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From Fear to Abundance: Design Frontiers on Architecture for Biodiversity

Presenting at the BCC Green Heart Fair gave us the opportunity to pause once again and reflect on the most critical reasons for why and how architecture has to play a role in supporting urban wildlife and plants.

One of the biggest questions that came up for us after having witnessed the wildlife in our Brisbane backyard over the last two years, is not so much whether wildlife will come, but is there a way i can enjoy and feel safe to encourage wildlife in close proximity to where I am living?

This has been a huge shift in our thinking around designing alongside biodiversity. It’s not so much about trying to get species to use the habitat, because something surely will…if you build it, someone will come. It’s much more about how can an interface between building and landscape be curated so that close proximity between humans and nature can be accommodated without risk to anyone (wildlife, plant or human). This is where the green heart fair helped us to develop a framework for working through this, the three ‘S’s’: Safety, Sanity and Sanitation. More on this in the previous post.

The second biggest question for me is how does one socially and physically design for evolving patterns of habitation?

We design with a certain species in mind. Will they come? Does surrounding landscape alteration need to occur to maximise the chances of that species to prevail in my area and to utillise my design? Is this something i can achieve on my site or is it a broader streetscape/neighborhood challenge?

Will the habitat be utilised? How long will it take for a species to uptake the newly provided habitat? Are the strongest forces influencing the likelihood of take up outside my control? Are there additional actions I would need to take to encourage habitation?

Will biodiversity be enhanced or diminished if the habitat i provide will only strengthen the presence of the already dominant existing species? Is this still a worthwhile cultural endeavor in efforts to forge attitudes of stewardship and belonging to the land?

Clues to these questions can be sought in research into nesting boxes in urban areas, concepts around urban landscape connectivity and streetscape planting for biodiversity, wildlife crossing designs over highways. We believe more research is needed in the building design integrated context.

Green hearts still struggle to invest

Without any guarantees for significant contributions to urban biodiversity, human health or economics, it is difficult to convince a client to invest the love and money into designing building configurations that benefit other species. Yes, some of us are intrinsically motivated to care for the land, yet when it comes to designing for our own shelter and fiscal longevity, it is very much a secondary consideration. As yet, even with some of our most ecologically minded clients, not one has shown enthusiasm to invest more than the status quo, let alone investigate solutions to wildlife habitat that would likely end up impacting their back pocket.

Even the more mainstream ‘green’ architecture remains reserved for the more affluent and bold among us. Ie your typical ‘let’s renovate to get an extra bedroom, bathroom and to increase our resale value’ clients tend not to opt for one less bathroom in preference for the design with the green roof or wall investment, despite the health, wellbeing and often fiscal benefits of such proposals.

Without having established case studies of multiple design options that could incorporate natural habitat alongside shelter and fiscal longevity, great uncertainty exists about the comparative costs to standard design. This is the next frontier for Hurley Architects. If you think you could help, please get in touch.

Designing from abundance not fear

We believe there is a deeply seeded fear among us when it comes to sharing our buildings with plants and animals. It is that plants, animals and humans other than our own risk our immediate and long-term safety by being in direct competition for our shelter and food resources. Keeping others out, decreasing elements of decay and uncertainty all lead to a more predictable, reliable future. This sounds totally justified. It’s just that it is a fundamentally flawed belief from which to design a future from…fear. If fear is what is driving us to keep nature out, then we have some serious and inescapable emotional baggage that we are perpetuating in our architecture that we suggest needs to be addressed. Perhaps this provides yet another in-roads for designing with biodiversity… a technique to ‘Marie Kondo’ your life and to align yourself and your family in space that perpetuates abundance over fear.

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