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Green Roofs and Regenerative Design

on November 1, 2018 at 2:42 pm under , ,

South View of The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design at Georgia Tech by Lord Aeck Sargent in Collaboration with The Miller Hull Partnership.

“What you’re doing is not important, what is important is the state of mind in which you are doing it.” – Constantin Brâncuși as quoted by Marina Abramović in a Guardian article on creativity.

What does regenerative design really entail?

It is easy to read descriptions of regenerative design and wonder if they could have been expressed in simpler, less confusing terms.  The answer may very well be ‘no’ but the idea is definitely worth exploring.

Above all other possibilities, regenerative design asks of us to first develop a new state of mind; a state of mind that is not afraid to base strategies and action on a set of principles; a state of mind that seeks to explore the system or the context along with the element; a state of mind that highly values process as a means to an outcome; a state of mind that seeks to add value to the evolutionary health of the places we inhabit.

One thing that is easy to grasp is that regenerative design places life – human and other forms – at the center and seeks to promote it.  Life thrives in the context of nested and complex ‘living systems’ whose interactions may not be easy to capture via graphics or metrics.

As an architecture professional, I have often wondered how it is possible for architects dealing with things at the building scale to practice regenerative design.  According to Bill Reed, an architect with Regenesis Group, a building is an acupuncture point to influence the larger community and the ecological context around it.  And in turn, the healthy nature of the larger community and ecosystem can inform the nature, processes and form of the project.  In Reed’s vision, ecological design culminates in regenerative living systems, transcending fragmented and energy intensive approaches.

regenerative design

“Trajectory of Ecological Design” by Regenesis Group.

Reed also believes that an integrative process, one that expands the scope of design and builds capacity among all stakeholders, is key to realizing the potential of regenerative design.  This thinking is based on an understanding that the barriers to practicing regenerative design are primarily cultural and psychological, not technological.

Reed offers a simple framework for project teams to explore ‘purpose’ on their project.  Define:

  • Function: What will be transformed in the course of this project?
  • Being: What new capability in ourselves, our team and the larger life-shed will be developed?
  • Will: What is the deep source of our motivation – the purpose of the purpose?

Where do green roofs fit in?

Green roofs certainly have a role to play in regenerative design and development both at a building scale and a neighborhood scale.  Where such a green roof is accessible, its potential for getting people to step out of enclosed spaces, be more physically active and connect with nature is immense.

In urban areas where building footprints can take up most of the site, green roofs have the potential to play a role in providing habitats for different species, promoting biodiversity and mitigating heat island effect.  From a rainwater management standpoint, green roofs have the ability to reduce peak runoff rates during large storms, thereby reducing the strain on sewer systems.

Lord Aeck Sargent (LAS), an Atlanta-based architecture and planning firm and my employer, recently conducted a design core values exploration exercise and “regenerative” was one of the seven values that emerged to the top.  Green roofs have been integral to the design of several past projects, but a recent project presented a unique opportunity in bringing the “regenerative” core value and a green roof application closer than ever before.

While taking advantage of all the above benefits, we employed a green roof as a medium for urban agriculture.  The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, currently under construction at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and to be substantially completed in mid-2019, uses urban agriculture as a part of its multipronged approach to regenerative design with an eventual goal of achieving full Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification.

regenerative design

A partial view of the green roof on the Kendeda Building (to the left of the image) by Andropogon with Lord Aeck Sargent in Collaboration with The Miller Hull Partnership.

Beyond building-scale issues, there were also some contextual concerns at play.  Just three years ago, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution investigation, Atlanta contained 35 food deserts where residents live more than one mile from a supermarket or other reliable source of fresh, nutritious produce, generally due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets and other healthy food providers.

A successful example in the heart of Atlanta can certainly validate the role of urban agriculture in dealing with the challenging issue of food insecurity.

To vet the urban agriculture options that are possible within LBC’s parameters, Andropogon, the project’s landscape architecture team, conducted a detailed study of different approaches such as intensive agriculture, permaculture, aquaponics, rooftop agriculture and a forage-driven edible landscape.

regenerative design

A section through the green roof on Kendeda Building (the green roof is in the left half of the image) by Lord Aeck Sargent in Collaboration with The Miller Hull Partnership.

The sunniest, flattest, most secure area within the project site is the roof.  The Kendeda Building’s 2,895-square-foot rooftop farm will consist of a honey bee apiary, pollinator garden and blueberry orchard.  These elements will satisfy a portion of the LBC’s urban agriculture area requirement while simultaneously offering valuable curriculum and research opportunities; reconnecting students, faculty and visitors with their food system; modeling sustainable, productive infrastructure; demonstrating medicinal uses for plants; and supporting pollinators and pollinator habitat conservation awareness.

At USGBC Georgia’s Regenerative Design Summit in October, I heard Bill Reed say during his plenary presentation that buildings by themselves can be generative (e.g. photovoltaics) but not regenerative.  He followed it up by stating that buildings have the biggest opportunity to influence regeneration after agriculture.

I want to leave you with one thought:

Imagine a world where architecture, agriculture, and green roofs come together to form a holistic strategy for regeneration!

~ Ramana Koti

regenerative design

Ramana Koti, BEMP, LEED AP BD+C is an Associate responsible for Building Performance Analysis at Lord Aeck Sargent, A Katerra Company. His specialized expertise is in assisting project teams with energy efficiency, daylighting and lighting design decisions through benchmarking, simulation analysis and research.

Besides facilitating sustainability kickoffs, an integrative approach, and LEED certification administration on projects, Ramana is also active in leading an internal sustainability education forum with monthly roundtable sessions. He has published several technical papers on daylighting and energy performance in buildings and regularly blogs on green building related topics. Ramana is a certified ASHRAE Building Energy Modeling Professional (BEMP) and a LEED Accredited Professional with BD+C specialty. He volunteers with the local AIA COTE and USGBC chapters.

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