Resilient Cities Conference: Bill Reed on Living System Design
Bill Reed, Principle of the Integrative Design Collaborative, began his lecture by talking about the problematic structure of the English language and how this has influenced the way english-speaking cultures conceptualize nature and approach development. Specifically, the use of object verbs and subject verbs causes us to describe and ultimately understand elements of the world in isolation as opposed to in relation to other elements. While the topic of language wasn’t the theme of this workshop, it set the stage for examining ‘Living System Design,’ which is an integrated design approach that philosophically and practically combines human development with natural ecosystems.
Framing his discussion about this integrative design approach, Reed spoke to the consequences of contemporary ideas about humans being separate from nature. He explained that this dualistic perception has lead us to forget that not only are we part of the natural world, but that just as ‘nature’ benefits us, we too can benefit ‘nature.’ To explain this point, Reed reminded us that Native people, pre-colonization, tended to nature to support her growth. Similarly, anyone who has a garden at home understands the benefits that come from plant care. Reed and his firm integrate this understanding of the mutually beneficial relationship that can exist between humans and ‘nature’ into their developments.
Each of Reed’s developments allows ecology and natural ‘pattering’ to inform their character while also seeking to introduce conditions that will restore ecological health to the landscape. This restoration process involves conducting a site analysis, researching what existed on a land historically. and re-introducing conditions that will let the original natural functions of the site (ex. river systems) evolve. In addition to restoration, Reed also introduced the topic of regeneration, or the creation of new ecological systems, through development. For me, the key message of this workshop was that in order for humans to come close to resiliency, we need to stop seeing ourselves as separate from the environment and instead as an important part of the natural system.