Designing Our Cities As Living Organisms [My Ideal City]

Designing Our Cities As Living Organisms [My Ideal City]

PSFK chats with green architecture pioneer Eric Corey Freed about recycled resource systems and their impact on urban development.

  • 5 may 2013

As part of our series looking at the future of reached out to experts to get their take on key trends we’ve identified that are currently affecting urban environments. Eric Corey Freed is the founder of organicARCHITECT whose goal is to make every building a green building, and focuses on all types and scales of projects – from designing houses to drafting green policies. He spoke to about how recycled resource systems are helping to build sustainable growth in urban settings and why we should look upon cities as living organisms.

How can regenerative solutions that redirect and limit wasted resources positively impact urban environments?

Whether you realize it or not, a city is a living organism.  It is full of systems, processes, interactions, and symbiosis so complex that we can’t really understand how they work together.  Sure you can look at an individual part and study it, but the combination of those interactive systems starts to mimic the complexity found in Nature.  The key to making better cities is in studying the deep lessons of Nature.

Imagine a city that produces oxygen, absorbs carbon, provides habitat for hundreds of species, creates food and filters and cleans water.  That is what is possible – but we have to stop this habit of “slash, burn & dump.”  We need to transform all of our existing buildings quickly to fix the mess we have made and to repair and restore the environment.  We need living, regenerative, healthy, beautiful buildings, and we need them now!

Can you share any other creative design solutions that put wasted energy towards new uses? What are the implications of maximizing energy efficiency within city environments?

We already know everything we need to make living and regenerative buildings.  The key to maximizing energy efficiency within the city is to look at all of the inputs and outputs – that is all of the things going in and coming out of the city.  There have been those proposals for piezo electric sidewalks, or elevators with regenerative braking, but I like the old school approaches of using thermal mass, passive solar and dynamic glazing to better use energy within the building.  I like the idea of designing the stairs so people prefer them over the elevator.  I like buildings that grow their own food and have an onsite living machine to filter the waste water.  These are not new ideas, but they are still considered on the fringe.

Looking ahead, how do you see green and sustainable design practices influencing urban development?

The difference between today and the early days of the green building movement is that we have lost the luxury of choice.  We have stalled for so long that we can’t afford to wait any longer.  We are going to have to make every new and existing building meet a minimum (but high) level of energy and water efficiency.  Soon cities will only approve developments that have a low energy use intensity (energy per square foot), so sprawling big box stores covering 15 acres would never qualify.  And all of this drumbeat is leading us to a final and inevitable conclusion:  that very soon every building will have to be a net zero building.

In fact, the State of California has already mandated that by the year 2020

What three things would you include in your perfect city?

I like to look at how Nature builds committees, and it does it with Density, Diversity and Symbiosis.  So that is what I look to inject into all of our projects.

Density in terms of scale, size, and compactness of features.

Diversity in terms of use, people, functions, activities and flexibility.

Symbiosis in terms of all of the magic things that happen when you combine the first two.

Thanks Eric!

Check out Eric’s recent talk about applying design thinking lessons for sustainability at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO:

Eric Corey Freed: Designing For A Post-Carbon Future from Piers Fawkes on Vimeo.



Q. What local resources should be better recycled and reused?

Submit your answer now at the MyIdealCity site – or tweet your suggestion using #MyIdealCity and #GreenScaping


Over the next 6 months, PSFK and a team of experts imagining the future of a city will be asking you what you envision as ‘My Ideal City’. Tweet us your ideas and view all the submissions at the MyIdealCity site.


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