The Ultimate Guide to Genius of Place

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It’s an unfortunate reality we live with today: Almost universally, our buildings, cities, homes, and developed areas—our built environments—have a lasting negative impact on the ecosystems they have replaced.

local ecosystems can inspire sustainable design solutions

But our designs do not have to be a drain on the system; they can provide positive contributions. Cities can be the sources of fresh air, not air pollution. Developments can clean water, instead of contaminating it. Buildings can function like the wildlands next door.

By looking to nature as a model, mentor, and measure, built environment professionals can lead the way to a sustainable future. There are tremendous opportunities for built environments to improve, to become part of a solution instead of adding to the problem. Biomimicry, specifically the Genius of Place process, can help designers rethink built environments by learning the best practices of local organisms.

By better understanding the genius of place and its strategies to survive and thrive, we can create built environments that are suited to place and that create conditions conducive to life for all.

With this Ultimate Guide to Genius of Place, we hope to help create better understanding of the philosophy behind this approach, the steps for getting started, and easy access to a variety of examples. Download the step-by-step guide infographic available for free on this post, and keep reading to find out more!

Bumblebees exhibit an interesting strategy for modifying countercurrent heat exchange.

Bumblebees exhibit an interesting strategy for modifying countercurrent heat exchange.

Ecosystems provide services, such as stormwater management, in ways that can be very different than our own best practices.

Ecosystems provide services, such as stormwater management, in ways that can be very different than our own best practices.

What is Genius of Place?

In the Genius of Place process, biomimics look to native organisms and ecosystems to provide guidance, models, and metrics for how to be generous and resilient as we design for a particular place. We take these lessons from nature and translate them into design solutions, policies, and performance standards. Through this process of local attunement, our sense of place deepens, and our buildings, blocks, neighborhoods, and cities become fit to place.

One of the outcomes of the Genius of Place process is a compilation of biological research. Genius of Place reports are locally attuned catalogs of strategies that answer place-based questions that architects and engineers are asking, such as: How do local organisms protect against flooding or extreme wind events? How do nature's mentors harvest, store, and release water? Or how do native ecosystems filter and clean air?

These reports turn biological intelligence into design strategies.

Another outcome from the Genius of Place process is a deeper understanding of place. For example, when development changes the flow of water over the landscape, the knowledge of how rain moved through a native landscape can shift project goals for managing precipitation.

Get started with the Genius of Place process


Step #1  Identify your project’s ecological place

There are 14 biomes encompassing 846 ecoregions around the world! Visit Ecoregions 2017© to explore an interactive global map of ecological regions. Biomes share similar climate and plant communities, so strategies learned from one biome are generally viable strategies for anywhere within that biome.

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  1. On the map, turn down the opacity so that you can see the geographic location labels.

  2. Clicking on your location triggers a pop-up with biome and ecoregion information for that place.


Step #2  Deepen understanding of place

Learn what makes your project's ecoregion unique. Find out what each ecoregion needs to stay healthy, and factors could push the habitat type into failure. Visit the Ecology Pocket Guide, click on your biome, and look through the descriptions.

On the World Wildlife Fund terrestrial biome site, click on your biome and then navigate to your ecoregion for a list of local species as well as the names of protected locations.

  1. Pay attention to the 'Key Design Considerations' section in the Ecology Pocket Guide

  2. Visit a nearby, intact reference habitat of your ecoregion to give yourself a reference of what that healthy ecosystem is all about.


Step #3 Find native biological intelligence

What are the main challenges of surviving and thriving in your ecosystem type? Look for the champion adapters native to the ecoregion that can provide new insights on how to manage those challenges. Building a collection of inspiring organisms will lead the team into a brainstorming session. Many Genius of Place reports have already been created and can jumpstart your understanding of local strategies. 

Search AskNature for topics highlighted in your project or revealed from the more in-depth understanding of place, and for local species.

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  1. Review the Genius of Place reports that we've collected here on Synapse that include natural strategies learned from place-based organisms and systems

  2. Search for challenges relevant to your project.


Step #4 Brainstorm Locally Attuned Ideas

Bring designers and biomimics together to add the local biological intelligence to your project.

Those with biomimicry expertise can help stitch together the language of ecology and design, provide different perspectives, adding another dimension to brainstorming.

This Biomimicry + Packaging Innovation Toolkit provides a biomimicry brainstorming-in-a-box tool your team can use for idea generation.

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  1. To get your wheels turning, the Genius of Place reports collected here on Synapse often have biomimetic application ideas already laid out and even include preliminary sketches.

  2. The Biomimicry + Packaging Innovation Toolkit includes resources to facilitate a biomimicry brainstorming process.

EXPLORE Genius of Place Reports

Does your project lie in any of the blue areas on the map?
If so, a Genius of Place report has already been released for your biome. 

Browse the collection of existing Genius of Place reports below.

Original map by Terpsichores

Original map by Terpsichores


Collection of Genius of Place Reports

Browse this growing collection of Genius of Place reports developed by biomimicry experts around the world, including Biomimicry 3.8. Stay tuned as we add to this list throughout 2018.

1. Genius of Place: Temperate Broadleaf Forest by HOK & B3.8
2 SeedKit by Urban GreenPrint (Temperate Coniferous Forest)
3. Coming soon!
4. Coming soon!
5. Coming soon!

Check back soon for interviews and more with the creators behind Genius of Place studies. 

Love Biomimicry & Ready to Go Further?

Take our introductory self-paced online course and start building your foundation in biomimicry. 

Explore our upcoming biomimicry immersion workshops and register early for a discount.

Ready to work with Biomimicry 3.8 on your own project? We can advise you how to proceed.


A World Empowered with Nature's Genius
Help us achieve our vision by sharing these biomimicry resources with the creative problem solvers in your network.