Green Fades to Blue: Would you rather sustain or be restored?

Mention restoration and most minds go to some historical building project. I subscribe to a much broader definition that encompasses the ability of a building to generate a positive effect. Beyond green design, which at best seeks neutrality, and at worst comes with practically a whole religion’s worth of moral baggage, restorative design, including “blue” principles, seeks to replenish us in body, mind and spirit. William McDonough has written about the power of architecture to be restorative and at the 2008 Sustainable Brands International Conference, Bob Isherwood introduced the term Blue design, to reflect the need for strategic and innovative solutions that give something back. In other words, it’s not enough to have the cache of being sustainable. To really impact people’s lives, we have to show them what’s in it for them- we need to provide restoration.
Think about the buildings in which we live, work and play: How do these environments contribute to the stress in our lives? How do they cost us too much money to maintain while giving us largely inadequate shelter and support to live our lives? How often might they actually be harmful to our well being through contaminants in the air or water, noise or light pollution? 

Blue as an expansive approach
Many early adopters of the term Blue Design or the phrase “green to blue” focus on the power of design to give something back to the community by having a net positive effect on air quality and energy (in the meantime, we have been hard pressed to even design net-zero, or energy neutral buildings). This narrow definition of blue loses sight of a much larger goal that we should be striving for in our built environment, the ability to be restorative, even therapeutic. While contaminants in that environment can contribute to a lack of focus and well being, cultural impacts are far greater. We inhabit a world of sensory overload. We lead isolated and independent lives in the processed, overproduced stage set of life. Depleting days feature streaming information in the form of constant interruptions and demands on our attention. The resulting level of stress that we experience impacts our ability to focus our attention, creating a state of persistent mental fatigue that impairs our quality of life. The antidote: a restorative environment.

Building for the senses

It’s unlikely that life in the information age is going to change anytime soon, or that its cultural impacts are necessarily negative. They just feel that way because there is such disconnect between our lifestyles and the spaces in which we live. The industrial age city and post-industrial sprawl has created both interior and exterior spaces that exacerbate our state of depletion. Our built world needs an overhaul.
Architecture, landscape and urban design elements can recharge our direct attention capabilities and restore balance and wellness in our lives if our designs reconnect users with nature and other living things through biophilic design strategies. Work towards solutions that encourage interaction and that provide relief from unwanted or irrelevant stimuli. While specific design strategies will arise from specific design problems, you should approach every project with the goal of restoration in mind. Some characteristics of restorative environmental design as defined by Stephen Kellert in his book Linkages: Understanding and Designing Connections between the Natural and Human Built Environments include:
  1. Prospect- the vista
  2. Refuge- the safe place
  3. Water-actual water or design elements that provide glimmer, movement or symbolic images representing water
  4. Biodiversity- a rich palette of natural materials supplied through both interactive spaces (gardens, planters) and views.
  5. Sensory Variability- response to the changing times of day and seasons
  6. Biomimicry-natural materials, natural forms and structures
  7. Sense of playfulness-things that delight, surprise and amuse
  8. Enticement-complexity that encourages exploration
When was the last time a building brought you joy? What if every building could?


  1. Angela, I totally agree. I read Biophilic Design as well as Stephen Kellert's other books. I had the pleasure of meeting with him at Yale and spoke with him about his ideas. BD or "restorative design" principles brings us back and reconnects us to the natural world - so important in our modern, chaotic world.

    I can't help seeing the roots of restorative design in feng shui, as I consult, teach and write about feng shui principles. It's all about body, mind and spirit and how our environments can either nourish or drain us, support us or create illness. It seems so basic to me that buildings should be designed in this way, but they usually aren't. So glad to see momentum in this direction, whatever it's called (I've also heard bio-architecture), that I read about in classics such as Ian McHarg's Design with Nature (1969), Chris Day's Places of the Soul and Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Maureen. I agree with you about the links to feng shui and will be doing some posts in 2012 related to this subject.


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