By Jennifer Barnes and Alexandra Ramsden
Have you ever walked through an evergreen forest in the rain? There is a hush all around. The forest floor is spongy and soft beneath your feet, and the layers and textures all around you create a coziness, a feeling of being protected. As you take a deep breath of fresh, clean air, you know it’s raining big drops up above, but all you feel is a cool mist floating down through the canopy.
You can find expansive sections of this forest all around Puget Sound. For many people, it is a mental and spiritual health reservoir, a place that helps us reconnect and remember that we are nature. But it is also an ecosystem services powerhouse. It stores carbon, cleans the air and water, regulates temperatures, and provides shelter and food for critters big and small.
Before urban development, this forest dominated Seattle’s landscape. Dotted with bogs and meadows, with wetlands proliferating along the rich edges between forest and water, the vast majority of the region was forest. And the system operated in dynamic balance.
CURRENT GAP BETWEEN FOREST AND URBAN WATER FLOWS
Now, the forest mist is an unchecked rain that washes across polluted streets and sidewalks. The urban hardscape of Seattle and surrounding areas interrupts the balanced ecological flow of our pre-development forests and wetlands. We know imbalance creates stress on a system, but how do we regain ecological equilibrium in areas that are now urban? What can we learn from nature that will help our cities thrive?
How can we design our buildings and infrastructure to function like the natural ecosystems that preceded them? The Urban Greenprint is a project that asks these questions, applying biomimicry at a city scale. The project looks at issues not only of water flows, but also of carbon flows and biodiversity.
EVAPORATION AS A “NEW” APPROACH TO STORMWATER MITIGATION
The initial focus of the project is Seattle. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most eye-opening research to-date is related to rainfall. In the water-rich region of Puget Sound, the forest holds a critical role of helping regulate water flows. When we study these flows, we learn a very important fact: when it rains on our region’s forests, 50% of that rainfall is “evapotranspirated” — used by the plants and then returned to the atmosphere. This is important. For Seattle, as for many cities across the globe, polluted runoff is an enormous problem — considered by many to be our most critical environmental issue. The rainwater that washes across polluted roads and sidewalks flushes toxins into water bodies. What our research tells us is that if we can design our cities to evaporate half of the rainfall, as our local forests do, we will go a long way towards solving our polluted runoff problem.
50% of that rainfall is “evapotranspirated” — used by the plants and then returned to the atmosphere. This is important.
Regulators and the building industry are putting forth tremendous effort to slow and filter water, but evaporation is rarely, if ever, emphasized. This is a primary component of our regional water cycle, and it needs to be addressed.
NEXT STEPS — ENGAGING YOU
The current focus of the Urban Greenprint is to generate building design techniques and use of materials that take cues from our local natural ecosystems, including methods of construction that encourage evaporation.
Textures, layers, and permeability all contribute to a system that holds water like a sponge until it infiltrates or evaporates.
Remember the mist you feel on your face when you walk through a coniferous forest in the rain? The layered and textured canopies of red cedars and other conifers break up big raindrops into fine droplets that readily evaporate. Tree trunks, lichen, and moss hold onto moisture, as does the detritus on the forest floor and the rich organics in the soil itself. Textures, layers, and permeability all contribute to a system that holds water like a sponge until it infiltrates or evaporates.
The Urban Greenprint is working with a diverse group of experts to determine how buildings and infrastructure can mimic these functions, researching materials and digging into questions such as:
- What if rainwater, after being used inside a building, gravity-fed out to a spongy façade where it was held until it evaporated?
- What if building skins had hydrophilic and hydrophobic surfaces, like moss, to hold onto water and slowly trickle it off the building, increasing the opportunity for evaporation?
- What if curbs were built of material mimicking mushrooms to remediate stormwater and store it until it could evaporate?
- What if downspouts coming off our buildings were designed to pool water in staggered trays along their height, allowing for evaporation, like the leaves of a tree?
The Urban Greenprint is exploring these and other ideas through community engagement and workshops with design and material experts, and we are eager to expand the conversation to include you. What other ideas come to mind when you think about ways that nature evaporates? How could these strategies from nature be mimicked in our construction practices? How can we transform the way we look at buildings, how we design and construct them, and how we interact with them? Please share your ideas with us!
About the authors:
Jennifer Barnes, AIA, LEED®AP; Architect & Sustainability Consultant at 55–5 Consulting
Jennifer Barnes is an architect and sustainability consultant with over 20 years of project experience. She splits her professional life between her own sustainability consulting company, 55–5 Consulting, and her work on the Urban Greenprint, a project that applies biomimicry at a city scale. Jennifer is a co-founder of Biomimicry Puget Sound and is very active in the Northwest green building community. She speaks frequently at conferences on various sustainability topics including deep green construction, biomimicry, and water issues. Jennifer has a BA in Architecture from Princeton University and a Masters of Architecture from the University of Washington.
Alexandra Ramsden, Principal/Director of Sustainability at RUSHING, LEED®AP BD+C, cSBA, LEED for Homes Green Rater, Built Green Verifier
Alexandra Ramsden leads Rushing’s sustainability consulting practice and is the cofounder of Biomimicry Puget Sound. At Rushing, she guides teams to identify project appropriate sustainability solutions for both buildings and businesses, and develops green building educational programs. Alexandra’s passion for reconnecting people to nature inspired her to found and develop Biomimicry Puget Sound, a local network of biomimicry enthusiasts gathering to foster change in policy and design through the perspective of nature. Alexandra is also an instructor for the Sustainable Building Advisor Program (SBA), teaches Green Operations & Maintenance, and lectures on Integrated Design, Biomimicry, Living Building Challenge, and LEED.
Reprinted via AskingNature – the Biomimicry Institute and Global Biomimicry Network blog.
On Monday, April 13th, the BiomimicryNYC network helped Terrapin Bright Green launch their most recent white paper, “Tapping into Nature: The Future of Energy, Innovation and Business“. The paper, sponsored by NYSERDA, features 101 nature-inspired innovations and where they are in the marketplace — from concept to prototype, development and market.
The launch was held at the beautiful Loft Space at Pier A Harbor House overlooking the Hudson River and with views that included our Lady of Liberty.
Over 100 guests including sustainability professionals, business executives, architects, engineers, students and designers joined the festivities, which was also attended by sustainability pioneer Amory Lovins.
Attendees had the privilege of hearing from Bryony Schwan, founder of the Biomimicry Institute who lauded Terrapin’s stalwart effort in bringing the breadth and depth of biomimicry innovations in the marketplace to light. Noting how in the early 90’s biomimicry was focused more on mimicking shape or form, she emphasized the importance of the report’s in-depth analysis of market impact biomimicry is making across all industries including chemistry, materials and energy.
According to the white paper, the forecasted impact by the Fermanian Business and Economic Institute of bioinspired innovation could account for $425 billion of US GDP by 2030. Building construction, chemical manufacturing and power generation and distribution hold the predominant share.
Congruent with GDP, bioinspired innovation could also contribute approximately 2 million jobs by 2030.
The paper also notes that biomimicry has a long way to go as the vast majority of, “…company leaders and government policymakers are not yet familiar with the idea of looking to nature to solve human challenges.”
Chris Garvin, managing partner of Terrapin Bright Green and BiomimicryNYC board member then took the stage to walk attendees through the report’s unique interactive graphic entitled, “Market Readiness of Bioinspired Innovations” which “showcases over 100 examples of bioinspired technologies, ranging from early concepts to profitable commercial products.”
“What we’re really trying to show is the vast opportunity that exists for biomimicry to transform the world to be a better, healthier, more sustainable and resilient place,” Mr. Garvin concluded. His remarks and Terrapin’s leadership in bringing further biomimicry awareness to industry, academia and the general public were met with an enthusiastic round of applause.
Their work is vital to illuminating just how powerful innovation inspired and mentored by nature can be to the future of all industries and sectors.
Download the report by visiting Terrapin Bright Green.
Photo credit: Randall Anway
TAPPING INTO NATURE: THE FUTURE OF ENERGY, INNOVATION AND BUSINESS
Join us for a special Bio-Beers event celebrating the release of Terrapin Bright Green’s newest white paper on bioinspired innovation.
Monday, April 13th, 2015
6:30 to 8:30 pm
Pier A Harbor House, the Loft Space
22 Battery Place
New York, NY 10280
Enjoy gorgeous views of the Hudson River from the Loft Space of the Harbor House while mingling with like-minded professionals and enjoying light hors d’oeuvres.
The evening will feature a brief introduction to the paper by the coauthors. Terrapin will also provide a limited number of printed copies of Tapping into Nature for attendees.
This event continues BiomimicryNYC’s BioBeers network building series and is co-sponsored with Terrapin Bright Green and the Open Space Institute.
Mark your calendars for October 5-7, 2015 in Austin, Texas!
The Biomimicry Institute and members of the Biomimicry Global Network are joining forces with SXSW Eco to curate a brand-new biomimicry track at the SXSW Eco conference in October 2015.
This track, called Nature, Innovation, and the Future of Design, will explore the intersections of science, technology and design that are inspired, mentored, and measured by the standards of our natural world.
In addition to the biomimicry track, the Biomimicry Institute will offer a series of pre-conference workshops for educators, and networking opportunities for biomimicry practitioners and enthusiasts. More info to follow soon!
Find more information about the SXSW Eco conference here.
Re-posted via the Biomimicry Institute.
— AskNature (Official) (@AskNatureTweets) March 3, 2015
How can we make the biggest difference?
The food system is large and incredibly complex. Where will you focus your efforts for the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge?
Nathanael Johnson, author and food writer at Grist will join us for webinars on March 17 and 18 to provide an overview of the most pressing challenges for our food system. Afterward, experts from the Biomimicry Institute will discuss some important factors to consider as you zero in on a specific project for the 2015 Challenge, and share tips for starting your biomimicry design process.
Webinar #2: Food System Challenges and Opportunities
Session A: March 17 at 10am MDT (4pm GMT)
Session B: March 18 at 8pm MDT (*March 19, 10am China Standard Time)
Visit biomimicryinstitute.webex.com to join at either of the times listed above. Note: the same content will be presented in both sessions.
So … how many biomimics can we fit into one conference?
FOURTEEN of our colleagues and friends are speaking at the Living Future Institute 2015 un-conference April 1 – 3 in Seattle, with Janine Benyus keynoting.
Some of the hi-lights (there’s too many to list!) include a “Walking Exploration” in which participants will “learn how to interpret nature’s lessons with three leading biomimicry experts and apply them to design challenges in your own community”, as well as a discussion which will examine the value of and approach to incorporating deep ecological intelligence into a project.
We’re also excited about Cities that Function Like Forests: An Innovative Approach to Urban Resiliency with two Biomimicry Network founders.
Here’s the complete list of Biomimicry speakers:
Green Plants for Green Buildings
Chris Allen + Associates
BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation
International Living Future Institute
VP of Global Outreach
Northeast Green Building Consulting, LLC
Attorney and Counselor at Law
Eco Architecture Design Works, PC
Melbourne Living Building Collaborative