Designing for Hope: Pathways to Regenerative Sustainability

This book is now available –


We are entering a time of change, a time when many tipping points will be passed triggering unexpected consequences for our way of life. Yet it is also a time of great opportunity, a time where it is possible to work towards a thriving, if different, future. This book offers a hopeful response to the often frightening changes and challenges we face; arguing that we can actively create a positive and abundant future through mindful, contributive engagement that is rooted in a living systems based worldview. Concepts and practices such as Regenerative Development, Biophilic Design, Biomimicry, Permaculture and Positive Development are explored through interviews and case studies from the built environment to try and answer questions such as: ‘How can projects focus on creating a positive ecological footprint and contribute to community?’; How can we as practitioners restore and enrich the relationships in our projects?; and ‘How does design focus hope and create a positive legacy?’ The intention is to provide not just hope, but also inspiration to all kinds of designers, whether they are designing spaces and places, systems and processes, or simply new ways of being in the world so that they can find their own way of contributing to the creation of a thriving future.

Working structure:

The book is structured in six distinct sections: Section 1 deals with the why of the book; Section two explores the ethos that underpins the practices described; Section 3 deals with specific processes for engagement; Section 4 deals with the tools available for taking action; Section 5 turns inward, reflecting on the learning and asking so what now for me?; Section 6 provides a further list of resources and readings.

Section 1: Introduction

This section introduces the main arguments and objectives.

Preface: Provides the personal drivers, aims and aspirations for the book.

Chapter 1 – Why is our environmental impact growing given how hard we are working at being sustainable?

The book begins by redefining the problem of sustainability as sitting in the narratives of our time, including the narratives around sustainability and sustainable development. It critically engages with these narratives and how they underpin current green building practice through discussing the shortcomings and inconsistencies in the principles and tools that have become mainstream, using examples from India and South Africa. The chapter concludes with a call for a different approach based on an ecological worldview that re-assesses the role and place of humans as co-creating agents of nature, raising the question of how this role can be developed through a holistic and integrative engagement that uses the built environment and its design processes as a vehicle for contributing to the creation of a thriving and irresistible future.

Section 2: The ethos

In this section we argue that it is possible to move from a narrative of fear to one of hope through the conscious re-integration of humans with nature and acceptance of our innate need for that connection, as proposed by the Biophilia Hypothesis.

Chapter 2 – An ecological worldview

This chapter investigates the characteristics of an ecological worldview and how qualities of interconnection, interdependence and dynamic processes changes ways of seeing, being and doing. It highlights the need for humans to consciously re-integrate with nature by learning from nature, acting like nature, and subscribing to life-enhancing values. Examples of how these ecological values can be expressed through the built environment are drawn from examples in North America, Africa and Asia.

Chapter 3 – Reconnecting with nature

This chapter further explores the notion of human reconnection to nature, both as a vital necessity for physical and psychological health and as a fundamental responsibility in the reciprocal and co-evolutionary relationship between humans and nature – a reconnection that is imperative for a thriving future. An acceptance that we as humans are part of nature forces us to act as if we are part of nature, following its laws and designs. Biophilic design and biomimicry tap into natural processes, patterns and ways of place-making to facilitate this re-integration with nature. The theories of biophilia, biophilic design, biomimicry and stewardship are explored with reference to projects in Asia, Australia, the Americas, Africa and Europe.

Section 3: Process

This section discusses how it is possible to move from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking through design processes based on a contextual understanding of the story of place and partnerships with nature that integrates natural and social systems. Three schools of thought are discussed: positive development, regenerative design and permaculture.

Chapter 4 – Positive Development

Positive Development provides a vision for how cities can become places where we add abundance and ecological “capital” to the environment and provides a way of thinking about practice in the ecological worldview. It does this by outlining the concept of designing for ecosystem services and a process of designing for the built environment so as to achieve both ecological and social net benefits. That is, leaving the ecological base and public estate better than it was before the intervention, in fact aiming to leave the former better than before human settlement. Key concepts of Positive Development will be illustrated using three projects, the Venny in Melbourne, Cheyenne Children’s botanical gardens in the US and a speculative project designed by Janis Birkeland.

Chapter 5 – Regenerative design and development

In this chapter the contributive approach of regenerative development, drawing from the work of Regenesis, is presented. This is done through the voice of practitioners and the projects that they have been part of. Specifically the way that regenerative development facilitates the design of projects in such a way that provides a process not only for arriving at a built form, but also the long term engagement of the stakeholders who will use it. It offers a way of building resilience and adaptive capacity through an understanding and partnership with the systems of the specific place. The process Regenesis have developed over decades is shared here and illustrated through an Eco resort in Mexico and three education facilities, a water treatment facility and ski resort in the US.

Chapter 6 – Permaculture increasing food security in cities

In this chapter the ideas of permaculture is explored as a process for intervening in the environment in harmony with that environment to the benefit of both the ecological and social systems. Specifically this chapter looks at the importance of applying these ideas in the city to facilitate the ability for urban food production through both horizontal and vertical gardens. The main case study in this chapter is of CERES, a facility in Melbourne where a derelict site has been turned into a place of sustainability education, food growing and preparation, art, music and community engagement.

Section 4: Action

This section discusses a number of frameworks that can be used as tools to guide the design process and assess the contribution it makes to the creation of an abundant world. Throughout these chapters case studies present concrete examples from across the world to illustrate how these concepts are used to develop an alternative vision of an irresistible future.

Chapter 7 – The Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge is a tool that uses science combined with the benefits of rating tools and their ability to simplify complex processes and demonstrate improved performance. Through the tool’s categories – site, water, energy, materials, health, beauty and equity – Chapter 7 demonstrates how this response to designing in the ecological worldview integrates the ideas of ecological and social sustainability. Using case studies in Australia, Europe and the United States the chapter looks at how using the tool has achieved contributive results and how it facilitated collaboration.

Chapter 8 – Other tools and approaches

This chapter looks at three frameworks. The first outlined is a tool for consultation called Lenses, developed by the Institute for the Built Environment in Fort Collins. This tool provides an effective mechanism for approaching the complexity of working regeneratively within the ecological worldview. Similarly the second tool, developed by BNIM out of Kansas City, supports the process of developing a regenerative project through the management of ideas and data. The third tool is integral thinking, a framework that is based on the integration of the interior (invisible) and exterior (visible) aspects of both the individual and collective components of a system across levels of increasing complexity. This framework draws on the work of Ken Wilber and other pioneers of constructive-developmental theory.

Section 5: So what?

This section reflects on the main themes that unite the above approaches and what they mean for the practitioner in terms of reflective practice and individual action.

Chapter 9 – Lessons for the reflective practitioner

The chapter pulls out key threads that ran through the interviews with the various practitioners and academics interviewed regarding the lessons they learnt through the development of their projects, tools and theories and what these mean for the creation of a hopeful, abundant and thriving future. These lessons include the changing roles and relationships of the professional team, the need for inner work, and dealing with uncertainty

Chapter 10 – On being a hummingbird

The chapter which concludes the book, discusses the possibility and implications of contribution in everyday practice, showing how every action, no matter how small, can be seen as potentially inspiring, improving, giving, and life-affirming. Initiatives looked include the gift economy and various guerrilla practices.

Section 6: Resources

This section provides a list of additional resources and readings.