I’m excited, that everyone is excited about Regenerative Design at the moment. I also know that a lot of people are unsure what it means.
I’ve been learning about regenerative design and thinking with the Regenesis Institute and its been an interesting, sometimes difficult but really enriching process.
There is a lot to it, way more than I could show in a single diagram (I couldn’t make a single diagram to explain structural engineering or architecture). Instead, I’ve chosen some aspects that have really resonated with me and I feel are the clearest to introduce you to.
The first aspect is that regenerative design (and sustainability) isn’t a thing with a start and finish. As we’re all quickly recognising, everything comes from somewhere and goes somewhere else at the end of its life. Our project might have a start and finish, but it will have evolved to where it is now and will continue to evolve afterwards. Evolution doesn’t happen alone, it happens in response to something else and often creates a process of co-evolution. One aspect of regenerative design is to try to understand that co-evolution process, see how it has changed and make it able to adapt in the future.
Projects can be described as getting the most value or creating the greatest output. Other times it can be about what someone external wants to create. That can create really extractive or imposing relationships. In systems thinking, everything sits within nested systems; like a person in a family, a family in a community, a community in a city, a city within a country. Each of those people can have relationships and interactions with other people within those different layers. We may want our project to succeed and focus on making it the best. But if we look at the relationships it has, by growing together the project and its partners can achieve even more. Working in a way that recognises and strengthens those nested systems is part of regenerative design.
Places have character and often that character is shown in its geology, its ecology, social interactions and even its economics. Some projects try to change the character of a place, sometimes by competing or trying to replace what is there. Often these are less successful and after a while they revert or embrace some of the original character. In regenerative design, that character is often referred to as essence. Working with local knowledge, finding the patterns and understanding the essence of a place is a critical part of regenerative design. It allows you to tap into the place sourced potential and achieve something that celebrates the uniqueness of a place.
This is a really brief introduction to these ideas, but if you want to find our more I highly recommend looking at the Regenesis Institute website, and reading Regenerative Development and Design a Framework for Evolving Sustainability by Pamela Mang, Ben Haggard and Regenesis. For more general regenerative principles its worth reading The Regenerative Life by Carol Sanford.
Or you can join Sarah Ichioka, Anthony Davies, Adele Houghton Harvard, and me have a conversation about it on 8th of April 2022 chaired by Oliver Broadbent at the The Happold Foundation City Conversations – What is Regenerative Design?