Urban Ecologies Conference in Toronto

Urban Ecologies 2013
June has totally snuck up on me, so sincere apologies for not sharing this sooner, but there is an excellent Urban Ecologies conference in Toronto this summer at OCAD University from June 20 – 21st.

In the topic of Regenerating Cities, I will be doing a presentation with Bruce Hinds and Ian Clarke, and running a workshop with Bruce Hinds and Jamie Miller. Key topics being explored are homeostasis and resilience as goals for the built environment, with the workshop focusing on the skin of the city. I’ve included the proposals below, and while there may be some changes, especially considering the presentation and workshops are far to brief to cover everything we hoped, I think it gives you a heads up into the research we have been doing.

All research was supported by Autodesk who supported Bruce and I and our students to really experiment with ideas around the built environment. I’ll be sharing more in the future, so stay tuned.

Let me know if you have any questions – hope to see some of you in Toronto – or maybe there are opportunities to play with some of these ideas elsewhere in the world? Let me know!

Workshop Proposal (Accepted):

Skin Deep – Adaptive Capacity, Surfaces and the City

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Mind Blowing Ice Images

If you have ever wondered what it would look like if Manhattan was a glacier that was melting, then this movie is for you. If that hasn’t crossed your mind and your more interested in large scale environmental actions, then you’re also in luck!

The largest ice melting ever recorded. Remarkable.

Unfortunately the movies don’t seem to want to embed, so click on the images below to enjoy.

ice movie 1

ice movie 2

Brickworks Evergreen – Urban Ecology

Photo setting the scene of the brickworks, found on the City of Toronto Website.

Yesterday I was on the discussion panel for a quick chat after the screening of two films; “Second Nature”, and “Brick by Brick”. I say quick, because ultimately I may have said two things, which is extraordinarily rare for me. But I did make a couple of connections that will hopefully lead to some interesting opportunities.

The second movie; “Brick by Brick” traced the history and inception of the Brickworks in Toronto by Evergreen, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing nature into the city. I was aware of the project, but now that I am equipped with more information, I recognize how important and valuable this project is.

Integrating nature into the industrial

From the EBW Blog: This fallen cottonwood tree bears evidence of what may be lurking in the ponds of the Weston Family Quarry Garden. Photo: Andrew Simpson. Co-habitation? Wonder how they'll ultimately feel about the Beaver munching on their freshly installed trees?

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The Long View of Design – A Living Bridge

Absolutely gorgeous movie, click above to view.

The movie is beautiful on many levels. But from a design thinking perspective it highlights a timescale that is unimaginable to most of us. The bridges are woven together from the roots of the strangler fig vines over generations. It is a skill passed down from parent to child, and is a life’s work of maintenance.

When most CEOs hold their positions for less that 5 years, it is incredible to consider that there are cultures that still have the ability to see the “long view”. It is hard not to fantasize and idealize this lifestyle without reflecting on the irony that I am trying to type this in my 5 minute break between meetings and classes… Perhaps when I have some time to reflect there is an interesting discussion to be had around scales of time within “innovation” and it’s relationship to previous discussions regarding “genius of place”.

Architecture for Birds

Continuing the Co-habitation Discussion

Home sweet home... the nest is in the yellow steel guard beam is the down town loft for the demanding chicks.

We discovered a bird’s nest wedged inside a cross beam hanging at the entrance of our condominium parking garage. It’s a brilliant example of nature’s opportunism, carving out homes in unlikely and unplanned locations throughout the city.

Our discovery feels like a hidden treasure. The steel beam has become a little secret moment of magic to watch. If we get this much pleasure from chirping chicks in a steel tube, why isn’t there more of this downtown?

Why isn’t there more integration? Cottages have their bird boxes and feeders, but not downtown. Why not integrated into the tower’s building envelope?

Nature is a Pest?

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Ecosystem Services – Auditing Resources

Not just beautiful, but functional as well? Who'da thought? Personal photo from Prince Edward Island 2010

Ecosystem services are integrated into all of the most fundamental concepts of sustainable or ecological thinking, and yet are probably poorly understood by most designers. “Ecosystem service” is a broad label used to describe, and anyone out there correct me if I’m wrong, the tangible resources and processes provided by any given natural location. These may include capturing and processing water, converting sunlight to energy, and the many nutrient cycles, such as carbon and nitrogen. But even this is a very simplistic view, as researchers are developing global models that highlight ecosystem services that effect the world wide temperature, hydrological and air flows, and more.

For most designers this an overwhelming array of information. How and where to start using this information is extraordinarily difficult. But how to find it is even harder. Some approaches have started by monetizing the intangible effects of ecological services, but I’ll focus on that in a later post. What I want to share in this post a resource that I found that is developing tangible tools for measuring the services of ecosystems and the impact design actions will have.

ARIES – ARtificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services

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Nature as Stakeholder

User focus group interviews in nature, if only it was this easy... image by "Mundo"

Continuing the discussion around Genius of Place, a couple of different conversations have recently raised some ideas to bounce around.

Biomimicry with nature as only a source of inspiration does not guarantee “sustainability”. I’ve already discussed that here. Nature must be a stakeholder in the project, recognized as an entity with needs that must be met and designed for within the project. As a designer, this language opens up tangible paths, as every discipline of designers has a suite of tools for understanding the array of stakeholders, from users, to decision makers, to influencers, and everything in between. This then opens an intriguing question; “How to evolve existing methods so that they can be used on a different species?”

What would a focus group look like from nature? Ecosystem focus group studies to understand the impact of a building?

How do you “interview” the organisms who may be the end users of your site, manufacturing process, or shipping network?

How do you capture and communicate those needs as design opportunities and design criteria?

Shifting design tools away from human centrism

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Codifying Forgotten Spaces

Nicholas de Monchaux: Local Code : Real Estates.

What to do with the forgotten spaces in a city? Too small for maintenance, but too abundant to ignore? Why not develop software to scan, categorize and experiment with all these spaces?

Imagine this software, meshed with genius of place. Ecosystem performance could be achieved in distributed sites around the city, and as the video below shows, these different sites add up very, very quickly.

Local Code / Real Estates from Nicholas de Monchaux on Vimeo.

See below for a project overview:

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What was Manhattan like 400 years ago?

The Welikia Project traces the historical ecology of New York. It is an incredible, and ambitious project that is exquisitely executed. The result of which is a google map of Manhattan 400 years ago (Mannahatta as it was known through the indigenous Lenape people). You can even enter in specific locations to learn what natural ecosystem likely existed 400 years before. Warning: this can be oddly addictive, and there is an enormous amount of content available.

and… now what?

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Genius of Place: Concept Definition

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?

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