Launching the Global
Biophilic Cities Pattern Library
Each city is different; the result of a unique history and distinctive setting. The opportunities for conserving, celebrating and growing new nature will vary as well depending on local climate, topography, hydrology, and ecology. The shape and feel of a city are the culmination of a creative intermingling of these unique natural and human forces. Within the cities of the Biophilic Cities Network there are a variety of experiences and innovative approaches to celebrating and protecting nature, and to creatively integrating new forms of nature into the buildings, and the spaces between and beyond. The pattern library launched here begins to display the remarkable array of impressive natureful qualities of work underway in cities around the world.
What is a pattern?
We use the word pattern as a way to begin to discover, catalog, and highlight these distinctive but replicable nature experiences, strategies, and innovative urban nature interventions. We created this global pattern library as an initial effort at collecting and organizing these discovered patterns. The intent is at once to unearth, and to place a spotlight on the many locally-special and -specific ways that nature has manifested, and the many ways that cities and city actors (individuals, neighborhoods, organizations) have sought to grow, embellish and design new forms of nature. The patterns displayed here represent both remnant nature (from larger ecosystem patterns such as regional vegetation and hydrological patterns) to very human-created patterns, such as a biophilic interior or building-scale natural element.
Precisely what constitutes a "pattern" is an open question as well. Our beginning point is that patterns represent physical and material connections to nature in and near to cities: they are physical and ecological conditions, such as a natural stream running through a neighborhood or the migratory pathways of birds, but also examples of innovative biophilic design and building. The patterns find tangible, physical expression in the urban setting. In some cases, they can be design and planning ideas expressed in rendering but not yet (or ever) built in reality. It is important to recognize that these patterns are brought about by many different forces working in the city: weather and climate, remnant nature, existing settlement patterns. For many (or most) of these patterns there is a complex set of individual actions and collective policies leading to their creation. Innovative codes, policies and plans, another focus of the work of the Biophilic Cities Network, is important indeed, but the patterns collected here, while often the result of a code or city council action, are different and are qualities or attributes that can be seen, touched, experienced and that define the physical and experiential life the city.
Inspiration for the Biophilic Cities Pattern Library
The inspiration and form of the patterns used here draws heavily on the original book A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. The template we encourage utilizes a short narrative description, a visual image or two (a photograph, rendering or drawing), and perhaps most importantly a distinctive shorthand title or label that will help in communicating about and sharing the patterns. Our effort here is also inspired by the "pattern books" that have been assembled in many cities to catalog and summarize the special design qualities of buildings and specific neighborhoods. Often the goal is to ensure an adequate understanding of the architectural histories and practices of a city. While often not so much about nature, these local pattern books can also be a helpful resource in assembling biophilic patterns. In partner city Norfolk, for example, a variety of neighborhood patterns and plans books have been prepared to assist builders and developers in designing new homes and buildings that fit in and are "consistent with traditional Norfolk architecture and compatible with neighborhood character." From the placement of large native street trees (including suggested species) to the design and configuration of porches, these pattern books blend historical precedents and neighborhood history to offer practical advice for guiding a neighborhood's evolution. While the patterns collected here are aimed more explicitly at nature and the many creative ways that nature can exist in and near to cities, they will also serve to blend together urban principles and practices that address walkability, scale and massing of structure, and the delightful combinations of living nature, artistic expressions, and creative modern design. We make no pretense or assumptions about architectural style or aesthetics, but believe there to be countless ways that we can express our love for and connection with nature, innumerable ways to bring out delight, beauty and wonder in cities.
Vision and Goals
How best to organize this rich array of global biophilic patterns will be a subject for learning as we go along. Initially, we will organize the patterns by physical scale, inspired by Alexander's approach. Biophilic patterns can be found at the scale of a room (interior), building, yard and site, block, neighborhood, city and region. The goal is to inspire, and to show other cities what is possible. There are an infinite number of variations on the patterns collected here. Cities can emulate pattern, or they can modify those patterns in ways that adapt to local circumstances. Cities can assemble and reassemble patterns into an infinitely unique and complex urban matrix. The global pattern library started here will help cities to begin to better see the patterns they already possess, and have put into place, and move forward by adding or modifying patterns to advance the broader vision of immersive nature that Biophilic Cities advocates.
Invitation to Collaborate
We encourage you to peruse but also to contribute. Please use this template for nominating and uploading biophilic patterns that you have discovered or know about in your city.
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