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HOK’s Regenerative Design Approach

“Reducing our footprint won’t prevent a climate catastrophe,” says Sean Quinn, HOK's director of regenerative design. “We need to leverage the power of design as a positive force to restore and regenerate the natural world. We want to continue conserving while also creating abundance.”

We have always looked to nature for design inspiration. Now we’re also designing with and for nature.

It’s no longer enough for sustainable design to focus only on minimizing the impact of our built environment. Reducing our footprint won’t prevent a climate catastrophe. Instead, we need to use design as a positive force.

Building on decades of expertise in sustainable design, we’re expanding our design focus to encompass regenerative design. We’re creating spaces that enrich our communities and renew the earth. We’re using design to produce energy and clean water and to convert waste for reuse. We’re creating green space and living infrastructure for our neighborhoods. Together with our clients, we’re building a regenerative future.

Nature-Based Performance Modeling

HOK’s design approach is inspired by nature’s wisdom but driven by data. We begin by benchmarking the ecosystem services that the site provides related to water, air, carbon, soil, biodiversity, and health and well-being. The team quantifies the performance of a thriving nearby ecosystem and compares the differences between the two. Our goal then is to design a regenerative project that emulates and even surpasses those ecosystem performance metrics.

Among our design tools is ClimateStudio, an extraordinarily fast and accurate environmental performance analysis software program developed by MIT spinoff Solemma, an HOK research partner. We use ClimateStudio’s suite of performance design tools to quickly address climate, outdoor thermal comfort, daylight design, natural ventilation, and city-scale energy and carbon modeling.

Partnerships with Biomimicry 3.8 and EcoMetrix Solutions Group enable us to conduct ecosystem service modeling of specific ecological sites. Together, we can benchmark and forecast the environmental, economic and social impacts of projects to ensure positive performance.

Bioinspired Innovation

Using a lens of biomimicry, we study the species that are thriving in a project’s local environment and consider how natural systems can guide our design solutions.

Consider the pinecone. A biologically inspired design could mimic how this plant opens and closes based on temperature and humidity. Instead of using narrow doors to link occupants of a building to outdoor courtyards, the entire facade could open during temperate months, blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor environments.

We complement our use of biomimicry with biophilic design solutions that support people’s innate desire to be connected to nature. Biophilia also can provide regenerative effects and improve the health and well-being of people who experience a space. Strategies can include incorporating natural materials, light, sound, vegetation, views outside and other experiences of nature inside a building. Even biomorphic forms and patterns provide complexity that engages the senses while supporting feelings of security, excitement and discovery.

Whole Systems Thinking

Regenerative design requires whole systems thinking that brings together the needs of people and nature.

To push beyond sustainability, we build on HOK’s integrated design approaches to net zero energy, water and waste; biomimicry and biophilia; health and wellness; social equity; elimination of embodied carbon in structural systems; and healthy materials and products.

Our multidisciplinary teams of architects, engineers, interior designers, planners, landscape architects and sustainability experts often team with diverse firms, including longtime HOK collaborator Biomimicry 3.8, that bring specialized knowledge about engaging the nature of a place and its biological systems as design drivers. These partnerships enable us to tackle complex problems that none of us could solve on our own.

HOK’s collaborative design process invites all a project’s stakeholders—including employees, clients, partners and community members—to provide input that enables us to respond to their needs. This leads to projects that enable both people and nature to thrive.

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