by the Construction Institute Editorial Committee
Spring is in the air, and a feeling of change is on the horizon. As our gardens come to life, lawns need mowing, trees are budding, and we put the surprise April snow behind us, the words “resilient” and “nature” spark moments of refection and inquiry. In essence, we are experiencing a new growth as well, emerging from this past year with the confidence that in the right time, the moment we’re ready, we too will bloom.
The definition of nature specifically excludes human creations. Instead, it is said to encompass the phenomena of the physical world in its entirety – plants, animals, mountains, oceans and stars – the natural world as it exists without human beings. This may be true, but as both ardent protectors of nature and professionals in the industry of designing and constructing buildings, we know there is another way.
“Nature” could also be used to describe inherent features or characteristics – personality and behavior – and this is our key to unlocking buildings and human environments that live in harmony with nature. What can we learn from the structure of plants? Or from the composition of ecosystems? What material properties will we uncover, and how can we share resources as symbiotic systems do?
Fortunately, this concept is nothing new. Humans have been turning to the natural world for inspiration since the late nineteenth century, and arguably even earlier. We call this area of research “biophilia.” Through our study of the physical world, we discover more and more the impact of our presence in nature, both positive and negative. While research has shown the health benefits of humans and human environments connected to and engaged with nature, we have also seen the delicate balance of our buildings on climate and natural resources.
There was a span of time when the disconnect between humans and nature was out of balance. With the scales tipped in favor of urban concrete jungles, there was an increase in habitat destruction, species extinction, pollution and other harmful emissions. Our health declined, and we suffered from chronic health conditions such as obesity, depression, anxiety and attention disorders. Children spent less time outdoors, and adults spent 90% of their time indoors. The syntax of this narrative hopes this suffering is in our past, but the reality is that the United Nations projects that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in urban environments.
As we rebuild from the global health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are cognizant that health is paramount and our built environment plays a role. We need to look to nature as our way forward. There are resilient strategies embedded within nature that can help us, and our planet, thrive. Let’s challenge the definition of nature by designing and building environments in harmony with the physical world and all its beauty. By doing so, we not only improve our health but we step fully into our human nature.