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3 of my MUST HAVES when choosing land…

Advocating for the diversification of buildings, biomes, and businesses to establish sustainable legacies.

✔ What is biophilic design? (Hint: It's more than just adding plants to a space!)

✔ 3 of my 'must haves' when choosing land: Psychological reasons some places feel better than others.

✔ Hempcrete is officially in the IRC—get the details!


BIOPHILIC DESIGN: Building on our inherent love for nature


When I first heard of biophilia, I felt a slight aversion. Many words with the suffix 'philia' refer to an unnatural or morbid attraction to something. As I continued to read about the philosophy, it seemed like it was just some trend that had designers and architects incorporating more plants into a building. 


I was wrong. Biophilia goes much deeper.


By definition, biophilia is the 'love of nature.' It's the idea that humans are innately drawn to life forms found in nature.  Edward Wilson popularized the concept in 1984. And in the early 1990s, he and Stephen Kellert expanded on it in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis. Wilson describes biophilia as “the innate tendency to focus on life and life-like processes.” As he points out, “To the degree that we come to understand other organisms, w



Today, biophilia has become a well-known principle in the regenerative design movement, and is part of the Living Future Accreditation program at the International Living Future Institute.


While taking the course, I found that I resonated deeply with the principles. It wasn't just about green walls, or large curtain walls flooding a building with light. Biophilic design addresses the physiological and genetic drivers of our kinship to nature, and all the ways we can nurture that kinship to fuel our well-being.

 

According to biophilia, there are nine fundamental values that influence the way we relate with nature. These biophilic values range from aesthetic (which is all about appreciating nature's beauty), to symbolic (which emphasizes how nature can inspire our language and thoughts), to even moralistic (which involves ethical concern for nature). Not all drivers are positive, though: Dominionistic values drive mechanical skills, physical control, and mastery of nature. Negativistic values, deriving from a fear of nature, compel us to seek security & protection.



Having an understanding for these causes, Kellert expanded his work to define Biophilic Design Elements and Attributes. The core 6 design elements are: Environmental Features, Natural Patterns and Processes, Light and Space, Place-Based Relationships, and Evolved Human-Nature Relationships. As you can see in the chart below, there are many ways to achieve these design elements.


It's interesting to see how some of these principles overlap with other design philosophies I've studied, such as Feng Shui, or the 253 patterns in A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander. All of these philosophies incorporate 'vaults & arches,' 'filtered light,' and 'integration to parts of wholes.' But what I think sets biophilia apart from these other design philosophies is its incorporation of 'evolved human-nature relationships,' which addresses our needs as humans as we evolve.


Thanks to my growing fascination, I'm continuing to study biophilia and consciously incorporating more of these principles in my design projects.



FEATURES OF LAND: 3 of my 'must haves' when choosing land


I've been on the hunt for a new piece of land to build on. And it takes a lot for me to get excited about a plot of land! My most recent search is in western Colorado, and only two parcels of land have really lit me up. I think it's important to be highly selective when planning to develop a property. I'm in no rush.


One property particularly excited me—so much so that I thought I should try to define why I found it exciting. That way, I could offer clear guidance to others who may be searching for property. (If you're looking for already developed lots, what I'm about to share can still help.)


Before I get into it, I want to explain why I'm looking in Colorado in the first place! I moved to Colorado from Hawaii a few years ago. Although the two states have very different climates, Colorado has a remarkable mountain beauty. Both Hawaii and Colorado have diverse microclimates, rolling hills, magnetic mountain ranges, and lots of sunshine. However, for now, I prefer the drier air (I'm not sneezing from all the mold anymore!) and the change of seasons the Colorado mountains offer.



But how dry is too dry? It certainly can be too dry in Colorado. As you travel up into the mountains, lush greenery shifts into barren high desert quickly. Water rights can be tricky here, and trying to farm with conventional methods can be challenging. However, I believe humans have the capability and responsibility to restore and revitalize areas that are prone to desertification. By doing so, we are also protecting areas that could be vulnerable in the future if we do not properly manage our water.

Plus, I appreciate a good challenge!


Speaking of challenges, here's the first thing that gets me excited about a property…


1. Slopes


I love varied slopes on a property. I love slopes so much, I built a house on a cliff's edge when I lived on Maui! I'm not sure if I'm seeking a challenge or a thrill, but perhaps finding a space where the road is less traveled and there is some mystery suits me.


Now, I'm not saying it's ideal to live on a very steep slope, like many homes in San Francisco. Engineering and excavation costs can add up fast. For me, any variation of slope will do, ideally between 5–15%


You might ask, wouldn't we want to build on a level site so we don't have to excavate? Well, the book A Pattern Language explains why slopes and higher elevations are a good choice. Author Christopher Alexander talks about how human development should favor slopes to preserve flat lands for agriculture. It makes sense to me, given that most of the water ends up collecting in the valley floor. Plus, it's better to build on drier highlands, away from water, so our foundation won't be prone to washing out, or exposed to too much expansion and contraction.


Terracing the land is also a great way to regenerate landscapes that are prone to erosion, topsoil runoff, and desertification. Simply terracing the land can naturally bring more life to the hillsides and act as erosion control. Plus, if it's around where we live, we will naturally take more care of these landscapes.



One of my favorite aspects of slopes is that it's common for bedrock to be exposed. When I built my house on a radically steep slope, I was able to tie the foundation directly into the bedrock. This felt sooo much more solid! It was a long-term solution to a stable foundation. It certainly beat digging into expansive clay soils of the region, which can swell or shrink based on their water content. The bedrock itself became the foundation, and the building seemed to be an extension of the rock—as if it grew out of the stone. (Just be aware that not all rock types are stable for building on. Consult with a local engineer before embarking on this type of foundation.)


To me, varied slopes on a property give visual movement and character. They can also offer more diversity and microclimates when there are multiple ridges and valleys. Having access to a variety of microclimates on a property can lead to long-term resiliency.


Living on a steep slope may not be for everyone, but even having a slight slope on the land you're building on can be beneficial.


2. A Strong Facing Direction


I've noticed that orienting the property often goes overlooked. A facing direction is not necessarily where the front door is placed. A property and its structures can be designed to look out onto views, incoming roads, or other elements on a site. Ideally, this would be the equator-facing direction to maximize passive solar gain. However, this may not always be possible. Many properties naturally slope in other directions.


When I'm looking for property, I get excited about an equator-facing slope, slightly favoring the east. If that slope also looks out onto views—that property is the cream of the crop!


I sometimes like to think of the land as a big comfy chair. If it has a nice big backrest and some convenient arm rests (and maybe even an ottoman), I feel pretty good about the spot. The backrest is a big one. It's ideal to have a mountain to the back, and a slope gradually descending from the front. Having other elements as the 'armrests'—such as rolling hills, trees, or even man-made components—works too!



Not only is this good Feng Shui, but there's another psychological component to it. It's called the prospect-refuge theory, and it was developed by Jay Appleton in his book, The Experience of Landscape. It's defined as an 'inborn desire' for a sense of being enclosed (which inspires safety and comfort) while simultaneously having an expansive view. This is why many early humans settled in caves. They were able to look out far into the distance, while being protected from behind.


Another aspect of a strong facing direction is that it accounts for other exposing elements. The wind is a big one. I usually like one of the 'armrests' to shield me from prevailing winds, if possible. However, you might want to be shielded from other elements, such as a man-made infrastructure you can't control.


It's important to remember that a facing direction can also be created. We can grow our landscapes to form a backrest (or even a headrest). Even building infrastructure can redirect and give us a clear orientation.


Typically, if I'm confused about a property's facing direction, I'm not interested.



3. Views and Vistas


The last thing I look out for when looking for valuable land is quite common: a good view!


A beautiful view or vista doesn't have to be a mountain view. Maybe a close rock feature or a water element on the property creates beauty. If the property is heavily forested, you might have to do a little exploring to find the perfect view. However, just the 'forest' isn't a view to me. There has to be a focal point, something to meditate on.


Personally, I'm not inclined toward heavily forested regions. For one thing, you often have to clear the land to obtain an adequate amount of light for a living space. Second, I prefer experiencing some kind of expanse.


I recently learned that there's a reason for my natural inclination toward places with a vast expanse. It's called the savanna hypothesis (Orians, G. H. & Heerwagen, J. H.). It's defined as humans' preference for environments with the spacial attributes present in the ancestral savanna landscape.



Fun fact: In a study, researchers found that most younger and elderly people resonated with living in a savanna-type environment, where middle-aged folks did not. They theorized that this was due to an instinctual response, versus a more rational approach.


I personally resonate with the savanna hypothesis. I enjoy being able to see a good stretch of land beyond me. Looking out onto the majesty of nature gives me solace amidst our fast-paced world. I think many feel the same.


Property value is constantly fluctuating. The ability to sit in a place where nature can be witnessed in its unique beauty, can't be added to or taken away from a property.



We are developing land at a rapid rate. The world is currently building the equivalent of another New York City every month. That means our natural world is becoming more precious. The ability to live harmoniously in naturally rich places will only grow in value.

I don't underestimate the factors that go into choosing the right place to build. Some other things I consider are access, acreage, and regulatory bodies. This list of my favorites just scratches the surface!



HEMPCRETE IN THE IRC


It's official! Hempcrete has finally made it into the US Building Codes!


Hempcrete is a building material that has gained traction VERY fast. At first, I thought it was just a trendy material people liked because of its connection to the larger cannabis network. Turns out, hempcrete has a lot of qualities that make it a practical, durable, and regenerative building material.


Here are some of my favorites:


  1. Hemp hurd (the inner part of the hemp plant) has many air pockets within its membrane that contribute to a highly insulative material.

  2. The pozzolanic lime is a basic substrate that is mold-proof, fire-proof, and insect/rodent proof.

  3. The pozzolanic lime binder acts as a substitute for portland cement.

  4. The combination of lime, hemp, and water gets stronger with time.

  5. It is a vapor-permeable material, helping the wall system absorb and release humidity as needed.

  6. Hempcrete is closely tied to local agriculture, creating a reciprocal relationship with farmers, while also sequestering carbon.



If you're looking to build with hempcrete, Caroline Dunn, founder of BIOBUILD, Assoc AIA, and LEED Green Assoc. has created an extensive Hempcrete Construction Detail Packet that can help!


This construction detail packet walks you through a variety of scenarios (all 57 of them!), and maps out details that will help keep your project up to code!


A picture is worth a thousand words….



Interested in building a resilient property


… And that wraps up this month's Building Resilience newsletter! As always, please email a reply if you have any questions about resilient design or if there is a topic you'd like me to cover in a future newsletter.

Once again, I just want to thank you for all that you do whether that's sustainable building, or just educating yourself on the matter. Even the smallest step towards a more resilient future is a move in the right direction. I commend you for helping build a strong foundation for our future generations.

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 CHRISTINA

I love all things natural. I love building places we can call home and in turn be our most authentic selves. 
 

Although I specialize in architecture and interior design, I appreciate all forms of design where form and function are in balance.

My hope is to inspire others to find eco-friendly options valuable and beautiful. 

This is where eco meets elegance... 

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