Designing places that respect nature 

August 2020

By Gary Wilburn, HPW Architecture

So, how do we make sure we derive genuine, long-term learning and benefit from these challenging and unusual times?

Witnessing and hopefully remembering the current and tangible improvements in air quality, bird song, clear skies and clear water in our rivers and around the coast has been a joy.

The environmental gains as well as our respect and value in our emergency services are the true learning from the lockdown. That nature has reacted so positively to the reduced car, freight, shipping and aeroplane movements, is no surprise scientifically, but to the average person on the street and in their daily lives, the improvements are astonishing.

Should we all support and encourage that we have a “nature break” in every working day, whether 10 minutes or an hour? Going forwards, we must encourage and ensure that we all gain more directly and regularly from the wellbeing and positive response we experience to the natural environment. Did we all have this at the top of our daily routine pre-lockdown? I suspect not!

Bringing the outside in

As an advocate of biophilic nature focussed building solutions, this is all old news, but frankly it is not a universally adopted design preference for developers and designers of new or refurbished buildings. In brief, the biophilic approach encourages natural ventilation, and the use of extensive levels of natural light. It also provides a direct relationship with the outdoors and nature in all buildings.

Where these principles are applied, the proven human response is overwhelming, with visitors and users of such buildings remarking upon the atmosphere and comfort levels. As a result of prioritising natural and often historic design methods, the process provides views of landscape and surrounding planting and as much as possible brings the outside in.

Building design

Designing buildings that respect nature is a rarely discussed subject in project design and development team meetings. The need for us to prioritise such discussions at inception and conceptual stages is obvious, and something that can directly and cost-effectively enhance working environments, whilst also improving the natural capital and asset value of the site in question.

I am blessed with having been able to design and deliver many such buildings, both small and large scale and the recurring challenge is to convince clients and investors to commit to such a un-conventional approach.

Strangely, in explaining the benefits of responding to nature, we utilise scientific modelling tools, which complement our architectural skills and ensure the highest standards of thermal performance and construction are achieved. This “building physics” process not only allows us to accurately forecast the lifetime energy use of buildings, but also explains the benefits of enhanced natural light and ventilation levels, orientation and site specific, contextual considerations.

Nature at the centre of development

On many occasions this has reduced, not increased build cost, so even the purse holder is happy! Whether this results in the inclusion of wildflower roofs, semi mature planting in the grounds, or simply larger well orientated windows and vistas, the human and natural context is amplified. All for the effort of adopting a thorough and well-informed process at the early design stages and sticking to the brief that nature should be at the centre of all our development considerations.

Holding nature close

Working with my colleagues and partners at Green Halo we aim to raise the understanding of natural capital and the value of our green spaces, ensuring that we provide better quality wellbeing for us all in the future. We adopt and encourage joined up thinking to ensure all considerations and consultations are made when projects are conceived. Our membership is growing and it is hugely encouraging to see developers, local authorities, charities, utility companies and private practitioners supporting our focussed and passionate group.

We must be brave and very focussed on delivering a meaningful and lasting legacy from these life-changing times. This will not be easy as financial pressures will push us towards whatever the old normal was, but we have to work together to raise standards and ensure all new development holds nature close.

Gary is a founding member of Green Halo Steering Group and Director of HPW Architecture Contact:


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