Biodynamic Built Environments

Biodynamic is term that is used to describe a spirit, a life force, of working with the cycle of nature within a closed nutrient, self-regulating system that I will argue has important lessons for way humans think about cities. A cherry tree serves rich and eclectic purposes, providing fruit for birds, humans and other animals, beautiful flowers for insects, and materials that break down and decompose into nutrients that nourish micro organisms, insects, plants, and animals. A cherry tree is a Biodynamic species that enhances the ecology around it despite the mess it may make in the process. Biodynamism is a term that draws parallels between real estate/architecture’s heavy dependence on locational attributes and naturally occurring processes, like the cherry tree, in a way that highlights interesting questions about the way we design and build in cities today.  How does building standardization effect a projects character, and what does it mean for the essence of a place? Are economic goals, an early industrialist mentality of mass production, and the emphasis on cost saving being placed before other major components of a building project that effect its Biodynamism?

William McDonough and Michael Braungart in Cradle to Cradle state “the single minded cultivation of our species drastically reduces the rich network of ‘services’ and side effects in which the entire ecosystem originally engaged.” They highlight an issue in agriculture that could relate to cities in the same way I will try to relate wine to buildings. Biodynamic is most readily associated with viticulture, the cultivation of grapes, and the idea of terroir.  Based on the locational attributes of climate, sunlight, topography, geology, and hydrology, a holistic combination of all of these is held to give each site its own unique terroir.  For wine, this means retaining a taste, texture, and aroma that cannot be precisely replicated elsewhere.  While technology can unify standards by improving quality, paradoxically these same improvement can serve to unmask genuine differences due to terroir.  The essential notion of biodynamism is that components are natural, and they cannot be significantly influenced by management.  But by observing, anticipating, and maintaining a personal connection to the land, humans can participate in the process of Biodynamism, even enriching and being enriched by the process.  Like wine, buildings are location specific, and can either have characteristics of somewhereness or nowhereness.  When a city begins to simplify its built environment ecosystem, replacing complex natural communities with relatively simple forms based on a few strains, Biodynamism is compromised.

In Rio de Janeiro, the informal settlements are nothing to be glorified, but they do conjure a form of organic complexity that sits in stark contrast to the controlled and limited building typology in Seattle’s neighborhood commercial zones or the formal parts of Rio like Botafogo, Copacabana, or Ipanema.  In a regulated built environment, you know exactly what to expect, things are comfortable. Is architecture a reflection of a type of ‘market terroir’? Or is it a reflection of culture? Can Biodynamism be present in a formal urban setting?

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About mcj2030

Corbin’s professional passion resides in the impact that good design has on people, communities, and ultimately, cities. He is an dual architecture and real estate masters student at the University of Washington, driven by the notion that thoughtful architecture and development have a profound impact on our ability to be stewards of the environment while creating a framework for economic and social vibrancy in future communities.

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