Biophylic Design. Really?

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAMOAAAAJDZmZTJiYzZhLWU1ZDItNDU3OC04MDk3LTVhZTdiZDNjNzVhMwI have a few well known pet peeves. Perhaps the most common to interrupt my otherwise calm demeanor is my disdain for designers who invent new words to describe already well-established concepts. Makes me crazy. My sense is that it is done mostly to give one designer an upper hand over another. To make his thinking ‘cutting edge’ and ‘out in front of the trends’. Or even worse, to make his language THE trend. More often than not it is complete hooey.

Most recently, a new ‘up and comer’ used the term ‘amenitized’ to describe the process of arriving at an agreed upon program of uses for a new park. As in..”we must decide how we are going to amenitize this park”.

Well. No. We don’t. What we need to do is agree on a program of uses for the park.

“Program of uses” is a perfectly acceptable and widely used term to describe the stuff we’re going to put in the park. ‘Amenitization’ sounds like the interest bearing account that the park funds will sit in whilst we decide on how the park will be programmed.

Maybe I”m just getting old and becoming resistant to change. Let me know if you think this is the case and I will pack up my parallel rule and Staedtler blue pencils and head off into the wilderness in my canoe. Or better yet, put me on an ice-flow in a lawn chair..if there are any ice-flows left.

The most recent term to force me into considering re-tipping my canoe paddles with epoxy for the long solo trip into oblivion, is Biophylic Design.

The term Biophylia, was first used by psychologists to describe someone who has a highly measurable connection to nature and natural systems. Just like me! Whoohoo! I’m a biophylic!

The term has since been co-opted by a number of professionals and academics in planning and design to describe a human need for a connection with nature as well as an imperative for design professionals to satisfy that need.

Adherents of the ‘Biophilia’ movement see their job as influencing planning and design (particularly in an urban context) in such a way as to ensure that it responds to, and more closely reflects , nature and natural systems.

I have no problem with this idea. It is a mantra which I take into my work every day. It is the reason I am a Landscape Architect. I’m even writing a book about it. But please people….can we LOSE the term ‘Byophylic Design’?!!

In 1968, the famed Landscape Architect and Planner Ian McHarg, published his seminal work ‘Design With Nature’. It set out the principles and tools required to connect planning and design to nature, natural features and systems. That book is the grandfather of environmental assessments, coastal zoning regulations, flood plain regulations as well as the greening of urban places and the expansion of parks and open space systems world wide. One could also argue that his work was the genesis of sustainable development, LID (Low Impact Development), and urban green renewal policies that drive much of our discourse today.

I would argue that much of the progress we have made in the last 45 years is not only attributable to him, but to generations of students and practitioners in design who took his lead, refined his ideas and expanded his influence.

And so I would argue that Biophylic Design is NOT a new idea. It is little more than a new and unnecessary word used to describe an evolution in design that is already underway and has been for generations.

What Biophylic Design describes is integrated design. It describes the process whereby architects, engineers, planners, landscape architects and urban designers, give up their professional silo’s in favor of a collaborative design process underpinned by an environmental imperative.

The biophyliac’s of the world can project their ethic all they like, but at the end of the day, it will take an integrated approach to design to fulfill their dreams. We don’t need a new word to do that. We just need to get on with the work at hand.

I’m going to go patch the hull of my canoe now.

Paul

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Author: paul nodwell

Paul Nodwell draws on almost 33 years of experience in Urban Design and Landscape Architecture. He is a passionate student of the public realm and believes that great 'place-making' cannot happen without listening to stakeholders, shaping the project around a big (not necessarily complex) idea, and wherever possible, introducing metaphorical and even poetic elements that engage the public in their own experience of the built environment. Early in his career Paul's work took him to Southern California with Peridian Group Landscape Architecture and to Paris, France with Walt Disney Imagineering, but he has enjoyed most, his participation in helping to shape the Greater Toronto Area. As part of the senior management team for the Town of Markham, Paul played a key role in bringing The New Urbanism to southern Ontario. In private practice, Paul has designed a myriad of public parks, streetscapes and condominiums. He has played a key role in the design of a number of new mixed use communities including Angus Glen, Cornell, The Galleria, Concord Floral, Vaughan Metro Centre and Markham Centre. Paul is the recipient of more than a dozen awards for urban design and landscape architecture. He has served on the City of Vaughan Design Review Panel for three years and continues to enjoy serving as adjudicator at the University of Guelph. Even more, he enjoys the dip of his canoe paddle in a northern Ontario wilderness and the challenge of paints and a blank canvas.

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