With Earth Day right around the corner, nature starting to bloom and summertime travel plans coming together, it is a great time of year to reflect on the intrinsic affinity we have for nature in all its wonder and beauty.
Perhaps you're a design professional who finds instruction and inspiration from nature? The emergence of biophilic design and biomimicry as widely revered design influences speaks to the indispensable contributions the natural worlds provides to our lives. We do not just have a symbiotic relationship with nature, we are one in the same. We are nature. Waste is a human-made concept and is indicative of a fundamental design flaw. Efficiency is a limitation we place on our creations and processes in response to this design flaw.
What does it mean to truly design with nature? This is a question not easily answered. Certainly not in an oversimplified blog column. So, in honor of Earth Day and all things that spring forth from the dormancy of winter, I would like to offer a shortlist of books that have had a profound influence on my perspective of what it means to "design with nature."
The following list offers five essential readings—in sequential order—for any designer (in any industry) interested in obtaining a foundational knowledge regarding designing with nature.
Author: Rachel Carson
The book that arguably ignited the modern environmental movement, when Silent Spring was published in 1962, it became an instant phenomenon. Authored by marine biologist and conservationist, Rachel Carson, the book meticulously described how DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), on of the first of the modern synthetic insecticides, entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissue. As Caron described, DDT—categorized today as a probable human carcinogen—was an evident threat to wildlife (hence the "silent spring"—a spring with no songbirds due to their susceptibility to the widely applied organochlorine). Carson's warning spurred public outcry that culminated with a domestic ban on DDT's agricultural use in 1972. (Side note: the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.)
Author: E. O. Wilson
This is the authoritative, primary source for those interested in the biophilia hypothesis. E. O. Wilson draws on his experiences as a biologist, researcher, and naturalist to provide a cogent explanation of human's affinity for nature and, in Wilson's words, "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life."
Author: Paul Hawken
Paul Hawken provides a compelling testament to the staggering potential impacts of sustainability when aligned with the behavior of the marketplace. Hawken outlines the roles of corporations, governments, consumers and other stakeholders in a broad-based plan to restore degraded ecosystems through changes in commerce, regulation and taxation that honor market principles. The book provides a vision of an economy where doing the right thing for the environment coincides with the growth of commerce and industry. (Please note that the author published a revised edition of this book in 2013.)
Author: Janine M. Benyus
Janine Benyus offers a collection of compelling examples of how our society can find innovation to current challenges by studying—and to various degrees, emulating—natural systems. The breadth and depth achieved by Benyus lends credence to how ubiquitous nature's lessons truly are. More importantly, Benyus' deep dives into the technical details of certain natural systems reveals how nature's systemic orchestration transcends all scales. As I read the book, I gathered the sense that we are forfeiting unknown solutions to future challenges through our current rapid loss of biological diversity.
Authors: William McDonough & Michael Braungart
Interestingly, this is the first book I read amongst the list. It provided me with the "a-ha" moment while I was pursuing my undergraduate work. William McDonough and Michael Braungart masterfully synthesize some of the concepts offered by Hawken, Benyus and others to clarify the concepts of "waste equals food," "eco-effectiveness," and why we need to respect diversity in all facets of our existence in order to realize long-term resilience.
This list is certainly debatable—essentially, it is simply a personal recommendation. I have pored over all five of these books over the years and they have had a deep influence on my design philosophy. If you do not have a summer reading list, please consider these classics!