On The Roof With Biophilic Community Developer and Visionary Steve Nygren

Sourced from the Living Architecture Monitor

Steve and his team have been working to implement biophilic design principles at the community development scale 30 minutes south of Atlanta for almost twenty years and the results are impressive. Serenbe is a development modeled after traditional European villages, and as a result it uses far less land than traditional development projects. The conserved land is then preserved for forests, farming and pasture land. I attended the Biophilic Summit this Spring at Serenbe to find out from Steve how biophilic design is being realized in this model of a sustainable and healthy community.

Steven Peck (SP): Hi Steve. This place is beautiful and relaxing. Thank you. Much of the talk about biophilic design has centered around buildings, but you have been promoting Serenbe as a biophilic community. Why are you doing that and does anyone know what you are talking about - does it help sell the community?

Steve Nygren (SN): That’s a great question. Most examples have been buildings however the biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Most people don’t know the term biophilia, yet when you give them the definition it becomes abundantly clear they do understand the meaning. I do think people move to Serenbe because of biophilia, (yet many are unable to articulate or define the term) - it’s the feeling they get when they visit - a connection to the land, nature and the people around them.

Our journey began as an effort to save the land but we discovered the only way major land preservation could occur was to connect preservation to development and to regulate that balance. Ray Anderson introduced us to the Rocky Mountain Institute and they convened 23 thought leaders of the day at Serenbe in September 2000. We built Serenbe with nature in mind, with a concern for the land, conserving the earth’s natural resources, building with nature rather than in opposition to it and creating places throughout the community for people to be awed by nature and beauty, natural and built. The love and respect of all living things is a guiding principle on how we created Serenbe and we work hard to implement that into everyday life. As we developed the plans for Serenbe, we did not have a biophilic checklist (it didn’t exist) but once we reached some success and people tried identifying or naming our approach, it became obvious that the best description is Biophilic Design for Community Planning. That is what makes Serenbe a biophilic community. While the term is still growing, I think people are catching on and we need to lead the way and build on the biophilic movement. We have started the Biophilic Leadership Summit to educate more people on biophilic design and implementation.

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