UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ecosystem-based design : addressing the loss of biodiversity and nature experience through architecture and ecology Charest, Suzanne


This thesis is based on two observations. First, that conventional buildings cause two major losses that involve non-human nature – the loss of native biodiversity and the loss of non-human nature experience for the buildings’ human inhabitants – and that these losses both contribute to a perceived separation between humans and the rest of nature. Second, that there appears to be a growing interest in connecting buildings with nature but there is little agreement on what it actually means to ‘design with nature’. As such, the purpose of this study is two-fold: (1) to describe the meaning of ‘designing with nature’ in current architectural practice and provide a working definition of nature-based design, and (2) to explore how this can be interpreted to encourage human connectedness with non-human nature, while addressing the two major losses mentioned above. It is thus an attempt to reframe the role of building as one that provides for all inhabitants of a site, both human and non. A framework was developed that captures and summarizes the dominant ways in which design draws on nature. The framework emphasizes the importance of using ecosystems not only as models, but foremost as context. The core concepts of the framework can thus be discussed from the perspective of buildings that act like an ecosystem and that interact with their ecosystem, and are described as: ecological sense of place, regenerative ability, ecosystem health, mutually beneficial relationships, context, appropriate management, functions, ecosystem principles, values, patterns, conditions, and adaptations. Although the concepts presented in the framework are themselves not new, the way in which they are organized does contribute a new perspective on the field of nature-based design. In addition to providing a graphic model that summarizes the essence of an evolving field, the research highlights the role of scale and place in linking building design, native biodiversity, nature experience and connectedness with nature. It thus acts as a backdrop on which to bring a discussion of ecological citizenship into the architectural dialogue.

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