There's a new climate push in the building industry: regenerative architecture. The sector has been trying for years to cut its sizable carbon footprint, which was responsible for 38% of the world's energy-related greenhouse gasses in 2019. But developers need to go beyond preventing pollution if they want to help avoid catastrophic climate change, according to Sarah Ichioka and Michael Pawlyn, co-authors of a new book titled Flourish: Design Paradigms for Our Planetary Emergency.
They argue that buildings should be designed in a regenerative way — a process that mimics nature by restoring its own materials and sources of energy. It goes further than sustainable design, which seeks to reduce harm to the environment and use only essential materials.
"More than half of humanity's total historic greenhouse-gas emissions have occurred since the concept of 'sustainability' entered the mainstream," Ichioka and Pawlyn write. "It is now time to embrace a new regenerative approach to design and development." Their book highlights examples of regenerative design from China to Japan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Projects are still rare, but they're a glimpse of what the future of rural and urban architecture could be.
Bamboo Theater, Zhejiang, China
Designed by Beijing-based DnA and completed in 2015, this theater is constructed entirely from living bamboo taken from the mountains that surround the Chinese village of Hengkeng.
It hosts a range of activities, from local opera performances to meditation sessions. The species of bamboo — known as Mao Zhu — can grow when bent and has roots that spread out horizontally to create the foundation of a building. Each year, old bamboo can be easily replaced and bent to join the existing structure.
Cheonggyecheon Stream, Seoul, South Korea
The demolition of an elevated motorway uncovered six kilometers of Seoul's historic Cheonggyecheon stream. The project, completed in 2005, increased biodiversity by more than sixfold, according to the Landscape Performance Series. Within three years of restoration, paths along the stream were as much as 5.9 degrees Celsius cooler than on a parallel road four blocks away, and air pollution dropped by more than a third.
Sahara Forest Project Pilot Facility, Qatar
Birds appeared the first day that plants began arriving in 2012 at this saltwater-cooled greenhouse built on previously barren Qatari desert. They were followed by grasshoppers, then butterflies, then a long-eared rodent called a jerboa.
The revival shows that nature has a great capacity for regenerative growth under the right conditions, in this case created by human design, Ichioka and Pawlyn write in their book.