5 Perspectives on Industry Transformation With Regenerative Design

How does the architecture, construction, and engineering industry need to transform to mitigate the dire consequences of accelerating climate change? How might regenerative design play a role in that transformation? We asked some of our leaders these questions, and this is what we heard. 

A Pathway to Mitigate Harm and Integrate Art

headshot of Sangmin Lee
Sangmin Lee

The world is made up of beautiful, interconnected and complex systems. Regenerative design provides us with a lens to identify and design the built environment within its surrounding social, industrial, and ecological systems. It provides a critical tool-set for activating purpose-driven change and a pathway to mitigate and reverse the damage created from current built environments.

The very concept of regeneration is far more than simple renewal or restoration. It calls for us to integrate aspects of ourselves as designers and as human beings. It demands that we reunite the art and science of design, because we cannot succeed at sustainability if we fail to acknowledge human aspiration and will as a sustaining force in our work as well.

But to do so, we have to be willing to have dialogue and transparency as an industry. Even some of our most promising “regenerative” building technologies can have detrimental effects. For example, what's required to dispose solar panels after they die? What toxins are required to treat solar panel wastes? Our industry should be holistic in our discussion about regenerative design and constantly be looking for ways to improve. 

Sangmin Lee, KIA, LEED AP BD+C, leads our health practice in China.

A Conceptual Shift Mirroring Other Industries

Nathalie Beauvais
Nathalie Beauvais

Regenerative design is a conceptual shift in the way we approach design. This shift aligns with something many other industries are experiencing as well — regenerative agriculture and regenerative medicine are just two examples. In design, it means integrating biology for biodiversity, green infrastructure and biomaterial into projects as an additional layer for sustainability and climate change adaptability.  

The technology for implementation is not available yet, especially in terms of regenerative construction material. As such, and because this is an emerging field, there is an additional cost to projects which will improve as it hopefully becomes more mainstream and standard practice.  

Nathalie Beauvais, Int’l. Assoc. AIA, APA, LEED AP is our community planning resiliency lead.

Deviating From the Known

headshot of William Dahl
William Dahl

Regenerative design is a transformational consideration for all design professionals. It’s the future of the A/E/C industry. We will not succeed in dampening the impacts of climate change without the restorative effects of projects with regenerative qualities. As an interior designer, I remain a champion for engaging people from all areas of HDR to broaden our conversation of how regenerative design can be applied to projects of all scales. 

So what's standing in our way? Often times it’s fear and sticking to the status quo. Despite how much the pandemic has revealed our incredible ability to adapt as a culture when pressed, I find that the costs of deviating from the relative knowns in the industry remain a barrier. Looking forward, having even more data around cost as well as positive stories of innovation and implementation of regenerative design practices will encourage a broader understanding of the opportunities and benefits from this proactive approach to design.

William Dahl, RID, NCIDQ, LEED ID&C, is a senior interior designer in our Vancouver office. 

Delay the Napkin Sketches

headhsot of Colin Rohlfing
Colin Rohlfing

The most important aspect of regenerative design is the deep exploration of place before pen is put to paper. Designers have a tendency to want to sketch a solution right away. Regenerative design seeks to break this antiquated approach that is not as informed as it should be. A deep review and understanding of place and its interconnected systems can take a lot of time. That is why the Regenerative Design Tool compiles a mountain of data within minutes. My hope is that we can delay the napkin sketches until we truly understand a project's regenerative identity and vocation.

The design schedules that we face in the industry are moving us away from the potential to execute a regenerative design process. More time for project setup and conceptual design is needed before any design solutions are even sketched out. Clients and design teams are moving faster and faster so either we need to slow down or the regenerative process needs to speed up. An entire generation of designers have not been taught these principles and it is not a part of their core philosophy or design approach. The next generation needs to be given a chance to take the reigns sooner rather than later.

Colin Rohlfing, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is our sustainable development director. 

Rethink Systems Interactions in Our Buildings

headshot of Duncan Griffin
Duncan Griffin

The concept of regeneration has caused me to rethink the systems interactions in our economy and buildings. It has the potential to transform all aspects of design and construction — to rethink of waste streams as the supply for another function. Ultimately the construction and operations of the buildings we design should create the same value as an organism does to the shared inhabitants of its ecosystem.

Of course, we’ll face numerous hurdles to get to that point. The friction of conventional thinking often puts the brakes on the rapid evolution of systems demanded by this critical moment in time. There are built examples of all the systems we need to solve for this challenge, but eyes will need to be opened to see them. 

Duncan Griffin, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is managing principal of our Seattle architecture studio and a global sustainability leader.