Today, Birmingham and the rest of the world are facing a number of problems such as transportation, food security, waste management, water quality and energy. We need to work together to ensure the conservation and the integrity of the resources that we need to survive. Nature, by necessity, has solved some of the problems we are facing in the physical and built environment.
According to the EPA, the average American spends 90% of their lives indoors. Yet many people, whether they realize it or not, have an inherent connection to the outdoors. You don’t have to be an avid hiker, kayaker, climber, or bird watcher to feel the spirit of the outdoors. If you ask a group of people to close their eyes and imagine anywhere in the world they would like to be, the majority of them will admit they wanted to be outdoors. We are drawn to the sounds of the ocean, the cool of the rivers, and the mist of the mountains.
Biomimicry is a design discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by mimicking patterns and strategies used in nature.
Nature banks diversity. Evolution has allowed individual species to develop into their form and function to thrive in their climate and creating diverse plant and animal species.
Nature demands local expertise. Species are experts within their space and have learned to thrive in unexpected places. When designing sustainable buildings, it is important to acknowledge regional issues to ensure that your building has a minimal impact on existing problems. Alabama experiences some different design and environmental chal lenges than other states, such as storm water runoff.
Nature curbs excesses from within. Forest fires clear out underbrush to allow new growth. Foresters have learned from nature and use fire to sustainably maintain and promote forest growth.
Nature taps powers of limits. Nature is balanced. Plants and animals in our region are able to thrive within a range of temperatures.
What if our buildings followed these principles? If the principles of biomimicry and sustainable design were implemented into the design of new and existing structures the results would be profound for our society, planet, and economy. Building structures in harmony with nature can reduce operating costs, increase worker productivity, and conserve natural resources. Some of the issues that we are facing today can be eased with the help of looking around us and learning from the natural world.
Although there are no local buildings that follow all of the principles of biomimicry, Birmingham is fortunate to have some green buildings that are LEEDŽ certified. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building rating system. LEED was created by the U.S. Green Building Council to “provide building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions”. Homewood Middle School, Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, Robins & Morton Corporate Office, and the Social Security Administration Building are all examples of buildings who have achieved various levels of LEEDŽ certification. A LEEDŽ building, regardless of the certification level, integrates sustainable design, construction, and operation including waste management, with recycling during construction and operation, water efficiency, such as the use of low flow toilets, and energy efficiency measures, like the use of occupancy sensors in rooms to reduce energy consumption.
In the words of the writer and farmer Wendell Berry, “we should honor Nature not only as our mother or grandmother, but as our teacher and judge.” Birmingham, as we continue to rebuild, redevelop, revitalize, let’s pause to acknowledge the power of nature and how we can best integrate that into our community and structures.
To learn more about biomimicry, visit the Biomimicry Institute website at www.biomimicryinstitute.org and to learn more about green building, visit the Alabama Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council website at www.usgbcofal.org