Genius of Place: Concept DefinitionPosted: May 28, 2011
Genius of Place, or the horribly political sounding GofP, is a concept in biomimicry of learning from “nature’s genius” in a specific location. It can be used in reference to the exploration of integrating nature back into a location, habitat restoration, understanding what nature would want to naturally do if humans were not in the way and then removing those barriers and assisting in natural growth.
Or it can be used, within a design process, to identify natural principles of an location that can be replicated in design. Architecture and urban planning, disciplines that are directly associated with a specific location, are the most obvious examples of where this has value.
Why is Genius of Place Important?
Human innovation has been spoiled by access to energy and materials that have allowed us to reshape place according to our needs. Instead of adapting to place, as all organisms in nature do, we have adapted the place to us. This has allowed the architecture of Melbourne, Toronto, London and Dubai to all look and behave similarly, despite the incredible diversity of habitat conditions.
There is no bioregional history trained to designers. Even landscape architects, unless they specialize in indigenous plants and ecological restoration are unlikely to have an understanding of “place”.
In David Orr’s book “Ecological Literature” the fundamental premise is that without an understanding of place, and a respect for it’s wisdom there can be no sustainability. As an example, he reprints a checklist of bioregional knowledge. I challenge anyone to be able to answer more than 5 from that list. I wonder how many naturalists would even be able to navigate their way down this list?
- What soil series are you standing on?
- When was the last time a fire burned your area?
- Name five edible plants in your region and their seasons of availability.
- From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?
- Where does your garbage go?
- How long is the growing season where you live?
- Name five grasses in your area. Are any of them native?
- Name five resident and five migratory birds in your area.
- What primary geological event or processes influenced the land from where you live?
- What species have become extinct in your area?
- What are the major plant associations of your region?
Where now with Genius of Place?
There are many people developing tools of Ecosystems Performance Specifications, that are the tangible outcomes of the understanding of place. These specifications can be used as metrics, and guidelines, within a design process. By introducing this insight early, it has a strategic effect on how the design is executed. The more of these that can be introduced early into design process, the more likely an impact is likely to occur.
I will use the category “Genius of Place” to track ideas and discoveries, tools and applications that emerge from place based thinking. I will also begin to explore how this concept might apply to other design disciplines that are not explicitly tied to place. Does industrial design factor into this discussion? What is the GofP influence of an iPhone?