Recently, the ACE Emerging Professionals Welsh cohort organised a learning event around the principle of ‘Regenerative Design’, with two pioneers in the field sharing their insights and experience.
Laurence Pinn of Tate+Co Architects, and Anthony Davies of 3ADAPT Consultancy have worked together on many such schemes in the UK and have been pushing the legislative and engineering envelope for some time.
The event aimed to share worthwhile lessons learnt from years of work, primarily focusing on an ongoing scheme called ‘Esholt Positive Living’ in Yorkshire. The scheme involved extensive cooperation between the client, Keyland Developments, Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency, and many other stakeholders, to produce a 100+ residential development, in harmony with the surrounding environment.
Regenerative Design is an engineering design principle based on the idea of creating a building (or delivering a scheme) that mimics the restorative aspects found in nature and delivers an overall positive environmental impact.
Many practices in modern sustainable design focus on minimising adverse effects from a proposed development. Regenerative design considers how a design could integrate with and contribute to environmental systems and services, encouraging engineers and designers to take a holistic, life-cycle approach. Regenerative Design is not a new concept, however it is not standard practice, or perhaps not yet.
There are many challenges to a Regenerative Design approach. In developed countries like the UK, towns and cities are concrete paradises, meaning true Regenerative Design can be very difficult to achieve. True Regenerative Design can also have high upfront capital costs and require significant staff time, and this can hinder many developers or companies from engaging with whole system thinking. In addition, legislation, although improving, is still some way behind a desirable position to translate into practice beyond meeting the minimum required standards.
The key to Regenerative Design may be to utilise some of the unique features of specific schemes. For example, Esholt had the advantage of being located within a rural context, whilst also being located close to a wastewater treatment site with large areas of disused equipment.
Consequently, Tate+Co sought to maximise the natural environment by encouraging more sustainable modes of transport and provide biodiversity enhancements, utilise disused land and untapped energy generation potential at the wastewater works, overall considering this one scheme as part of the whole system to achieve a positive outcome.
In addition, the cost challenges to make Regenerative Design work could be intertwined with the legislative challenges. For the most part, Laurence and Anthony were lucky to have worked with a good developer who had specifically commissioned them due to their understanding and knowledge with regenerative systems.
Outside of good developers, influencing the government to change legislation is realistically the only way to raise the bar across the board and ensure a high standard. The government could be both more stringent on outcomes, while also providing the maximum assistance possible, through grants, cooperation, and other assistance schemes.
So why is Regenerative Design important, and why should it be made a priority? Human civilisation is at a turning point. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicates that a ‘build as usual’ mindset will lead to almost triple the CO2 output from 2015 to 2100, with a corresponding increase in global temperature of 4oC.
Therefore, our priority needs to be designing developments that can withstand global megatrends in the long term and in line with the principles of sustainable development around social and economic values that are keeping within environmental limits.
Committing to total regenerative design principles, in conjunction with other tools to meet sustainable development principles, is capable of reversing CO2 output entirely and restoring global temperatures to acceptable levels, at least according to environmental models (SSP1-1.9 and SSP1-2.6 are considered to use regenerative principles).
At present, the reforms to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) consenting process and introduction of Environmental Outcomes Reports (EORs) mean an opportunity to re-assess current design processes and approaches to project siting and integration with surroundings.
Regenerative design could be one to actively address environmental impacts at the core of projects and enable better outcomes that could improve the environment which will be reported in the EORs.
We certainly see regenerative design as an opportunity to provide practicable demonstrable benefits to local economies, communities and natural environments. If tackled correctly, Regenerative Design has the potential to be a game-changer provided governments, organisations and individuals are willing to listen.
For further information and examples of Regenerative design in projects, see the Tate + Co website.
For further information of the work 3ADAPT have completed, see here.
Recorded webinar link: Regenerative Design_ An answer to sustainable development.mp4
References: Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project - Nationally Significant Infrastructure: action plan for reforms to the planning process - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Sixth IPCC report - IPCC_AR6_SYR_LongerReport.pdf
Regenerative Development and Design - (PDF) Regenerative Development and Design (researchgate.net)