by Tony Brown and Laura Kasper

Our Design with Nature approach builds upon the theories of “green architecture,” “sustainable design” and “urban ecology.” Design with Nature incorporates ways to integrate and honor natural environments while still providing for human needs. We consider design as a problem-solving tool –  today’s building designs will determine the quality of tomorrow’s environment.


Future site of our Granite Dells center.


Nature’s Global Issues

Two of the many challenges facing our planet right now are global warming and extinction of species. Architects and designers try to reduce the vast amount of carbon dioxide created by the buildings we’ve designed. This effort will help to reduce global temperature increases.

But we are doing very little in response to what is being called the 5th greatest extinction period of this planet. We are losing an estimated 200 species every day to extinction. Why? Because humans convert land for our own use without any thought to the effects on nature. If this practice persists, we could see the collapse of larger ecosystems that so many species depend upon for food, water and life.


How Can “Design with Nature” Change Our Course?

In the 1970’s, a man named Paolo Soleri was studying nature and its systems in relation to design. This was prior to Janine Benyus coining the term “biomimicry.” Soleri understood the critical importance of studying biology, physics, ecology and evolution and applying nature’s lessons to the design of our habitats. He developed a different approach to the structure of our cities which he called “arcology”, and his vision for the future was called Arcosanti.

Soleri’s work is one foundation of Ecosa’s approach to design: our habitats must be designed to be symbiotic with nature. We must go deeper than just designing to reduce the environmental impact of our energy and materials. Biomimicry must be an underlying strategy as we design structures and “things” that are based on systems in nature. These systems have been tested and adapted through the millenia to find the most effective use. We need to take advantage of this testing and pay attention to how nature “designs” things.

The human species has long been behaving like a parasite – an animal or plant that lives in or on another (the host) from which it obtains nourishment, to the detriment of the host. This description can be applied to our human relationship with planet Earth: humans are the parasite, to the detriment of the Earth.

Humans must transform this Earth relationship in order to live and to thrive. It can no longer be one-sided – both humans AND nature must benefit from a symbiotic relationship. But how do we achieve this?  We can start by looking to nature for answers and inspiration.


Making “Design with Nature” a Reality

We must rethink the way we design. We must consider and respect natural, environmental and cultural influences. Reducing climate change is certainly vital, and changes to building design and systems can help. But even the greenest buildings tend to ignore the needs of nature.

Instead of designing buildings and cities for one species, we can expand our perspective and design them as habitats that support multiple species. How different would our cities, homes and buildings be if their design considered the workings of nature?

Take for example the 65 acres of distinctive land recently acquired by Ecosa Institute in the Granite Dells outside of Prescott, AZ. It features impressive boulder outcroppings, lush canyons and meandering creek land that will be saved as a nature preserve. We will build our student center on a very small piece of this land which has previously been “improved” with pavement, curbing and underground utilities.

Design With Nature concepts are being explored in the planning and design of this center. We are working with biologists, ecologists, entomologists and ornithologists to create a building that is also an armature for other species to colonize and thrive. We are also working with experts in solar energy, rainwater catchment and resource efficiency technologies to create a zero net energy living building design. Learn more by visiting

This will be our first experiment in implementing Design with Nature principles and we’ll be gathering data to help us learn the impacts of our approach. Students in our spring Ecological Design Certificate Program will play a part in design ideas and implementation. Stay tuned for more details on this and other exciting aspects of our new campus design.




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