Seeing Beyond the Structure: Building Biology as Regenerative Design

Insights from Paula Baker-Laporte, FAIA, BBEC, Econest Architecture Inc.

By Meirav Even-Har

Exploring new approaches to urban and building design, SBE16 Toronto will bring international environmental stakeholders from industry, academia and government, to share the latest research and practice on the theme of Regenerative and Resilient Urban Environments. Part of creating urban environments that are both resilient to a changing climate and self-sustaining often means looking toward technological innovation. However, traditional building techniques and materials demonstrate both high endurance (environmental resiliency), as well as health benefits to inhabitants. “What many see as ‘non conventional’ construction materials such as clay, straw wood and stone are the traditional building materials of human kind and building techniques based on them have evolved for millennium until this current blink of human history,” explains Paul Baker-Laporte of Econest Architecture Inc. and a plenary speaker at SBE16. Ms. Baker-Laporte, a Building Biology expert, will present an alternative perspective to building construction, and the purpose they serve – be it one’s home or workplace.

Understanding the Building Biology Approach

With recent growing attention to the environmental qualities of interiors at work and home, wellness has generated both awareness and investment in indoor environments. “As a Building Biologist natural, traditional building materials have many health benefits that make them of great interest,” notes Baker-Laporte. Wellness indoors, however, is only one-side of the Building Biology ‘coin’; a building must be healthy to both those who live inside, as well as those who exist outside of it. Baker-Laporte explains: “Building Biology states that “there is almost always a direct correlation between the health of a built environment and its ecological performance” and so creating the healthiest environment for humans and ecologically sound decisions go hand-in-hand.”

Based on this understanding of Building Biology, the question arises: should traditional building techniques be maintained or discarded in what we often term ‘the developing world’? With many non-western countries experiencing population and economic growth, urban and building design is often influenced by western concepts and technologies. Baker-Laporte weighs in: “Many developing countries still have an unbroken lineage of very sophisticated traditional building skills that have served them well for centuries. They already have ecological and healthy ways to build using the materials at hand and a successful time-tested way of fashioning them in to climatically and culturally appropriate buildings.” She provides an example, such as the introduction of western style construction in rebuilding after a natural disaster. Although it is done with the best of intentions, Baker-Laporte warns: “we must be very cautious and a lot more humble about introducing new systems that impose dependence on our high tech ways.”

Resiliency beyond Climate Change Adaptation

Building Biology addresses the notion of regenerative design: moving beyond the idea of ‘doing less harm’ and instead moving toward enhancing the natural and built environment as if it is one. On the subject of resiliency – the second part of the overarching discussion in this year’s SBE16 – for Baker-Laporte, it is as much about flexibility to endure physical change, as it is about the social characteristic of bestowed upon structures. “Resiliency is as much about a building’s ability to enter into positive and enduring relationship with those who occupy it and care for it, as it is about the technical flexibility to endure physical change. We have all experienced certain buildings that we love to be in, that we feel nurtured by or inspired by. Buildings are saved from the ‘wrecking ball’ to stand the test of time, because they are beloved and would be missed.” Perhaps resiliency is just as much about what we choose to keep, as it is about the choices made for designing new structures.

Baker-Laporte sums her thoughts on the subject: “In Building Biology nature is the gold standard for a healthy human environment and the model for ecological regeneration. Health is far more than an environment with fewer VOC’s, and ecological balance encompasses more than reduction of human footprint.” She shares a quote by Regenesis Group: “It is not enough to aspire to mitigate the effects of human activity. People need to take their place again as a part of nature.”

So what of the future? “Certainly principles of Building Biology can and should be incorporated in to all buildings,” responds Baker-Laporte. “This does not have to mean multi-story straw and clay. There are commercial products that are both more suitable and more readily acceptable for Institutional projects.” Building Biology is not a concept that belongs in the past or rests solely in the future. It is part of the present. It is perhaps a building tradition that never left, just evolved with time.


To learn more, join Paula Baker-Laporte for her presentation titled “Building Biology – 7 Keys to Health and Resilience”, part of plenary session: Getting to the Next Level – A Road Map to Regenerative Buildings taking place Tuesday Sept 20, 1:15 – 3:15 PM.