science | March 26, 2013

Can We Design Buildings To Make Us Healthier? Jessica Green At TED [VIDEO]

"Everything is covered in invisible ecosystems made of tiny lifeforms: bacteria, viruses, and fungi," science speaker Jessica Green reveals in an exciting new TED Talk. "Our desks, our computers, our pencils, our buildings—all harbor resident microbial landscapes." If we know that these worlds exist—even though they are invisible—why shouldn't we develop all of our products and structures to positively interact with these microbial ecosystems? And, as Green adds, why not design them to interact with our own personal ecosystems, as well? Considering there are trillions of microbes in the human body that interact with other systems of microbes every time we touch something, designing our buildings with that in mind could be tremendously beneficial to our health.

"I get asked all the time by people if it's really possible to design microbial ecosystems," Green says in the talk, "and I believe the answer is 'yes.'" In fact, she says we are doing it right now—we're just not aware of it. Using a visualization tool she is developing in partnership with AutoDesk, Green presents a compelling account of the way we are consciously, and unconsciously, affecting these invisible, microbial worlds. She showed the audience how microbes travel and are dispersed in buildings—often by people and by the air. If we can understand how these microbes travel, she believes we can design buildings that reduce the spread of dangerous germs that cause illness and infection. Further, we can also do the reverse, by designing in such a way that accommodates the microbes we want (the good ones with health benefits) into our products and buildings. This type of conscious approach to design (which she calls 'Bioinformed Design') is possible—and it has the potential to change the world.

Green is known for using non-traditional tools like visualization to open our eyes to the complex microbial world that exists around us. A TED Senior Fellow, a Professor at both the University of Oregon and the Santa Fe Institute, and director of the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center, Green conducts exciting research in sustainability and human health. Her work has been recognized internationally and she was awarded the 2012 Portland Monthly Brainstorm award as one of eight "innovators changing our world." While we make decisions every day based on the visible world around us, Green wants us to think about what we can't see, as well. Our microbes are a big part of who we are—and it's time we started consciously incorporating them into our lives.