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March 6, 2007
by Daniel Fox

Event: Experimental Urban Ecology
Location: Center for Architecture, 02.22.07
Speakers: David Ortiz — Project Manager, DMJM Harris/AECOM; Alex Felson — Director of Ecological Design, EDAW/AECOM; Anupama Sharma — Senior Project Architect & Planner, Metcalf & Eddy/AECOM; Amy Garrod — Sustainability Specialist, Faber Maunsell/AECOM
Organizer: AIA NY Committee on the Environment (COTE)

Photo by Jessica Sheridan

Architects are beginning to collaborate with ecologists to improve local ecosystems.

Jessica Sheridan

The study of ecological systems in urban environments is a relatively new area of research. The methodology used for ecological experiments in natural environments can be adapted for urban conditions — although with some difficulty. The heterogeneity of urban environments and social factors may compromise the scientific method when replicating experiments.

To aid the process, ecologists are forming new partnerships with design professionals to create architecture and urban designs that fuse ecology with design experimentation. Traditional collaborations between ecologists and designers often result in a design that directly mimics nature. In more recent designed experiments, however, the modular, functional, and geometric forms used to conduct the experiment become the basis for a new design expression.

According to statistics, the A/E/C industry invests only .05% of its total budget in research compared with the automotive industry’s 3% or biotech’s 14%. Convincing clients to incorporate design experiments into project budgets requires developing allies who can motivate constituents and mobilize resources. European sustainability metrics, such as the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) and other regulatory measures, emphasize the impact of development on larger ecosystems and facilitate the participation of ecologists. The inclusion of ecologists on design teams is still rare in the U.S., however.

Architects are in a unique position to integrate ecological research into the built environment by insisting on working with ecologists throughout design development. Such a perspective will prove increasingly valuable as designers attempt to improve local ecosystems with the built realm.

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