Niche Construction – Deep Ecological Concept

Image source Ilya Haykinson: Beavers are ecosystem engineers that have a dramatic effect on the evolution of an ecosystem due to the scale of niche they construct for themselves.

I am currently doing a research project with Autodesk at OCAD University exploring ecological concepts within building performance. The research team, including students, graduate research assistants and my colleague Bruce Hinds are having a lot of fun diving into the deep end of ecological research.

What we are discovering is a wide range of concepts that should be more closely linked with research and practice within the built environment. We are still in the early stages of really processing and understanding these links, but I thought I needed to begin sharing some stories (warning: this is going to be a long one…).

Ecology and Building Performance

Current research from building science is slowly transitioning a building-centric view, that focuses solely on building efficiency, to an occupant-centric view, which focuses on the broader impact on the user. The emerging themes explore a deeper understanding of comfort, as well as the impacts on health and well-being. It is a rich space of exploration, with many insightful theories begging for more practical application, and to be greedy we are pushing it a little further.

Our research is exploring an eco-centric worldview, that observes at a systems level the broad relationships within the various biotic (living) elements and the abiotic (non-living) elements within the city. In order to get the creative juices flowing, we assigned papers of ecology and building science to the students and had them diagram and explore the concepts for discussion (diagrams to come in a future post).

Ecological Concepts

One of the emerging concepts that has triggered lots of discussion is niche construction. 

Niche construction is the process whereby organisms modify selective environments, thereby affecting evolution.

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Is Urban Sprawl a Bad Thing?

Is it possible to compare a groundhog's burrow to our suburbs?

Continuing on from the my thoughts yesterday, how do you explore design research and biology research in parallel?

Using nature to prove your idea

It is very tempting to look to nature to find “proof” that justifies your pre-existing idea. Often it is easy to find a connection between natural systems and the theoretical best-practices within the fields of urban planning, architecture and industrial design. But if you  are already aware of these ideas, has the biology research really helped you? And if these best-practices remain theoretical and mostly unachieved, are you even asking the right questions?

Perhaps in some cases this is all the heart desires, confirmation that you’re exploration is heading in the right direction, and new stories to help convey the thinking to your often unwilling audience.

But biomimicry should be about making “new” insights and observations that shift, challenge and expand how we approach design, business and engineering challenges. In order to achieve this level of insight a completely different mindset is required. The investigation requires ego to be set aside and preconceived wisdom to be parked on the back shelf and  freedom to explore some rabbit holes whose end destinations may be unclear.

Is urban sprawl a bad thing?

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