Eco- Design

Eco- Design

Eco- Design: Designing for our Future


By Samuel Kerongo

Eco-design may be defined as approach to design a product or space with special consideration of the environmental impacts of the product or space during its whole life-cycle. Environmental aspects which ought to be analysed for every stage of the life cycle are; consumption of resources (energy, materials, water or land area), emissions to air, water, and the ground (our earth) as being relevant for the environment and human health as well as miscellaneous (e.g. noise and vibration).

Eco-design provides a framework for uniting conventional perspectives on design and management with environmental ones. This is by incorporating the consideration of ecological concerns at relevant spatial and temporal scales. The principles of ecological design can be applied within a continuum of spatial scales, ranging from individual homes, to neighbourhoods and industrial parks, as well as to particular manufactured products.

Some of the ideas of eco-design have ancient roots, and have been expressed in various ways. One early proponents of Eco-design was Ebenezer Howard, an Englishman who in 1898 wrote about “garden cities”, which would be designed to include a “decency of surroundings” and “ample space, well-built clean healthy housing, abundant garden space, [and] preservation of natural landscape” and to be “pollution and litter free”

These ideas were extended by Jane Jacobs (1961, 1969), who emerged in the 1960s as a champion of the incorporation of “neighbourhood” elements into planning. This involved urban areas in which housing; shopping, employment, schools, and recreation are all developed in an integrated manner. This is with a view of fostering a sense of community among the residents, while decreasing the use of materials and energy for commuting and other kinds of longer-distance transportation.

In the 1970s, John Todd began to experiment with artificially constructed wetlands as treatment systems for municipal sewage. He and his team conceived of living “machines” that would replicate some of what nature accomplishes in natural wetlands. American Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who began to work at the beginning of the twentieth century contributed to Eco-design through his ideas on Organic Architecture.

Eco-design seeks to provide a framework for an environmentally appropriate system of design and management. This is by incorporating both anthropogenic and ecological values, at relevant spatial and temporal scales. In order to achieve Eco design with regard to Landscape Architecture, it is important to incorporate the following principles holistically:
Meet the inherent needs of humans:

The key to sustainability of the human enterprise is to ensure that resources are not depleted and that damage caused to the natural world does not exceed the limits of tolerance and viability of species and natural ecosystems. A goal of eco-design is to help meet this vision of ecological sustainability, by finding ways of constructing buildings, and planning more complex enterprises, such as business and industrial parks, while reducing resource consumption and avoiding ecological damage to the degree possible.

Move towards resource sustainability:

Human economy that is sustainable over the longer term must be based on the wise use of renewable resources. These resources are capable of regenerating after harvesting and can potentially be available for many generations. Eco-design strives to achieve an increasing reliance on renewable sources of energy and materials, while maintaining standards of quality of goods and services and reducing overall resource consumption, waste generation, and ecological damage through efficiencies of use, re-use, and recycling.
Maintain ecological integrity:

The purpose of Eco-design is to integrate human activities with the structure and dynamics of natural flows and cycles of materials, organisms, and energy. This begins with development of an understanding of the ecological context of particular design problems, and then developing solutions consistent with that circumstance. The designer needs to understand how alternative designs would affect natural values, local ecosystems and environments, including climate, topography, soil, water, flows of energy and materials, biotic communities, and critical habitat of at-risk species. Emulate natural ecosystems: Natural ecosystems are characterized by complex patterns and dynamics of biodiversity, materials, and energy, occurring at various spatial and temporal scales.

These patterns reflect the long- and short term influences of biological evolution (including speciation and extinction), disturbance and successional regimes, environmental change (i.e., in climate), species introductions, and anthropogenic influences associated with pollution and other stressors. A central goal of eco-design is to emulate these natural ecological qualities when planning for anthropogenic activities, so that the resulting effects will be relatively “natural”. This is through design towards an integrated web of economic and ecological activities and accommodating the natural regime of ecological stressors and disturbances.
Eliminate natural debt:

Eco-design seeks to comprehensively account for all of the costs and environmental implications of alternative choices of design. It considers a wide range of environmental impacts in a holistic manner, over the entire life-cycle of the project, from the extraction of natural resources, through manufacturing of components, to construction and operation, and finally deconstruction, re-use, recycling, and disposal of components. Eco-designers consider whether these comprehensive aspects of project design contribute to meeting the needs of a proposed development, as well as the possibility that there might be unfavorable environmental impacts. If the latter are identified, steps are taken to eliminate or minimize them to avoid the externalities of natural debt, so as to realize true economic profit.

Protect natural habitat:

Even while earnest attempts are made to avoid ecological damage through Eco-design; it is inevitable that changes will result from implementation of any project. It is important to consider whether the ecological risks should be offset by designating protected areas that are not used intensively by humans, and are intended to sustain species and natural ecosystems that are incompatible with the proposed
project or with the human economy in general.

Increase environmental literacy:

Eco-design is the work not only of experts, but of entire communities. It entails deep cooperation among designers, government, businesses and citizens. Designers must listen to the public voice in the design process, and heed advice about local conditions and special places. However, if citizens are not literate about the causes and consequences of ecological damage, some of their choices and advice may not be environmentally appropriate. It must be recognized that environmental literacy is part of the context of environmental protection, because it influences how much people are willing to “pay” for sustainable development.

The principles of ecological design can be applied within a continuum of spatial scales, ranging from individual homes, to neighbourhoods and industrial parks, as well as to particular manufactured products. Eco design principles, if applied holistically, can ensure that the places we dwell in are sustainable. Design of open spaces in our residential scale and city scale using Eco design ideas can ensure that our future generation can enjoy the same opportunities. This entails designing protected areas such as riparian reserves with a view of protecting natural habitats.
 Samuel Kerongo (the author) is a Landscape Architect and Urban Designer at Landtek Studios (Nairobi/Mombasa). He can be reached via

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