How we began building beyond our natural territories and how we can change this with ecological artist, Naho Iguchi.

When we think of habitat exchange, we often think of giving space back to animals in areas that are dense with nature. In this article, we explore how that applies to urban environments with ecological artist and Living Future Europe 2021 Masterclass graduate, Naho Iguchi.

Naho’s Give Space urban design methodology helps clients conceive building projects that give space back to animals and other living organisms in urban environments. Through the LFE Masterclass, she has drawn on Living Building Challenge principles to help round out the built environment aspects of her methodology.

In our interview with Naho, we discussed everything from the ‘civilized fear’ that causes us to build without regard for other species, to getting creative with client meetings, to creating a shared language with clients to help bring these challenging holistic projects to life.

From lions in the Savanna to urban environments

A trip to Savanna to see wild lion conservation became the genesis for Naho’s Give Space urban design methodology, a holistic approach to designing in the built environment. The population of wild lions in Savanna is affected by habitat loss caused by human activity. Repopulation solutions don’t address the underlying problem of habitat loss and the territory of the lions remains affected.

Naho’s methodology explores this through the lens of human fear. We fear big cats and therefore we respect their territories, keeping a safe distance as part of a wider ecosystem. But somewhere along the way, humans became more powerful. This turned into what Naho refers to as ‘civilized fear’:

  • Human animal fear – a healthy biological fear that recognizes predators and reacts appropriately.
  • Civilized fear – an unhealthy fear that has become excessive due to the human ego expanding far beyond our natural ecosystem.

Naho’s line of work took her to explore this in an urban environment setting — a place where humans dominate. Naho refers to herself as a ‘human animal’ as a way to shift our anthropocentric thinking and be part of a living ecosystem, like any other living being. For this reason, we’ll use Naho’s language of humans and ‘other-than-humans’ in this article.

Habitat exchange and the Place Petal

Habitat exchange is one of four imperatives as part of the Living Building Challenge Place Petal. It requires that an equal amount of land be set aside, away from the building site, for every hectare of development. This occurs through the Living Future Habitat Exchange Program or an approved Land Trust.

The practical purpose of this is to ensure that the built environment doesn’t encroach on animal territories without giving back. But the mindset shift that a habitat exchange entails is equally important. It makes us think about what we’re building as part of a larger ecosystem and provides us with a less anthropocentric, more holistic, way forward.

Applying Give Space to the built environment

Naho’s Give Space methodology is a holistic approach that takes an expansive and inclusive approach to urban design. Not only does it include the ‘physical’ aspect that we’ve discussed — giving more space to ‘other-than-humans’ — it also practices giving mental, emotional, and spiritual space to each other and ourselves.

This is an essential part of cultivating what Naho describes as, “compassion for our surrounding environment that we otherwise take for granted and neglect to care for.” Her background in organizational psychology plays a major role in creating this holistic foundational thinking that is applied to Give Space projects.

The Four Realms of the Give Space Methodology

Using the Living Building Challenge Place Petal

As a non-technical professional working in the built environment, Naho has always sought out different types of thinking, such as ecological design, to help inform the ‘Physical’ realm of her methodology.

This is how she landed at Living Future Europe. The Living Building Challenge starts with place, which aligns with giving space and the exploration of what territories and boundaries mean when we build. The Place Petal gives her a framework and technical specifications to incorporate into her own methodology. Because each Living Building project team still has to find their own process unique to their place, it ensures that the Petals are not too prescriptive — there is still the freedom to explore what a particular ecosystem needs.

The intent of the Place Petal is to realign how people understand and relate to the natural environment that sustains us. To see every building project as part of a story of place before embarking on it.

Getting creative with client meetings

As part of the Give Space urban design methodology, Naho explores different pathways to connect clients with the place their building project is in. One way is through designing multiple biophilic walks in the surrounding project area, as well as other types of walks, such as silent walks and mindful walks. This type of somatic learning activates the senses and connects people to their surrounding environment — for instance, how much nature exists that they never notice.

These biophilic walks allow her clients to tap into their own innate biophilic senses. When they connect to their area, they are able to start discussing the nature that they want to bring back through their building project. Instead of looking to exploit or possess the place around them, they are instead inspired by it.

Creating a shared language with clients in the built environment

It’s also incredibly important to create a shared understanding with clients, something which can be challenging when people are working from different world views and experiences. Naho currently works between Berlin, Germany, and Tokyo, Japan. She finds that there can be cultural similarities when it comes to ‘buy-in’ — people are less inclined to buy into an idea and more inclined to buy into something that already exists and has been proven to work.

In the built environment, proving that living buildings are financially viable and ecologically restorative takes, as Naho says, too long with the climate crisis facing us. The catalogue of viable case studies and frameworks from the International Living Future Institute is an important selling point to help mitigate that risk for clients.

Additionally, working off the Living Building framework and its technical specifications gives Naho a shared language to ground projects with her clients. In applying her methodology, she finds that clients will slowly start to use this language. This developmental occurrence creates a regenerative effect that ripples out to help everyone involved in the project step out of their comfort zone and mindset.

What’s next for Give Space

Having expanded and focussed her methodology through the Living Future Europe Masterclass, Naho will be helping clients in the built environment understand how to design and actualize building projects that know how to give space to ‘other-than-humans’. Her focus is currently on Europe, and she is interested in collaborating and helping with new building projects — if you are interested in finding out more, you can get in touch with Naho: ni@nion.global

Living Future Europe Masterclass

Naho was a member of the Living Future Europe Masterclass 2021, our first ever Masterclass. It was a great success with built environment practitioners joining us from all over Europe to learn, explore, and understand how to create a better built environment. We established a truly encouraging community who have gone on to support and collaborate with one another far beyond the Masterclass itself.

If you are interested in joining the second cohort, the Living Future Europe Masterclass 2022 (currently scheduled for the second half of 2022), please register your interest here and we will be in touch in the new year.