experience for visitors and staff alike.
© Goh Wee Seng

On hospital grounds, one can regularly encounter hundreds of species of butterflies and fish. This constructed ecosystem benefits from an adjacent stormwater pond that has been naturalised, thereby creating an enlarged footprint of social and natural systems.

A third project, the Las Salinas development in Chile, is brought up by Bill to showcase how developer and community can successfully engage to set up a long-term commitment to care for what has been created.

Stakeholder engagement to forge purpose is central to any regenerative development. Seen here are workshops for Las Salinas project in Chile.
© Bill Reed

In many ways, the Las Salinas project illustrates the difference between regenerative design and regenerative development. The former focuses on a better physical outcome, say a facility; the latter seeks the engagement of the wider community, the many stakeholders and caretakers.

Gallery

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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.

00:02:50 “…Regenerative design is basically participating in evolutionary processes…”
Regenerative Development and Design” | Regenesis Group
00:02:54 “…Regenerative design is basically participating in evolutionary processes…”
Regenerative design, socio-ecological systems and co-evolution” | ResearchGate
00:06:02 “…and we were asked to do a LEED Gold green building rating system…”
LEED rating system” | USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council)
00:06:19 “…because that’s where the carbon impact comes from…”
Food systems responsible for ‘one third’ of human-caused emissions” | Carbon Brief
00:09:04 “…Evolutionary process, systems thinking: What do all these terms mean?…”
Thinking in Systems, by Donella H. Meadows” | ShortForm
00:09:08 “…The ‘Story of Place‘ and so on… What are these things mean?…”
Story of Place®” | Regenesis Group
00:10:29 “…that’s the basis of a whole systems approach…”
Whole System Approach to Sustainable Design” | LinkedIn
00:11:01 “…The water we’re swimming in is reductionism…”
reductionism” | Britannica
00:15:01 “…there are different kinds of capitals and there is capacity which corresponds with this…”
The Five Capitals — a framework for sustainability” | Forum for the Future
00:16:21 “…when we look at, say, biophilic design…
14 PATTERNS OF BIOPHILIC DESIGN” | Terrapin Bright Green
00:36:20 “…and we talked about the law of three, which Chrisna talks about in her book…”
law of three stages” | Britannica
00:43:01 “…I’m not talking about the simplistic biomimicry of sharkskin swimsuits and things like that…”
WHAT IS BIOMIMICRY?” | The Biomimicry Institute
00:47:19 “…these ideas around industrial ecology…”
Industrial Ecology” | ScienceDirect
00:03:00 “…I think Bill McDonough might have said, ‘Sustainability at that level of practice is a slower way to die’…”
William McDonough” | William McDonough + Partners (WM+P)
00:05:58 “…I think Chrisna you were there and Brattleboro Food Co-op…”
ABOUT US” | Brattleboro Food Co-op
00:09:41 “…I would add what Donella Meadows added: ‘with a purpose’…”
About Donella “Dana” Meadows” | The Donella Meadows Project (The Academy for Systems Change)
00:18:27 “…One of my friends, Rob Watson — I love this quote — he says, ‘Green buildings don’t cost less; they cost different’…”
Robert Watson” | LinkedIn
00:30:32 “…become part of the landscape again to actually ‘tend to the wild’, to use [M.] Kat Anderson‘s term from her book…”
Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources” | University of California Press (UC Press)
00:47:12 “…And I met — what’s his name? — Gunter Pauli from the Zero Emissions Research [and] Initiatives…”
Gunter Pauli” | The Blue Economy
00:47:15 “…And I met — what’s his name? — Gunter Pauli from the Zero Emissions Research [and] Initiatives…”
WHAT IS ZERI” | Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI)
00:48:59 “…I was interested in systems and cities and he turned me on to Lewis Mumford…”
Lewis Mumford” | Britannica
00:49:58 “…And the U.S. Green Building Council was just being formed…”
U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
00:51:00 “…And then I met Regenesis…”
Who we are” | Regenesis Group
00:51:26 “…learned a hell of a lot from Pamela and Ben and Bob Mang and Nicholas Mang…”
Pamela Mang” | Regenesis Group
00:51:26 “…learned a hell of a lot from Pamela and Ben and Bob Mang and Nicholas Mang…”
Ben Haggard” | Regenesis Group
00:51:26 “…learned a hell of a lot from Pamela and Ben and Bob Mang and Nicholas Mang…”
Leadership Team/Robert A. Mang” | Alliance for Local Economic Prosperity (AFLEP)
00:51:26 “…learned a hell of a lot from Pamela and Ben and Bob Mang and Nicholas Mang…”
Nicholas Mang” | Regenesis Group
00:05:33 “…And we know that New Orleans is different than Singapore…”
New Orleans” (Louisiana, United States) | Britannica
00:05:33 “…And we know that New Orleans is different than Singapore…”
Singapore” | Britannica
00:05:52 “…So, with that in mind, this simple example is a grocery store in Vermont…”
Vermont” (United States) | Britannica
00:24:25 “…its own kind of metrics is the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore…”
KHOO TECK PUAT HOSPITAL” | The International Living Future Institute
00:35:41 “…mixed-use development in a city in Chile that we worked on…”
Chile” | Britannica

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editorial assistant
Abhishek Srivastava

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

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