regenerative design at HDR
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6 Things to Know About Regenerative Design

The built environment plays a significant role in climate change — from how projects are constructed, to how they’re used, to how they are disassembled at end of life. For decades, the design and construction field has implemented increasingly stringent “high performance” design practices to minimize those impacts.

But as climate change nears a tipping point with irreversible impacts, high performance measures still result in net negative impacts and should only be considered first steps toward something bigger. We need to think about our developments not in the context of doing less harm, but actually doing good. In other words, our projects need to actively regenerate or contribute positive impacts to the people who use them and the local ecology that surrounds them.

The term “regenerate” describes a process that mimics nature itself by restoring or renewing its own sources of energy and materials. At HDR, we view regenerative design as design that reconnects humans and nature through the continuous renewal of evolving socio-ecological systems. It emulates natural systems for the continuous renewal of societal and ecological functions.

Here are six things you need to know to better understand what it is — and what it isn’t.

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1. Regenerative design achieves net-positive impacts for ecology, health and society.

A regenerative project establishes performance metrics in these three areas to remediate the harm that has resulted from years of conventional development. Because it emulates natural ecological systems, regenerative design incorporates leading edge design for wellness and actively participates in unique, place-driven social equity solutions.

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2. Regenerative design is flexible for all project types and sizes.

Regenerative design does not discriminate. We’ve developed a regenerative design framework that has the ability to accommodate design projects of all sizes, typologies and performance levels. The framework moves beyond basic high performance design and moves design into “net positive” impacts for carbon, water, nutrients, air, biodiversity, social and health categories.

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3. Regenerative design is metric based and driven by unique site data.

Regenerative project goals are established using a pristine reference site and its associated natural performance metrics that exceed code and regulatory standards. These metrics are scientifically defensible and are established using Geographical Information System (GIS) maps, Federal and Provincial Agencies, Universities and accepted social and ecological research.

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4. Regenerative design continuously evolves and renews.

Regenerative design includes projection modelling of place-appropriate performance indicators in the following categories (air, carbon, water, nutrients, biodiversity, health and social). These indicators will fluctuate and are influenced by short- and long-term disturbances of socio-ecological systems.

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5. Regenerative design incorporates and builds upon existing paradigms:

Everything we have been doing as a firm and an industry has been building to true regenerative design performance levels. The following paradigms are included in our regenerative design framework:

  • Triple Net-Zero (energy, water and waste)
  • Carbon Balancing (embodied and operational carbon)
  • Health and Wellness Design
  • Materials Transparency
  • Resiliency
  • Social Equity

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6. Regenerative design continuously engages and involves the community.

A project should maintain and inspire continual stakeholder engagement to harmonize community values with project goals and to plan for future co-evolution of socio-ecological systems.

This new design approach changes our fundamental thinking about long-term building operations and their impacts on the local community and ecology.

It changes our approach on how a project should perform through its entire lifecycle (cradle to cradle). Regenerative design creates an opportunity for new supply chains and increased availability of resources for future projects of all types, both vertical buildings and horizontal infrastructure such as roads, bridges and water system.  

It also changes our approach to community development issues, given the need to plan in a way that supports at risk or disenfranchised populations, promotes attainably-priced housing and brings issues of social equity to the forefront of a design.

In the end, regenerative design is about taking responsibility and action for mitigating the harmful impacts of the carbon emissions caused by the buildings we design. It’s about a design lens that is evolving to be more holistic, data-driven and renewal-focused.