Yeang Delivers Keynote at ASEAN Emerging Researchers Conference

Ken Yeang, who has been named as one of the 50 people who can save the planet by The Guardian, gave the virtual keynote address at the ASEAN Emerging Researchers Conference which had “Challenges in Global Development: Sustainability & Conservation” as its central theme and featured expert speakers from the Wolfson College family and ASEAN Community.

Titled “Ecotopia,” Yeang’s presentation was viewed by over 1,000 people during and since the event on Nov. 30. He weaved a narrative that brought home several key observations resulting from his work as an architect and researcher – occupations Yeang freely admits are “difficult and onerous” but pursues them with gusto nevertheless.

“We are the most powerful species, and we make things,” Yeang points out. “We make more things than any other species in nature, and we cover the whole planet with what we make. It has consequences on the biosphere where most organic life exists, and therefore, our environment.”

Yeang focused his message around his central theme governing his work as an architect– how he strives to create a more integrated (actually, bio-integrated) approach to what we make as human beings, and what nature makes as nature for all species.

“Everything depends on bio-integration,” he says. “If everything we made was from the natural environment, there wouldn’t be environmental issues. Effective bio-integration is what we need to achieve in our work, all our work.”

He used one of his favorite analogies to demonstrate that point: what a doctor does with prosthetic device. The person is the host organism for the prosthetic device. For effective bio integration to take place, the physical and systemic factors must be blended into a cohesive agreement – a bio contract so to speak. Similarly, built systems, technology, what humans make, must be bio-integrated into the biosphere (environment) cohesively – or trouble arises.

“Constructed ecosystems have to emulate and replicate natural ecosystems,” Yeang tells the audience. “What underlies my work as an architect is this belief: If the built environment is remade to be nature-like, that is, by becoming part of Nature as constructed ecosystems that emulate and replicate natural ecosystem attributes, then this is the only way we will survive as a species.”

Yeang, who has written numerous books on this topic, trained at the AA School (Architectural Association), is an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, and received his doctorate from Cambridge University on ecological design and planning, brought in several key points from his narrative about a resilient planet to the group, the main one being: “Nature is giving us services (air, water, etc.) for free. Any businessperson knows there is no such thing as ‘free.’”

Ultimately, Yeang told the attendees, without bio-integration, humans will end up paying dearly for these free services.

Yeang outlined the key ecosystem attributes in sufficient detail to give attendees a working overview. These were:

  • Biological structure
  • Biodiversity
  • Connectivity and nexus
  • Provision of ecosystem services
  • Bio integration
  • Responsiveness to climate
  • Use and cycling of materials
  • Hydrology
  • Symbiosis
  • Homeostasis
  • Food production
  • Succession

“In nature, there is no waste,” he said. “We invented waste. How can I interpret this in architecture?”

In his thinking about bio-integration, a central question occurred to Yeang: How can we bring more biotic into the abiotic. In other words, how you integrate the natural with the manufactured non-natural humans make?

“We fragment the earth; we chop things up. We must reconnect nature into our work, interweaving with the world,” he explains. Yeang’s strategies include his experiments and research into achieving this reconnection – strategies like ways for keeping the sun out, simulating lighting conditions, creating habitats in a high rise, and more.

“Bio integration is easier said than done,” he emphasizes. “Nature, humans, water, the built environment. Getting these to communicate to each other is the challenge. Different parts of the earth have different climates, making architecture difficult.”

According to Yeang, guidelines for greening for any city are only a guide for him. “I want to double those requirements ( what a LEED may recommend). I guess that’s why I don’t sleep very much.”

Read for more information about Ken Yeang, his work and working within the construction environment, or contact Jim Nowakowski [email protected], (847) 358-4848.

View the presentation recording.

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