Regenerative Design Should be the Standard for Environmental Architecture

You may have noticed a new buzzword in the world of design. Where once the conversation around buildings and climate change was focused on sustainability’, many environmental architects are now of the belief that this is not enough and instead we should aim for design that is regenerative.1  So how does regenerative design go beyond sustainability? 

Regeneration is the process of something being restored to an improved state.2 In the past buildings were simply static structures to be inhabited and recently we have seen sustainability become a standard requirement for buildings, with the reduction of environmental harm and energy consumption usually preferable to architects and clients. Regenerative Architecture takes this a step further, designing buildings that are not only neutral in their energy production and consumption, but that actively improve the site and aid in the healing of the climate. 3 

3D printing is used by biomimicry researcher and architect Michael Palwyn, to emulate naturally occurring structures in biology that may give clues about sustainable design.

If this definition seems nebulous, perhaps it is because the methods of application for regenerative design are still being determined, as architects conducting research in the field test new approaches that expand our understanding of what architecture can achieve. One area of research is biomimicry, using natural processes found in animals and plantsadapting them to design solutions that meet human needs.4  Adaptive design is another broad and multidisciplinary area of research that ultimately focuses on buildings that prepare for future events, increasing their lifespan. This includes having an open design that can be adapted to new uses as programme requirements change and designing to withstand possible climate events such as drought and flood.5  

For the construction industry to have a positive impact on efforts to ease climate change, regenerative design needs to become a requirement for all new buildings.6  This idea is being promoted through the Living Building Challenge, which accredits buildings achieving net-zero carbon emissions and no negative health impacts on inhabitants through its ‘red list’ of banned materials. The challenge requires net positive energy with 105% of the building’s consumption being produced on site and the remainder stored for “resiliency”. The hopes are that this will be pushed further to buildings generating enough clean energy to contribute to the shared grid.7 

The University of Wollongong is the first Australian building to receive accreditation from the Living Building Challenge.

Considering the climate emergency, it seems that a swift transition is needed to an emphasis on neutrality and net-positive design. There may be some way to go however before this standard is as widespread as the current situation requires. Currently there are 16 buildings across Australia registered to achieve the living building challenge and only one has received full accreditation.8 Commitment from the entire construction industry, including investment in the production of sustainable and non-toxic materials is required to make this more achievable. Furthermore, the Australian government must also step up to the challenge of investing in research and has been known to neglect the environmental design field. 9 

Continued research and innovative projects that test methods for achieving net-positivity push us further in the direction of regenerative design becoming a new standard for design and architects should consider that they have a responsibility to dedicate part of their labour resources to this pursuit.  



  1. Lizzie Crook, “‘We fooled ourselves that sustainability was getting us where we needed to go’ says Michael Palyn of Architects Declare”, Dezeen, October 7, 2019, accessed 23 April, 2020,
  2. Dictionary, s.v. “regenerate,” accessed April 23, 2020,
  3. Jennifer Ferng, “Regenerative architecture, Aussie style, competes on a global stage”, The Conversation, October 28, 2014, accessed April 23, 2020,
  4. Lizzie Crook, “‘We fooled ourselves that sustainability was getting us where we needed to go”
  5. Brabon, Nugent, Packard & Vierra, “Living, Regeneration, And Adaptive Buildings”, Whole Building Design Guide, August 5, 2016, accessed April 23, 2020,
  6. HMC Architects, “Sustainability is Dead: Regenerative architecture is the new green”, BDC Network, May 16, 2018, accessed April 24, 2020,
  7. “Energy Petal”, International Living Future Institute, 2020, accessed April 23, 2020,
  8. “Australian Projects”, International Living Future Institute, 2020, accessed April 23, 2020,
  9. Fernandez & Huntsdale, “Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at University of Wollongon aces Living Building Challenge”, ABC Illawarra, November 30, 2020, accessed April 23, 2020,