Can a Building be an Ecosystem?

Can a Building be an Ecosystem?

The concept of “Biotecture” is introduced here by Tony Brown, Ecosa Institute Founder and Program Director. The article was first published on the Triple Pundit website, a product of Ecosa Alum Nicholas Aster, and was re-posted in the weekly Google Alert on Sustainable Design.

Business and Ecosystems

There is an important connection between business and the biological extinctions happening around the globe. One that could have a serious effect on the economy. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme we are in the midst of the sixth major extinction of biological diversity on this planet.  The last event of this magnitude was the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.  According to the U.N., scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours.

Business survives on ecosystem services, as do human populations. Despite some uncertainty it has been estimated that the world’s ecosystems generate $33 trillion in value; this is considered by many to be a low figure. According to the White House, pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the United States economy and the contribution of wild native pollinators was valued at more than $9 billion.

In other words, the natural world is integral to a thriving economy. Nature provides raw materials from fibers to wood products, from pharmaceuticals to clean air and water. These gifts from nature are very important to all of us. Unfortunately, we are not taking care of this vital resource – nature – whose serious decline will eventually impact not only business but the entire human population.

Biotecture: Biology + Architecture

One of the major causes of species decline is the loss of habitat. We humans tend to co-opt land and turn it from an ecosystem to a mono culture that serves only our own needs. Ignoring nature will lead to our own decline. For survival, humans must learn to help nature thrive.

The current species decline is just one of the many issues being addressed through systems thinking and design thinking at Ecosa Institute. Our semester program strives to not only teach students a broad spectrum of design disciplines, but also to suggest ways to solve problems. One of these ways will be found in the design of our student center/Institute offices. We are embarking on what we plan will be a demonstration of “biotecture”: a combination of biology and architecture.

A scan of any architectural magazine will illustrate the problem of designing without nature. Although “green” buildings are great at reducing CO2 and water use and are positive improvements, they are certainly not viable ecosystems. Think about the fact that any building project begins by clearing the land, often quite extensively. The footprint of the building and its surroundings reduce a rich living system to a dead zone. A green roof here or there is not enough to recreate what was lost.

Design With Nature

Our student education site is located in a rich ecosystem within a spectacular geological area. Here we plan to make our building an armature for nature. This means we will work to replace the biodiversity lost in the building process by providing a rich ecosystem on the building surfaces – biotecture.

Our starting point is to use land that has already been damaged – the previous owner installed curb, gutter and utilities and used this space as a staging area for building the roads. This is the spot where we will build. Our building design will be as compact as possible to reduce the land area needed. In all, our student center will use just an estimated 3% of our land. The remaining 62 acres will be preserved for nature.

bees-on-honeycells-lgWe plan to create native bird nesting sites within the building surfaces to accommodate both smaller species such as canyon wrens, bushtits and juncos as well as larger birds such as woodpeckers and doves. Hummingbirds will be attracted to both a pollinator garden and abundant planters on the building itself using native flowers and vines. There will also be a “bat cave,” an attic space designed solely to house bats, who are also important pollinators. And, there will be a biological mosquito control system.

So what about all the guano these birds and bats will produce? Our design allows this rich fertilizer to drop into the building’s planters to nourish plants. Gray water will be used to provide additional moisture between the infrequent rain events in Prescott. To encourage native insects, we will construct an “insect hotel” to provide nesting and overwintering sites for native species.

Join Us in Supporting This Unique Concept

Ecosa Institute is really excited for the chance to prove some ideas in green building we have been teaching for the past 16 years. Students in our current semester programs will be engaged in research and hands-on design concepts for the building. We will make prototypes of various building components to study how they function and how to integrate them into the construction.

While we will need to raise a considerable amount of money to complete this project, we are grateful for the generous donation which provided seed money to make this a reality. Ecosa Institute is confident that potential donors will want to be associated with such a unique concept and project.

Stay tuned for further developments: sign up on our website to receive updates; like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, tag us on Instagram or enroll in our ecological design certificate program to participate in this exciting demonstration of real green design.

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