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Designing for the Wild

Updated: May 8

An Interview with Mike Munt, writer, and creative director of Apogii, helping entrepreneurs in the nature-based accommodation sector to be ready to communicate their value to potential guests.


I first met Brendan O’Molony at the Eco Resort Network in Montenegro 2023 and heard his talk about Tenthouse® Structure’s approach to design and new tent architecture for wilderness environments.


Recently I sat down with Brendan to find out more about Tenthouse® Structures’ approach to designing for the wild. Below I have summarized some of the key considerations we discussed and you can watch the video of our conversation here.



CHALLENGES AND CONSIDERATIONS IN DESIGNING STRUCTURES FOR WILDERNESS ENVIRONMENTS


Designing structures for wilderness environments creates a multi-layered challenge compared to building in urban or rural settings. Being in a remote location brings unique on-site challenges for construction and project timelines. Coupled with this is the commercial aspect to keep in mind, necessitating careful logistical planning and budgeting.


Working in wilderness environments often means working in sensitive habitats, increasing the challenge of aligning with sustainability goals. In such scenarios designers working on the project will advocate a "less is more" approach, prioritizing lightweight, durable structures with minimal parts, aiming for sustainability through reusability and recyclability.


All these factors and more are considered during the design process. Projects in wilderness environments require coordinating various disciplines within tight timelines to ensure efficient execution.


The highlight here is finding the intricate balance required when undertaking construction projects in wilderness environments. Successfully navigating such projects involves careful planning, time management, and a solid commitment to preserving the natural surroundings. Balancing commercial viability with environmental stewardship is critical to ensuring that the project meets its objectives and minimizes its impact on the delicate ecosystem.


SUSTAINABILITY AND STRUCTURE LIFESPAN


Our discussion offered nuanced insights into the balance between longevity and practicality in contemplating sustainability. Some advocate for constructing long-lasting structures that require minimal maintenance over their lifespan, which can be seen as environmentally friendly due to reduced material consumption and waste. However, a building's sustainability goes beyond just its longevity.


Considerations such as energy efficiency, resource use, and environmental impact throughout the structure's lifecycle are crucial. While a building may last 100 years, if it consumes large amounts of energy or resources during construction or operation, its overall sustainability may be compromised.


In wilderness environments, where projects often have shorter lifespans dictated by lease terms or other factors, the focus shifts to optimizing sustainability within those constraints. This may involve designing lightweight and carbon-efficient structures that minimize environmental impact during construction and operation.


Tenthouse Structures' approach is to design and engineer structures that balance longevity, resource efficiency, and environmental responsibility with the specific needs and limitations of each project.


This requires careful consideration of various factors and trade-offs to achieve the most sustainable outcome possible within the given context.


LOCATION-BASED DESIGN


When considering the location of built structures in a wilderness environment, there is a need for adaptability and sensitivity to the site.


Different environments, such as coastal areas, tundra regions, or African plains, present unique challenges and considerations.


For example, building near the sea requires materials and construction methods that can withstand the corrosive effects of saltwater and high winds. Structures in tundra regions must be designed to withstand extreme cold temperatures and permafrost conditions, while those in African plains may need to consider heat, dust, and wildlife interactions.


A variety of strategies must be considered for each environment's specific challenges. These may include selecting appropriate materials, incorporating climate-responsive design, using site-specific construction techniques, considering wildlife and habitat preservation, and evaluating the total cost of ownership.


BALANCING COST AND SUSTAINABILITY


How cost and sustainability interplay and how the location creates the foundation for striking a balance between these aspects is crucial in dictating the design and construction process, particularly in high-end ground-up projects.


These projects often start with a blank canvas, allowing designers to let their creativity flow while addressing site-specific challenges and opportunities as they arise. However, in more accessible luxury projects, where efficiency and standardization are critical, a modular approach becomes necessary.


Components and elements must be designed to work in various environments, promoting flexibility and adaptability.


Sustainability is a central consideration in modern design practices, with carbon counting being one metric used to assess environmental impact. Brendan expanded on this, sharing how sustainability and cost are closely intertwined.

Shipping materials from distant locations may initially appear cost-effective, but factors such as unpredictability in shipping time can lead to delays, increased costs, and impact on overall carbon count.


This highlights the importance of considering cost and sustainability, as they often align closely. By integrating sustainability principles into cost calculations, designers can make more informed decisions prioritizing environmental responsibility while managing project budgets effectively. This approach balances economic viability and environmental stewardship in design and construction projects.


BUILDABILITY, PRACTICALITY, INNOVATION AND SUSTAINABILITY


Considering a design's practicality and feasibility is essential in ensuring its successful implementation. Factors such as buildability, practicality, and market readiness play crucial roles in determining a project's viability. Additionally, adhering to set targets and commitments is essential for maintaining credibility and trust with clients.


Brendan highlighted the pivotal role of education in the pursuit of sustainability.


By introducing concepts like carbon counting to clients and stakeholders, designers can foster a better understanding of environmental impact and encourage more responsible decision-making. Incorporating carbon counting into design processes and project management can help quantify and mitigate environmental footprints, promoting accountability and driving innovation.


Lastly, he expressed optimism regarding the potential for innovation to drive widespread adoption of environmentally friendly technologies. Companies like Tenthouse can inspire industry-wide adoption of more environmentally conscious practices by prioritizing sustainability and embracing innovative technologies.


Whether directly implementing greener, more sustainable construction practices in their own projects or indirectly influencing suppliers and competitors, their efforts contribute to a positive shift.


This proactive approach benefits the environment and positions Tenthouse as a leader in sustainable design and innovation.


Speaking with Brendan, it is clear that a comprehensive approach is needed when designing for the wild to bridge the gap between an idea, creative concept, and its environmental execution.


Writer: Mike Munt


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