ILFI Living Future 2014: Beauty and Inspiration

Posted by Nina Smith-Gardiner, AIA, LEED AP on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 10:22 PM

Maya Lin, Jason McLennan, and Jay Harman all presented visions of hope for the future at the Living Future 2014 unConference.

Maya Lin’s presentation was spell-binding, in particular her descriptions of her Confluence Project:

Jay Harman described how nature offers us the solutions we desperately need in his presentation Biomimicry: How Nature is Inspiring Radical Innovation.   A crisis – like our current one – brings change. “Biomimicry is rushing to meet us!” He suggests biomimicry will completely overhaul industry in the next 12 years.  By painting ships’ hulls with a paint that mimics a shark’s skin – whose mottled surface cuts down drag – we could save 100 million tons of fuel each year. This and many other examples he offered up in his presentation give us real hope.  Check out: and

Jason McLennan started his presentation quoting Maya Lin: “Perfection is achieved when there is nothing left to take away.”  (See another post on this topic as it relates to the Bullitt Center:  Rather than designing the “shiny object,” focused on consumption, size, flash, without context or meaning, he suggests using design and beauty to change the way people make buildings and use energy.  Beauty is our “secret weapon”:  saving energy and supporting our physical and mental health.  He announced the launch of Living Building Challenge 3.0, with an emphasis on resiliency, regeneration, and equity.

Buildings as Agents of Behavioral and Cultural Change, presented by Ray Cole and Alberto Cayuela, focused on the University of British Columbia’s Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) as both a sustainability showcase and a living laboratory. In its mission of regenerative sustainability, the design team sought environmental integrity in energy and water use.  They set a goal of having more carbon stored in the structure than was used in the construction, taking a thoughtful look at both structural and operational carbon.  Another focus was human well-being, taking into consideration health, happiness, and productivity.  The team is researching how design of a building might nurture different patterns of behavior, such as recycling habits.  They spoke of five enablers:

  1. Systems thinking and integration.
  2. Industry ecology demonstrations: the exchange of resources between buildings, reducing emissions and energy demand.
  3. Carbon sequestration: more carbon was sequestered with wood used in the building than was expended in the production of the building materials.
  4. Integrated utilization of resources: greywater re-use and exporting greywater
  5. Occupants:  engaged and with a sense of place (fresh air, daylight, acoustics, social spaces, feedback, control)

Outreach and education are their way of supporting the living laboratory concept.  CIRS offers educational building tours, YouTube videos, a technical manual, systems monitoring online, inhabitant interface (widgets on desktops, individual control), technology research, development and demonstration, as well as visualizing and modeling in the BC Hydro Theatre.  The CIRS team asks the question, “Can buildings catalyze transformational change?”

The session Hardwired for Beauty – the Science and Application of Biophilia focused on the restorative powers of nature in design.  Research has proven that a natural environment helps us recover from stress. Those in the greenest neighborhoods are 30% healthier.  Biophilic design helps people be more productive, creative, and healthier physically and mentally.

Institutional Acupuncture – Stimulating Business Neurons to Drive Organizational Transformation featured Peter Rumsey and Alexis Karolides of Point Energy Innovations.  They spoke about how certain people in an organization can be the pivot points to enable a transformative project.  Texas Instruments ($4 million a year in energy savings) and InfoSys (new building has 80% lower energy use) were two examples cited.  Even Wal-Mart in getting into the action in Kansas, adding skylights to their buildings, which reduce energy while increasing sales.

Living Building Challenge, EcoDistricts, One Planet Living, LEED – Shared Goals & Leveraging for Great Impact featured a panel monitored by Kevin Hydes of Integral Group.  Jason McLennan commented that he saw too much fragmentation in this work.  It’s hard to collaborate in real life: the inertia of everyday experience. He emphasized the importance of finding the right scale for the right application. Rob Bennett of Portland’s EcoDistricts spoke about how to activate the market of neighborhoods and reinvigorate neighborhood planning.  He said there are good disrupters out there: the sharing economy is a great asset.  Tools need to be flexible to welcome a culture of innovation and collectiveness. He felt it’s good to start at community/district scale since it’s easier than city scale.   Pooran Desai gave an overview of his extremely interesting work in London on BioRegional/One Planet Communities.  He spoke about the need to take a lifestyles approach. Healthy lifestyles are a key determinant in physical and mental health.  Well-designed communities can use less energy while promoting a healthy lifestyle and social equity.

The International Living Future Institute offered a conference bursting with good ideas and innovators.  These are only a sampling of the presentations.  The crowd was inspired to promote the powerful and optimistic tool that is the Living Building Challenge.