Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Building Resilience into Design

Collage: Palm trees in Storm v.s. House in Storm
Image Credit: MS Office ClipArt: Palm trees blowing in the wind of a hurricane + House in Storm

Time to rethink the "Essence of Sustainability"
Back in September of 2011, Cindy Gilbert, faculty and program coordinator for the Minneapolis College of Art and Design's fully online Sustainable Design Program posted a feature article on The Living Principles blog entitled “The Essence of Sustainability.”

In the article, which seemed to have been partly inspired by her Ride the Talk cycling trip, Gilbert questions conventional notions of sustainable design and offers an alternative metric: resilience.

"What is left after you’ve peeled off the eco-groovy labels and unwrapped the post-consumer recycled-content packaging? Will the product underneath stand the test of time? Will the business you run survive the next recession? In a word, are they resilient?"
~ Cindy Gilbert
The Living Principles: Feature: The Essence of Sustainability
Originally published on MCAD Sustainable Design Blog

We think Ms. Gilbert is onto something. The vast majority of what human beings design is disposable at best. What we consider "durable" still cannot compare with nature’s resilience. Be they systems, structures or products, our best designs are still hopelessly fragile when compared to nature.

Ms. Gilbert uses the examples of cattails and palm trees swaying in the wind. Here we see the genius of flexible materials able to withstand tremendous forces (even hurricane force winds) and yet prove rigid enough to serve the purposes for which they were designed (evolved).

How do we actually design for resilience?

The question is, then, how do we actually design for resilience? And is resilience really designed in nature? Or, does it evolve? If the latter, do we have any hope in mimicking the "genius" of nature’s designs, considering human time-frames, resource limitations and productivity requirements outstrip evolutions "slow and steady wins the race" modus operandi?

Intelligent design v.s. evolution in nature?

Intelligent design v.s. evolution in nature? It makes little difference to Peapod Life. Practically speaking, things are BUILT. So building resilience into both inception and evolution of design is paramount.

The bottom-up approach

This bottom-up approach is the key to Wo-Built’s success and the hallmark of its new Peapod Life initiative. Like nature, it has to work. To work, it must be built from the ground up. To last, it must withstand elements A, B, C, etc. To withstand the elements, the design must endure.

Wo-Built / Peapod is about design and build—two activities intimately interwoven—just like nature.

Attila Lendvai
VP of Strategic Development
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

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