Biowhat now? A look at Bioclimatic and Biophilic design

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

In the green and natural building world we have a growing dictionary of terms that can keep things confusing. Passive House. LEED. WELL Standard. Living Building Standard. Net Zero Energy Building. Well hang on to your thesaurus because we give you now Bioclimatic and the related Biophilic design approaches.  

Both approaches, unsurprisingly, draw on and are inspired by the natural world. As the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Savings explains: "Bioclimatic architecture refers to the design of buildings and spaces (interior – exterior – outdoor) based on local climate, aimed at providing thermal and visual comfort, making use of solar energy and other environmental sources."  In many ways, this is an ancient practice, building to the local environment and focusing on low-energy passive systems (as well as more modern active systems of energy and heat management). The fact remains though that most buildings, at least in the west, ignore this practice. However there is a growing push to do more bioclimatic buildings. Inhabitat recently reported on a bioclimatic home in Italy that used local volcano ash and prickly pear fibers in a building. Wind direction and sun path were accounted for in the direction of the home and wide walls were built for strong thermal mass.

Biophilic design is related but in some ways is more broad. In an interview with Architect Design William Browning co-author of 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, explained “Bioclimatic design responds to the specific climatic and weather patterns of a site and biomimetic design uses nature as source of inspiration for design. Biophilia is the innate human need to connect with nature, with the result being improvements in our health and wellbeing. Biophilic design is focused on the enabling a human connection to nature in the built environment.” But practically what does that mean? Terrapin Bright Green and Browning attempt to answer that very questions. 

The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Browning and Terrapin Bright Green outline are: 

Nature in the Space
Visual Connection to Nature
Non-Visual Connection to Nature
Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli
Thermal & Airflow Variability
Presence of Water
Dynamic & Diffuse Light
Connection to Natural Systems

Natural Analogues
Biomorphic Forms & Patterns
Material Connection to Nature
Complexity & Order

Nature of the Space

Examples from the patterns include "Auditory, haptic, olfactory, or gustatory stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes" (Non-Visual Connection to Nature); and "Rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature" (Complexity and Order).

One can see a connection of this to the Living Building Challenge and the WELL Building Standard. All these approaches and philosophies are attempting to make buildings healthy for the occupants and the planet and a great way to do that is to look to natural systems.

Click the image below for a short video on Biophillic Design. 

Image above from 14 Patterns of Bibliographic Design

Fourth Pig reno featured in "Treehugger"

 Photos by Riley Snelling

Photos by Riley Snelling

Architect and TreeHugger author Lloyd Alter recently highlighted one of our green reno projects in Treehugger. We took a 60's leaky cottage and in partnership with Stone's Throw Design turned it into a comfortable super energy efficient, green home. As Alter said "This is really a remarkable achievement; an incredibly energy efficient renovation using the healthiest of materials with the lowest carbon footprints." 

You can read more about this and other Fourth Pig projects in our "projects" section of this website


A building standard that is focused on human health

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

Most building standards are, not surprisingly, focused on the building: How should this be built, how much air can come in or out, how much energy is needed to operate, etc. Well, well, well, the world now has a standard where peoples' health and wellness are centered. It is called the "WELL Building Standard®" and is a  "performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind." 

This is not the first standard to account for human health, we reported last month on the Living Building Challenge that does this, but the Well Building Standard® (WBS) may be the first to make it a focus. Natural builders (and others) have of course been paying attention to the health environment in buildings for years, but this is a standard set of measurements.

The WBS is designed to work with the LEED standard (and others) so that one doesn't simply design a building good for those in it, but not out of it (of course the health of people inside and outside of buildings requires buildings to dramatically reduce their green house gas emissions and the carbon emissions that result due to the materials used in the building).

The WSB  examines over 100 features of buildings including performance aspects as well as specific technologies, design strategies or protocols needed. From the quality of the air circulating, to the water quality, to the promotion of exercise and sleep the WBS covers a lot. 

At the end of May this year the TD Bank group's office in Toronto became the first "WELL Certification under v1 of the WELL Building Standard™" in the world. "TD renovated 25,000 square feet of corporate office space located within Cadillac Fairview's TD Centre in downtown Toronto, Canada. Marrying their existing corporate design standards and WELL’s New and Existing Interiors typology, the space incorporates health and wellness features throughout."

The International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI™) is a (for -profit) "public benefit corporation" whose mission is "to improve human health and well-being through the built environment." Certification is good for three years and then buildings must be assessed. In 2014 the fist standard for the WSB was launched, see a short video on that event here: 

A philosophy, an advocacy tool, a building standard

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

"Imagine a building designed and constructed to function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower: a building informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, that generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats all of its water, and that operates efficiently and for maximum beauty." This imagining is one of the key aspects of the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The LBC says that the program "is a philosophy first, an advocacy tool second, and a certification program third."

The LBC started in 1990's as an attempt to make the world's most sustainable building, the EpiCenter in Bozeman, Montana. The project grew from there and in 2005 the LBC was issued. It is now in version 3.1 and contains 7 "petals": Place, energy, water, materials, health & happiness, materials, and equity. Petals are divided into a total of twenty "imperatives" such as net-positive water, net-positive energy and human powered living. The LBC pushes for high-quality sustainable materials, and is working to get companies to disclose ingredients in products. The LBC is even working to get organizations to asses their equity practices (including around gender and racial diversity) and this kind of work must play a part in the construction of an LBC building. 

But is this just a beautiful thought experiment? Fortunately no. LBC buildings are getting built (and some while not meeting the full challenge are meeting select "petals"). Jenny Che in the Huffington Post reported that the company Etsy is achieving a number of petals of the LBC in New York City. Municipal water and energy regulations can interfere with full LBC achievement she reported. However, "44 projects have been certified by the institute, and over 300 others are in the design stages." Getting certified requires achieving a number of measurable outcomes one year after occupancy. Not everyone will go through with certification but builders can take inspiration from the challenge and build super buildings, like this one in Peterborough Ontario.

Below are two videos that explore two different LBC projects, one in the U.S and one in New Zealand. Each is pushing the idea of what buildings are for and what they can do. As Kathleen Smith, vice president of the Living Building Challenge asked “What if buildings could make a place better than what it was before?”

The rise of "Floatovoltaics"

 Photo: Thomas Roche CC license

Photo: Thomas Roche CC license

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

Solar is getting cheaper and more popular, which means that people are looking for new places to put it. One of the more promising options seems to be in the water. According to Erica Goode from the New York Times floating solar panels (or as one company tradmarked "floatovoltaics") have a lot going for them. They are more efficient (as the water cools the panels), they can protect against algae bloom, they help keep water from evaporating (Los Angeles just spent 34.5 Million to cover a reservoir with plastic balls to reduce evaporation) and they largely remain hidden from view (versus taking up land space). 

There are floating solar installations in Japan, Australia and the United States. At the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture there are solar floating panels and according to Goode: "In two years, if construction goes as planned, 50,904 panels will float atop the reservoir, generating an estimated 16,170 megawatt hours annually, enough electricity to power almost 5,000 homes, according to Kyocera, the company building the solar plant."

According to PV Magazine Brazil has started research on a 10 Megawatt floating PV system. "The project is aiming to evaluate the performance of floating solar arrays installed in the lake of hydroelectric power plants in areas with different climatic regimes. As expected, the energy generated by the panels can supplement the hydroelectric power plants, taking advantage of the transmission structure already installed." In India, where drought is a major issue, there are plans for floating voltaic project on Loktak in the northeastern state of Manipur according to the Environmental Defense Fund

But it isn't just governments that are getting into the act. Napa Valley winery Far Niente in Oakland California has installed them and they expect the cost to be covered in a 12 year period and the panels to last 25+ years (click the image below for a video tour of their project).

So far it seems that reports around sea life and these floating PVs have been fine. With higher energy yields and the ability to reduce water evaporation floating PV panels could be the wave of the future. 

We are hiring! Position: Site Supervisor/Carpenter

Fourth Pig Green & Natural Construction is looking to hire an experienced Site Supervisor/Carpenter. Responsibilities include:

  • Manage the day-to-day site operations for construction projects.
  • Coordinate, manage and schedule sub trades and company labourers
  • Finish carpentry, framing and other construction skills related to renovations, additions and new builds
  • Report daily project progress to Project Manager
  • Other duties as required

Details on the position are here. Please no calls, inquiries and submissions should be sent to: 

Fourth Pig op-ed on sustainable building in

 photo: Riley Snelling

photo: Riley Snelling

With the building sector contributing so much to global warming we were glad that the LEAP Manifesto includes  the demand: "We want a universal program to build and retrofit energy efficient housing, ensuring that the lowest-income communities will benefit first."  However, this action does not go nearly far enough. We outline where we think construction can go in an op-ed on entitled "Taking a bigger Leap when it comes to building green."

Plastic bottles and green building?

    Plastic water bottle building under construction - from  video "solution plain and simple" by       Andreas Froese (below)

Plastic water bottle building under construction - from  video "solution plain and simple" by Andreas Froese (below)

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

There are oceans of problems with bottled water. Over 100 billion water bottles are discarded each year. They take up a huge amount of landfill space, use oil to be made, and breakdown very slowly. In many cases bottled water is simply municipal water. Where drinking water is safe more and more communities are looking to ban it. 

While bottles have been used in construction like earthships, Andrea Frose in 2000 started to build using plastic bottles and soil (which is then covered with a mortar) as full wall systems (see below for a video of some samples of his work). In Nigeria they are being built - providing shelters that can be built in many areas, are earthquake resistant and comfortable in the heat and are fireproof. Like earth bag houses they are also bullet proof. Bottles come from recycling campaigns and salvage. The energy to make them has been spent and so many are simply discarded that it is unlikely that these buildings will create a demand. 

According to the BBC, Yahaya Ahmed of Nigeria's Development Association for Renewable Energies, said a bottle house costs one third of a similar house of concrete and bricks. Plus, he says "Compacted sand inside a bottle is nearly 20 times stronger than bricks. We are even intending to build a three-storey building."

See photos of bottle buildings here, and a video here:

Green roofs are growing

 Mountain Equipment Co-op green roof in Toronto. Photo: Skeezix1000 CC 2.0

Mountain Equipment Co-op green roof in Toronto. Photo: Skeezix1000 CC 2.0

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

In  2009 the City of Toronto became the first North American city to require and regulate green roofs on new developments. Buildings that have a minimum Gross Floor Area of 2,000m2 require at least 20% coverage of available roof space. The percentage increases with the size. In Germany they have been using green roofs for over 100 years and Wikipedia reports that over 100,000,000 square feet of new green roofs are being constructed each year. The Rockefeller Centre in NY has had a green roof on the 7th floor since 1936. The Ford Motor company has a plant with a green roof covering 450,000 square feet! This week Microsoft announced that they will be putting up 164,000 square feet of a green roof on the Silicon Valley campus. In Peterborough Ontario the Canoe museum will have quite the roof

Green roofs are growing. Loyd Alter reports that green roofs are changing architecture and planning. You can find more examples at They have a database of green roof projects listing 35,281,358 ft² (3,277,816 m²) of green roof space.

Why go green up top? Haven Kiers at UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden has a good list with the economic benefits including: increased energy efficiency, reduced cooling costs, prolonged membrane durability,marketing opportunities and fire prevention. Environment benefits include: Environmental benefits include improved stormwater management, creation and preservation of habitat/biodiversity, improved air quality, urban heat island effect reduction, and improved liveability/aesthetics. 

There are two basic types of green roofs. The "intensive roof" has soil greater than 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) and hosts plants, shrubs, and small trees. This requires regular maintenance. The other type or "extensive roof" has soil under 6 inches/15 centimeters and features herbs, grasses, succulent plants. This approach requires little (potentially no) maintenance. However, there are new approaches that allow for more variety including "comprehensive green roofs" that have low weight and maintenance but a wider variety of plants. 

Click to watch a video overview of green roofs here: