building exterior evening
The New Orleans BioInnovation Center, designed by Eskew Dumez Ripple, was the first laboratory building in Louisiana to achieve LEED Gold certification. COURTESY ESKEW DUMEZ RIPPLE

Moving Towards Circular and Regenerative Design

A Perspective: Sustainability panel looks to a regenerative future of architecture and design that outsmarts waste.

“We must shift from an extractive, business-as-usual economy to one that is sustainable, equitable and regenerative,” said Kyle Pickett, co-founder and executive director, The William J. Worthen Foundation, in a keynote address to “Moving Towards Circular and Regenerative Design,” a Metropolis Perspective: Sustainability event held on September 28, 2021.

What is circularity? What is regeneration? These were exactly the ideas that Pickett and the panelists at the event were wrestling with. “Our advancement into the modern age has altered the planet,” Pickett continued. “The good news is that evidence of financial gain for building highly functional, living buildings connected to their communities continues to mount.” His organization recently published The Building Decarbonization Practice Guide, a resource for the AEC industry.

Avinash Rajagopal, editor in chief of Metropolis, kicked off the panel discussion by offering a pithy definition of circularity: “It’s when waste is designed away. Waste is a design error.” In the same vein, regeneration is “allowing nature to regenerate.”

“Architects have been incentivized to make buildings that are single-use. This is a mistake.”

Z Smith, director of sustainability and building, Eskew Dumez Ripple

“The concept of regenerative design is not new,” continued Colin Rohlfing, director of sustainable development, HDR. “Unless we build a regenerative essence into buildings, they’re really not regenerative,” he said. “This means assigning metrics and studying ecological and social links. It’s about material transparency. It’s about linking social equity to environmental responsibility.”

Picking up on this idea, Charles Griffin, director of product integrity and quality, Carnegie, said: “We want to go deep into our supply chain to show how we’re affecting communities around us. It’s a pain point, but we have to do it.”

New Orleans-based Z Smith, director of sustainability and building, Eskew Dumez Ripple, shifted the discussion to buildings. “Architects have been incentivized to make buildings that are single use,” he said. “This is a mistake. The iconic San Francisco Victorian house has in the past century been used in different ways by different ethnic groups. Similarly, the classic SoHo loft is so versatile and sought after because it was originally a manufacturing plant. We’re our own worst enemies when we don’t realize the tremendously reusable form of buildings like this.”

As the discussion wound down, Rohlfing lamented: “Why are buildings torn down after 50 to 75 years? Why this short life span? There used to be 500-year-old buildings.”

Rajagopal enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon: “We need a fundamental shift in values and value. In real estate, we think of land as an appreciating asset and buildings as depreciating assets. Maybe it’s time to reverse that.”

Outside the new Advocate Outpatient Center in Chicago, located in an old big-box store, architecture firm HDR installed a metal canopy with landscaping and a seating area. COURTESY HDR © TOM HARRIS

Would you like to comment on this article? Send your thoughts to: [email protected]