Building Biology Embracing Natures Wisdom for Health and Ecology


"To the extent that our indoor environments measure up to nature, in terms of air quality, light/color quality, acoustics, electro-climate … they will nurture us.”

In my quest for healthier ways to build I came across Building Biology ( a building philosophy and science that originated in Germany in the early 1960’s, as “Bau-Biologie”.  At that time, long before we recognized building-related health problems  in North America, it was becoming alarmingly evident in Europe that a growing segment of their population was chronically unwell from being indoors in the mass produced industrialized housing that went up post WWII. A multi-disciplinary gathering of concerned professionals systematically compared newly constructed “sick buildings” with the solid, often earthen, pre-war building stock. What resulted was a set of scientific standards for evaluating indoor environmental quality and 25 principles for building new homes and workplaces.

In North America our need to build better buildings is of more recent concern. As awareness of humanGermany's institute for building biology impact on planetary ecology grows it becomes increasingly evident that we need to consume less… and North Americans are notorious for consuming far more than their share of the planet’s resources!  The burgeoning green building movement has focusing on many facets of the ecological impact of our buildings, including the negative impact of conventional building on our health. Many people in the building industry have worked hard to come up with systems for assessing the “greenness” of building. Fortunately these scorecards almost always contain a section on “indoor environmental quality” and require or reward a dependable supply of fresh air and reduction in the use of toxic substances.

But health is just one small subcategory of the green building agenda. The main emphasis, in the green building movement, is to create more energy efficient homes by making “improvements” to the light frame construction techniques that are uniquely prevalent here. Saving the planet from the excessive consumption of human beings is the driving force.

Unfortunately a “green” home certification is not a guarantee that a home will support the health of its occupants.

In contrast the main focus of Building Biology is human health…and achieving deep ecology is a bi-product of this. A central concept of Building Biology is that “there is almost always a direct correlation between the biological compatibility of a building and its ecological performance.”  In other words buildings that deeply nurture every aspect of human health in production, occupation, and post-habitation will also excel as models of sustainability. Why?  … Because the natural environment is the gold standard for human health and the ultimate model of sustainability. The role of our indoor environments is to temper nature’s extremes of temperature and to keep us dry and safe from predators.

Photo at right: Doorway to the original Baubiologie Institute in Germany. Credit Robert Laporte

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