Designing Spaces That Regenerate

Written byLaura Field
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This discussion focused on the theme of Honoring Sense of Place and saw key discussions about the powerful role of place in regeneration.

Key Takeaway:

Looking at examples of various indigenous systems for resource and waste management around the world allows us to learn from systems of indigenous practice and how they positively impact not only people but also place.

Prashant Ashoka, Designer & Owner of Casa Eterea and Julia Watson, Designer & Author of Lo-Tek, discussed their work designing spaces that are in harmony with nature and informed by indigenous perspectives and local characteristics. They explored the importance of understanding communities and respecting indigenous knowledge. They also looked at the unique potential of the tourism industry to teach us crucial lessons about how to honor space.

Regenerative Architecture Involves Both Materials And Community

Much of the world of architecture and sustainable building revolves around taking the most advanced construction methods and materials and implementing them in a way that minimizes damage.

In Central Mexico, Prashant Ashoka has created Casa Eterea. It’s a groundbreaking off-grid cabin that embraces unique building materials, energy sources and community input. Prashant very carefully considered the choices of building materials. He also felt it paramount that the design as a whole worked symbiotically with the surrounding environment, to the extent that local birdlife became a major design consideration.

On top of prioritizing design in the creation of Casa Eterea, Prashant sought input from the local population. He wanted to hear about their environmental knowledge and how they would benefit from such a business.

“Socially, what we do for the community around us, is instead of assuming a traditional employer-employee relationship without community, we empower the people who work with us with the autonomy to craft their own business models when offering local services for visitors.” Casa Eterea sets a benchmark in hospitality for working with place immersively, towards positive impact properties.

There Is A Wealth Of Knowledge In Indigenous Design

We ignorantly assume that understandings of architecture and design in the Global North are the best way to combat climate change and minimize the impact of humans on the natural environment.

With a background in anthropology, Julia Watson has spent much of her career building the concept of Lo-Tek, which entails learning from Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Looking at the examples of various indigenous systems for resource and waste management around the world in places such as India and Lake Titicaca, Julia noticed the potential for learning from systems of indigenous practice and how they positively impacted not only the people but also the place.

Many high-tech minds see the systems in place in these countries as insignificant. But for Julia, the people and knowledge can be allies in combating climate change and waste management, which is something she has used in her teachings. “Rather than teaching high tech about the built environment, I just started to subversively slip in all these incredible technologies from [indigenous communities] around the world.”

Positive impact can be made on an individual level, but when applied from a business perspective, the impact amplifies. Julia commented that we as stewards need “To begin to guide these companies to really think very systematically about how to change their practices to become incredibly sustainable, aware of climate change, resilient, regenerative but also aware that the community and the environment in which they’re practicing business need to remain incredibly healthy for their business to be healthy into the future and trying to create those direct links between the economy, ecology and community.”

The Tourism Industry Is Ideally Structured To Enable Knowledge Sharing Systems

Reflecting on the key takeaways in this session, both Prashant and Julia focused heavily on the role that the tourism industry can play in implementing these changes and transforming attitudes towards how tourism respects and harnesses place.

Julia noted that “the tourism industry is ideally structured to enable knowledge sharing systems” such as her Lo-Tek concept. In relation to this, Prashant highlighted the educational capacity of the industry, adding that “travel is the most soul-expanding and mind-expanding experience you can have. Travel is a bridge between cultures and ideologies.”

When looking at travel from a business perspective, both panelists also discussed the ability that travel has to start incredible conversations about climate change as well the responsibility it holds to build healthier and more positive business models, both for people and place.

Finally, Julia succinctly echoed the Regenerative Travel mission when she expressed that “human beings can evolve and live with nature in a way that doesn’t detract from natural systems… If the tourism industry ends up supporting climate change technologies, [it] reduces the risk of climate change impact to these incredible communities that you’re visiting.”

This panel discussion was part of the 2021 Regenerative Travel Summit

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