Originally popularized by landscape architect Ian McHarg in the 1960s and still promoted by many landscape architects, "design with nature" starts with the land, geology, native plants and animal species, climate and water patterns, and then uses these dynamics to inform site planning. Mc-Harg's premise was that ecology, the science of interrelationships between animals and plants, should be the basis for land planning and site design, at a regional scale as well as for individual sites. This approach helps to avoid stupid mistakes, such as building in areas prone to mudslides, earthquakes and floods.
"Nature always bats last" is an apt slogan for land development. We can look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as a great example of how powerful natural forces can be, and while we sympathize with those displaced, killed or injured and economically hurt by Katrina, we can also see the futility of trying to rebuild a large city located in a place that will eventually become part of the Gulf of Mexico.
The green building movement addresses design with nature in a number of ways. First, we don't want development on sensitive ecological sites within 100 feet (or greater distance) of wetlands or river, on prime farmland or on land that is habitat for rare or endangered species. Second, we want land development to be more compact than the traditional, post-World War II suburban sprawl model. This means leaving more land in open space, even in greenfields developments. Ironically, developers are discovering that leaving open land in and around a development makes the remaining building sites even more valuable because future residents will have access to natural areas, trails and wetlands right outside their back doors, something that most people treasure. In Florida, where large tracts of swampland are unbuildable, developers have taken to touting the natural areas as "conservation easements" to attract homeowners and tenants interested in environmental preservation and willing to tolerate the occasional alligator encounter while jogging or walking.
When I sought a home in Tucson in 2006, I found a relatively new housing development where the natural desert had been left intact around the building lots, so that the local fauna (coyotes, bobcats, jackrabbits, chipmunks, the occasional javelina or peccary, quail, snakes, roadrunners and multitudes of birds) could coexist with the homes in perpetuity. For me, this is a very attractive way to live, even if I have to take extra precautions to protect my small dog.
Another quite different example of design with nature is the way landscape architects are introducing more natural water features into building projects. A leading exponent of finding out how water wants to flow in a park is a German designer, Herbert Dreiseitl, who speaks about how closely urban design and settlement patterns have been linked with water and its use, both functionally and artistically. As we are water creatures, one expression of biophilia in design is allowing water to be expressed in many ways, from flowing channels to water walls, to fountains and plazas, ponds and water-based microclimate cooling systems, stormwater collection and treatment with constructed wetlands.103
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