I’ve just returned from summer camp—seriously. It was the second time in as many months that I’ve luxuriated in lake life: towering pines, the call of the loons, clear crisp days, and starry, starry nights. We bathed in the lake water, hiked through woods a thousand shades of green, picked wild blueberries, and warmed by the fireplace.
This go-round was on a friend’s family compound in the Adirondacks, or camps, as they’re called in that neck of the woods. The camp has an Indian name, Wanakiwin, but to me it is "The Healthy Place," where nature and nurture seamlessly converge. My fellow camp-mates and I—there were 17 of us—consciously and experientially delved deeply into the interrelationships of the personal and the external.
As an urban dweller, this type of reflection isn’t something that I often do, and yet, it is likely a far more necessary exercise in my "regular" life than it was on the shores of a pristine mountain lake. The camp, though it is quite old, has had minimal impact on its site. Little is asked of the land, but it perfectly supports whatever activities happen there.
This is the essence of green buildings—(Ah-ha, you knew I’d bring this discussion around!)—to cherish, protect, and renew even as we develop and use the land. My friend Bill Reed, a progenitor of regenerative thinking, speaks of this as a living systems approach to design:
"Sustainability is not deliverable. Sustainability is not a thing. Sustainability is not simply about efficient technologies and techniques. It is about life—a process by which living things such as forests, neighborhoods, people, businesses, mushrooms, and polar bears ensure their viability over the long haul. It is a process of reciprocal relationship—a process by which living things support and are supported by a larger whole. That means a building can’t simply be high performance and considered sustainable… Buildings can be worked on as autonomous, but only become meaningful and beneficial when understood as part of the living fabric of place."
It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of green design—the materials, the strategies, the points. Perhaps it takes a week in the woods to see the connections that define the story of place—any place.