The HOK/Guild Partnership and the FIT Process (Taryn Mead)

© Fribourg - Fotolia.comThe HOK/Guild partnership has provided the Biomimicry Guild with the opportunity to work on significant, high profile and complex opportunities.  This has led to the development and refinement of a number of tools, including the Fully Integrated Thinking (FIT) process which supports integrated and holistic thinking and helps integrate the Life’s Principles into the full range of the design cycle.


The idea for the FIT tool came out of a charrette for an urban development project in India and was subsequently co-developed by the Biomimicry Guild and HOK.  During the charrette, Dayna Baumeister and I had brainstormed about the functions that a city needs to perform.  Humans design cities to provide shelter; collect, store, filter and distribute water; generate and distribute energy and many others - about 40 functions were eventually identified. 

In addition to looking for potential models from nature, each function was explored in the context of key Life’s Principles to develop innovative and more sustainable ways of delivering that function. 




FIT as Tool

FIT is closely aligned to the Triple Bottom Line by integrating the key functions a design must deliver to accomplish economic, social and environmental objectives.  By focusing on function, FIT makes the goals and objectives of the Triple Bottom Line meaningful to both clients and designers.

The FIT matrix arranges functions down the side and the Life’s Principles across the top, helping designers interconnect and align the decision making processes associated with the often disparate systems that make up a ‘whole’ solution.  It can help organize, relate and communicate the breadth and depth of the resources and systems (both natural and technical) that make up a specific place.

The FIT matrix can assist the decision-making process when different options have to be balanced.  For instance, when considering what type of wastewater treatment system is appropriate, the human tendency is to create a centralized system and put an enormous amount of energy into the collection, processing and redistribution of wastewater through a treatment facility.  On the other hand, if we use Life's Principles to determine the most appropriate strategy, we would employ solutions that are decentralized, distributed, diverse and redundant so that resiliency is designed into the system.  The FIT matrix starts with the local context as the basis for design and uses biological design principles to inform the appropriate width for corridors and land conservation around waterways.  We also establish design codes to maintain ecosystem function in high density urban environments based on the performance of the native ecosystems.


FIT as Process

FIT helps turn design challenges into opportunities for better solutions that go beyond ‘doing less bad’ to making a positive impact in multiple areas.  The Life’s Principles encourage us to view our designs as part of the complex and adaptive systems of a specific location.   The FIT matrix can reveal the latent potential of ‘place’, including site selection, available ecological services, potential partners and opportunities for new industries.

FIT can help identify and prioritize opportunities throughout the design process.  It can assist in establishing benchmarks based on existing standards or site-specific requirements which in turn can lead to monitoring mechanisms.  As a framework, FIT encourages constant re-evaluation of the project as requirements change or new opportunities emerge.



Cities need to deliver pure water.  The traditional solution is a standardized, centralized water purification system.  The Life’s Principles suggested a number of options, including using benign methods, searching for local resources, integrating cyclical processes and distributing key processes.  The transport system is usually designed solely by transport engineers.  The FIT model suggested that transportation corridors in the city can be multi-functional, supporting the movement of other organisms as well. 

In the case of existing cities, the FIT framework has been used to evaluate the current sustainability of the city and identify opportunities for deepened our understanding of ‘place’.  It has suggested ways of integrating cyclic processes in community and commerce for long term local social and economic sustainability.  Encouraging local resilience is becoming increasingly important.  Linkages between the materials and education systems of a city suggested new ways to engage students in a community-wide materials up-cycling program.


Relevance to Designers

The FIT process helps designers to understand the ‘genius of place’ and better leverage existing resources by linking place, challenges and outcomes.  It helps break down barriers between municipal and jurisdictional borders and facilitates communication across disciplines by focusing on commonly understand functions.  These factors can help reveal symbiotic relationships and solutions that address multiple problems.  The FIT process is scalable and generalizable across a wide range of situations. 

Designers are increasingly called upon to deal with complex situations, both in terms of the problem as well as the stakeholders that are involved in the solution.  The Fully Integrated Thinking tool can help designers handle the complexity and even turn complexity into an asset in terms of developing broader solutions.


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Taryn Mead is a Biologist at the Design Table and HOK Lavasa Project Liaison.  An ecologist by training, her specialization lies in the application of nature's genius to the landscape and systems levels of design.

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