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Living Buildings

Living Buildings

A few years ago I, and a large team of scientists, engineers, and educators were hired to develop a prototype building for the 21st century.

The building, known as the EpiCenter, would combine emerging technologies with age-old strategies to generate less pollution than any conventional building, both in its construction and operation, while enhancing the productivity and creative synergy of the students and researchers that would inhabit it.

We had been given the task of designing the future, or at least of showing what was possible if we dared to dream of a future where our buildings no longer took from the environment, but were restorative.

For too long now the machine has been the primary metaphor for our buildings, which implies a relationship with nature that is exploitative and relies on brute force combined with great amounts of energy to solve problems. It is a 19th-century model that has been carried forth into the 21st century.

I found myself searching for a metaphor that would replace the machine. I found it in a tiny flower. Here was a thriving plant that not only had evolved perfectly to suit its environment, but also enriched it, retaining soil, providing habitat, and storing rainwater as needed. It was a perfect metaphor for the building of the future.

Bucky Fuller once said, “We do not seek to imitate nature, but rather to find the principles she uses.” By following these basic principles we can imagine whole cities operating like complex ecosystems, processing water and waste while generating energy.

I decided to call the future of architecture a future of living buildings. Like their flowering counterparts, living buildings operate from seven simple principles. Living buildings will:

1. Harvest all their own water and energy needs on site.
2. Be adapted specifically to site and climate and evolve as conditions change.
3. Operate pollution-free and generate no wastes that aren’t useful for some other process in the building or immediate environment.
4. Promote the health and well-being of all inhabitants, as a healthy ecosystem does.
5. Be comprised of integrated systems that maximize efficiency and comfort.
6. Improve the health and diversity of the local ecosystem rather than degrade it.
7. Be beautiful and inspire us to dream.

The amazing thing is that we already have the technology necessary to create buildings that can perform like the living buildings I envisioned. From photovoltaics to fuel cells, the technology research we performed and applied at the EpiCenter shows that the future is available, if we only have the desire and foresight to accept it.

Jason Frederick McLennan can be contacted through BNIM Architects.

Read more: Crafts & Design, Materials & Architecture

By Jason McLennan, and adapted from Sustainable Architecture White Pages. Copyright (c) Earth Pledge Foundation. Reprinted by permission of Chelsea Green Publishing.
By Jason McLennan, and adapted from Sustainable Architecture White Pages from the Earth Pledge Foundation.

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

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Sustainable Architecture White Pages

A remarkable collection of vibrant and diverse readings, which explores the critical link between our built and natural now


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7:09AM PDT on Apr 9, 2011


12:43AM PST on Mar 6, 2011

Thanks for the article.

6:12PM PST on Feb 7, 2011

Good article.

1:59AM PST on Jan 20, 2010

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12:40AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

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10:07AM PDT on Jun 13, 2008

Well baby steps won't do it now. Much too late. Must reduce the cost so more can be built now by everyone on earth

10:06AM PDT on Jun 13, 2008

Well baby steps won't do it now. Much too late. Must reduce the cost so more can be built now by everyone on earth

11:49AM PDT on Jun 12, 2008

Network together, spread the good news and share what you know here;

11:42PM PDT on Oct 16, 2007

I think that we are all here in the best disposition, offering the best we have... is it enough?
I say yes, i say little is much and small is beautiful.
For me it is good that a person dedicated to do only arquitecture is open to incorpore more concepts and starts to learn more about ecofriendly practices... what i say is: keep on and always search for more, walk more, advance in the earth-friendly and people-friendly path.
We are millions, so... there most be millions of true ways of going and doing!

1:21PM PDT on Sep 23, 2007

If "green" is our mind ,definately our buildings will be green !!
BUT , in countries like India where people dont have idea about thier next meal ,they dont have a proper shelter , they spend months on railways platform..
How can they live green?

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