Bill Browning is widely regarded as one of the foremost thinkers and strategists in the world of Green design, and an advocate for sustainable design solutions. In addition to consulting, he writes and lectures widely. He is a coauthor of Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate; A Primer on Sustainable Building; Greening the Building and the Bottom Line; Biophilic Design; and The Economics of Biophilia. In 1998, he was named one of five people “Making a Difference” by Buildings magazine. In 2001, he was selected as an honourary member of the American Institute of Architects, and in 2004 he was honoured with the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership Award. In 2006, he co-founded Terrapin to craft high-performance environmental strategies for corporations, governments and large-scale real estate developments.
In a conversation with FuturArc’s editor-in-chief, Dr Nirmal Kishnani, he makes the case for biophilic design as a key tenet of Green design and pathway to human well-being.
NK: What motivated your work in Green buildings? And how did you get involved in biophilic design?
BB: As a child I lived in Okinawa, Germany and the United States and experienced different ways of thinking about the built environment. I was most interested in architecture and nature. I went to the University of Colorado for a degree in environmental design, and then went to work for John Denver’s Windstar Foundation to build solar greenhouses with Buckminster Fuller. Later, I joined Amory and Hunter Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI); we were doing early thinking about what became called Green building. I realised that while the architects designed the buildings, the developer/owner decided what got built. So I went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to get a degree in real estate development.
NK: There is quite a lot said about the merits of biophilic design. At this point, what can we say for sure with scientific backing? How much is known, how much is fuzzy?
BB: Some of it is still fuzzy. What you’ll see is what some of us call translational science. Researchers observe people having an experience of nature, find out what were the causal agents of that experience, and if it resulted in a shift in psychology or physiology. And then we ask ourselves: how do we translate that response into design principles for the built environment? These experiences are the genesis of the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design. We are now in conversation with the Mayo Clinic and others to more deeply understand how these psychological and physiological responses are linked to specific patterns. That’s where the conversation is moving now.