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Why Biophilic Design Matters

Since Optima’s founding, we have thoughtfully developed environments where nature and architecture coexist. This principle of sustainability – known throughout architecture as biophilic design – is becoming increasingly popular across the world throughout all types of built environments.

The process of biophilic design isn’t anything new to the world of architecture; however, in recent years, the design principle has seen a renaissance. Today, biophilic design is used within modern architecture as a method to fulfill the inherent connection between humans and nature. 

Because our natural habitats have increasingly become built environments, designers and architects have discovered the significant value of adding biophilic elements into all kinds of structures to enhance the relationship between natural and built environments. The framework for designing these biophilic environments consists of employing both direct and indirect experiences of nature. Direct experiences incorporate everything from natural light, fresh air and organic landscapes, while indirect experiences include utilizing natural materials and colors and ecological attachments to a location. Everything from skylights to green walls to fountains all apply the conventions attached to the design principle. 

Health Benefits

Beyond creating connectivity to natural environments, biophilic design also supplies an ample amount of benefits to both its surroundings and those who inhabit them. One of the most prolific benefits attached to the design principle is the improvement of air quality. Designs that employ vibrant greenery absorb the natural toxins in the air, ultimately enhancing the atmosphere.

Having access to vegetation and other models of biophilia also has a direct impact on happiness and wellbeing. When design principles like natural light and ventilation are introduced into built environments, a greater appreciation forms – establishing a more welcoming, advantageous space. 

Biophilic Design in Optima

Throughout our communities at Optima, we use biophilic design to improve the lives of our residents and complement their beautiful surroundings and communities. In our latest project, Optima Lakeview, we’re employing biophilic design throughout many elements of the architecture.

The development features a stunning atrium that includes our signature vertical landscaping system within it. At the atrium’s top, an expansive skylight fills the space below it with an abundance of natural light. Optima Lakeview is also home to a variety of private terraces and setbacks featuring lush vegetation and ensuring residents a seamless transition from outdoor to indoor environment.

From the materials used in construction to the greenery placed throughout a building, more and more architects are discovering how to include biophilic design within their builds, connecting their built environment with the natural world around them.

5 Innovative Materials Changing the Future of Architecture

As technology continues to advance, changemakers and visionaries are discovering ways to push the boundaries of sustainable design in architecture. Today, we’re spotlighting five of the most innovative materials currently in development that are setting the stage for the future of architecture and design. 

Green Charcoal Loofah Bricks

Engineered at the Indian School of Design and Innovation in Mumbai, the Green Charcoal Loofah Brick is another revolutionary twist on traditional brick material. Soil, cement, charcoal and organic loofah fibers – the plant commonly used in sponges – make up the lightweight, biodegradable product. 

Similar to the cavernous gaps that are found in loofahs, the bricks’ fibrous network allows it to double as a home for plants and animals to thrive. The bricks’ pours also act as water chambers, which, when filled with water, act as a coolant for the structures they support. While the name might suggest charcoal is a significant part of the material’s build, it only appears on the brick’s surface, purifying the air by absorbing a compound used for growing plants. 

Hemp Rebar

Hemp is one of the most carbon-sequestering and strongest fibers on the planet, making it a perfect material to shift the future of architecture. Engineers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed the low-cost, low-carbon alternative to traditional steel rebar. One of the material’s most outstanding features is its ability to avoid corrosion, further extending the potential lifespan of the structure it is used to build. 

The rebar’s sustainable makeup has the potential to decrease construction time and triple the lifespan of the most costly traditional infrastructure — including everything from bridges to dams to seawalls. Its engineers intend the product to be cost-competitive, making it an obvious alternative material choice for future builds. 

Blast Studio’s 3D Printed Mycelium Collum, Courtesy of Blast Studio

3D Printed Mycelium

An ever-growing number of engineers are discovering how to incorporate mycelium – a root-like structure of fungus that creates a network of threads and branches – into their designs, with a huge impact on advancing sustainable design. One of the teams leading the drive is Blast Studio in London. Their team takes advantage of mycelium’s strong webbing structure to form columns that not only support builds but also grow mushrooms. 

The tree-like structure is made up of a mixture of mycelium fiber and recycled coffee cups. After being constructed through 3D printing, the mycelium eventually consumes the recycled material and grows to command the entire form of the column. Along with cultivating its own food, the dynamic material also produces natural insulation and fire-retardant properties. While mycelium-based materials are still sparse, more and more engineers and architects are beginning to see their advantages in designs. 

Chip[s] Board

One of the best single-use alternatives to fibreboard, corkboard and even wood, Chip[s] Board is finding its place in today’s architecture landscape. Created by Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll, the biodegradable material is one of the healthiest building components used on the planet due to its absence of toxic chemicals or resins like formaldehyde. When creating the material, Minkley and Nicoll were set on combining the issues of material and food waste – eventually resulting in the sustainable wood substitute. 

The product’s name is a play on the ingredients used to make it, which includes a blend of potato peel binding agents mixed with fibers from potatoes, bamboo, wood or hops. To develop Chip[s] Board, the blended composite is heat-pressed into a sturdy board that becomes functional in everything from furniture to buildings. 

Kenoteq’s K-Briqs made of recycled construction waste, Courtesy of Felix Speller

K-Briq Construction Waste Bricks

Invented by Gabriela Meder, an engineering professor at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, the K-Briq is one of the leading sustainable and recycled brick materials today. The unfired brick is made of 90% construction waste and produces less than 10% of carbon emission in manufacturing compared to clay bricks, making it an obvious low-carbon alternative in construction.

Designers of 2020’s Serpentine Pavilion – an annual design commission known for its experiential architecture – were one of the first to utilize the brick due to its versatility and similarity to the weight, look and functionality of standard bricks. Meder, who spent ten years developing the K-Briq, still produces it herself through her company Kenoteq

With new forms of sustainable design being created daily, we can’t wait to continue exploring the ways innovative architecture can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable world.

Meet the Winner of the Redesign the World Contest

As champions of leading-edge, thoughtfully-designed spaces built to inspire communities, we enjoy sharing the visionary work of others who continue to impact the world’s landscape. In early 2021, Dezeen, the internationally-acclaimed architecture, interiors and design magazine, launched its Redesign the World 2021 competition. More than 100 firms submitted their ideas for rethinking planet Earth, and Dezeen has provided a platform to showcase the 15 most visionary, radical solutions to ending environmental issues. 

Dezeen launched the contest in partnership with Epic Games and architectural visualization tool Twinmotion. The competition sought revolutionary solutions and asked contestants several ambitious questions, including: where and how will everyone live; how will vital ecosystems flourish; and most importantly, what would a redesigned planet resemble? 

Each proposal consisted of an in-depth narrative, still images and a short video animation depicting the landscape. And, following more than two months of deliberation, Dezeen published all of the top submissions here, including the winning entry: Fernando Donis’ Frame City.

Donis, a celebrated architect known for designing CCTV Headquarters and managing the international architect firm Donis, constructed an idealized environment in which nature and humanity coexist. In his design, Donis established new forms of topography formed by terrace-like structures made of timber, depicting a vibrant natural landscape filled with lush greenery intended to house millions of people. The inspired landscape takes advantage of the most sustainable transportation methods and produces an environment where diverse networks of cultural exchange would thrive.

Like Optima, Donis envisions a world where nature and infrastructure become one, and innovative, thoughtful design leads the direction for an excelling world. You can read more about Fernando Donis and his vision behind Frame City here.  

The Benefits of Urban Greenspaces

At Optima, we approach every project as an opportunity to explore the best possible ways to create harmony between the built and natural environments to allow our residents to enjoy a wealth of benefits that contribute to a healthier, more sustainable environment.

We understand that greenspaces; parks, gardens, conservatories, roof gardens and residential greenery are crucial to the vitality of urban spaces and the communities where they are found. Population density of urban areas is increasing swiftly. By 2050, it is estimated that 68% of the global population will live in cities. According to the WHO, urban greenspaces promote mental and physical health through the promotion of physical activity, mutual understanding, and mitigating exposure to air and noise pollution as well as excessive heat. 

In the summer, the heat generated by human activity, transport, and industry creates an increased need for energy consumption to cool spaces. Green areas have the ability to absorb that heat and pollution. They also allow urban dwellers to stretch their legs and be outside, improving cardiovascular health and relieving stress. Each space also promotes social cohesion, the coming together of people who would usually not interact with each other due to the individualistic nature of urban living.

Landscaping used to create privacy at Optima Signature
Landscaping used to create privacy at Optima Signature

At Optima we recognize the tremendous advantages greenspaces provide. In Chicago, Optima Signature’s inviting plaza filled with lush landscaping and 1.5 acres of amenity space encourages residents to spend time outdoors. Gardens, landscaped fire pits, swimming pools, and outdoor entertainment all radiate the feeling of an oasis within the larger urban environment.

Landscaped Courtyard at Optima Kierland Apartments
Landscaped Courtyard at Optima Kierland Apartments

Optima Kierland Center embraces its surrounding beauty and builds off of it. Lush greenery fills the more than 7.5 acres of open space connecting Optima Kierland’s buildings in a park-like setting. Similarly, Optima Sonoran Village utilizes more than half of its 10-acre property to house stunning landscaping, sculpture, and pedestrian paths while mitigating the desert’s harsh climate. We utilize rooftop gardens and our signature vertical landscaping at Optima Sonoran Village, Optima Kierland Apartments, and will be bringing it to Chicago at Optima Verdana, to create an oasis inspired by its surroundings that contribute to the greater environment. This type of green space brings both beauty and positive contributions to their communities. 

Greenspaces make urban living refreshing, enjoyable and social. And as our cities become more and more dense, urban greenspaces become a crucial part of the ecosystem — and of our enhanced quality of life.

New Age Modernism: Environmentalism over Formalism

While Modernism has a history over a century deep, modern-day architects designing in the discipline are looking towards the future. Recently, Space Caviar founder Joseph Grima published a manifesto for a new kind of non-extractive architecture, positioning Modernism’s traditional, formalistic approach against a new, environmentalist way of operating.

Moving Away From the “Top-Down” Approach

In a conversation with Dezeen, he says that modern-day architects are considering how Modernism can be a “form of stewardship of the natural environment,” as opposed to just in conversation with the landscape through compositional considerations. At the center of Grima’s manifesto is the idea that architecture should no longer have a top-down approach, where materials are selected for their aesthetics and function, but without consideration for their impact on the environment.

Interestingly enough, Mies van der Rohe’s famous Barcelona Pavilion is employed as a primary example of “top-down” architecture here. The materials used in the project – green marble, travertine and onyx – exemplify Modernism’s “skin and bones” appeal at its most raw. But where did they come from? These are questions that will no longer be ignored, according to Grima.

Setting Our Sights on Sustainability

Grima’s manifesto resonates. At Optima, we create built environments with the surrounding natural environment in mind. Beyond just living in visual harmony with the landscape, we’re invested in fostering a more reciprocal relationship.

Our signature vertical landscaping system at Optima Camelview Village
Our signature vertical landscaping system at Optima Camelview Village

Our signature vertical landscaping system, featured at properties such as Optima Sonoran Village, Optima Camelview Village, and Optima Kierland, plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and sustainable environment. The system, with self-containing irrigation and drainage, provides a haven for urban wildlife, promotes evaporative cooling, re-oxygenates the air, reduces dust and smog levels, reduces ambient noise, detains stormwater and thermally insulates and shields residents from the desert sun, all of which contributes to a sustainable urban environment.

Barge wood in the lobby at Optima Signature
Barge wood in the lobby at Optima Signature

Meanwhile, Optima Sonoran Village also served as the pilot project for Scottsdale’s International Green Construction Code, or IgCC. Having earned full certification from the program, Optima Sonoran Village’s attributes include major building elements consisting of 95 perfect local and recycled content materials; energy efficiency as a result of the high-performing glazing, overhangs, building configurations and exterior shading devices; water resource conservation from plumbing fixtures and excellent indoor environmental quality and reduced material emissions from the materials used in the development.

From building construction and materials, to design details like the salvaged barge wood featured in the lobby at Optima Signature, we’re excited to play our role in ushering in this next era of environmentally-minded Modernism.

Green Space Spotlight: Optima Signature

In a dense urban area like Chicago, green space might look a little different. With all of our projects, we design our residences to welcome the outdoors indoors; at Optima Signature, that meant making sure residents could still get outside in the city. The green space at Optima Signature takes advantage of landscaping and contemporary, urban recreational design to embrace downtown Chicago living.

On the ground level, Optima Signature is surrounded by greenery with an inviting plaza. Lush landscaping features benches and seating areas, as functional for residents as they are for passersby or pedestrians. Kiwi, an original sculpture designed by David Hovey, Sr., adds visual movement and a playful quality to the entrance of the building.

Once inside, Optima Signature features an impressive 1.5 acres of amenity space, many of which are designed to bring residents outdoors. Heated swimming pools, outdoor terraces, herb gardens for resident use, fire pits and outdoor entertaining all contribute to making residents feel as if they’re in an outdoor oasis in the middle of the city. Strategic landscaping, plants and trees ensure a sense of privacy, despite sharing the amenities with other residents. Designed for residents in all walks of life, Optima Signature also includes an outdoor dog park and play areas for children (although there are indoor options for when the Chicago weather inevitably turns cold). In a concrete jungle, Optima Signature brings residents a bit closer to nature.

When moving to a city, many assume they’ll have to give up access to generous outdoor space. The residences, amenities and green space at Optima Signature offer the best of both worlds, all within a beautifully designed, Modernist tower that overlooks Chicago’s energetic downtown.

Best Plants for Small Urban Gardens

As the weather warms up, you might be inspired to add some greenery to your home or apartment. For those living in multi-family residences — such as our own Optima residents — that means finding the right plants to accommodate your space. Whether you want to cultivate an indoor forest or try planting outdoors, here are the best plants for small urban gardens.

Indoor Options

For indoor gardening, you should check out your light exposure before you buy any plants. Working with south-facing windows is drastically different than north-facing windows, and knowing how much light your home gets is crucial to cultivating happy plants. At Optima, our units always feature floor-to-ceiling windows – perfect for all exposures and for creating the ideal indoor growing environment.

Snake plants, bamboo plants, types of pothos and spider plants can all thrive in indirect light. For sunnier spots, try options like aloe vera, jade plants, succulents and types of cacti. Many of these plants are also low-maintenance when it comes to watering. 

Outdoor Options

Stoops, balconies, patios, decks and rooftops all have the potential to be a home for a small garden, if you can master container gardening. Year-round foliage will depend on your environment, but for seasonal summer greenery, many herbs and vegetables double as decor and a source of fresh food. Peppers, salad greens, tomatoes and green onions are easy to grow in containers or pots, as are most herbs.  

Plants are a huge part of our design process at Optima, through our vertical landscaping systems, green space and sustainability initiatives. Bringing the outdoors in can help make any space more vibrant, more joyful and more green; we hope you feel inspired to add some plants to your own urban garden this spring!

Our Signature Vertical Landscaping System

With every project, we ask ourselves how the natural land around us influences, affects and works in tandem with the structures we build. Seeking to holistically integrate the natural and built environments led us to develop our next-generation vertical landscaping system. The lush green element, utilized in many of our Arizona properties, is a cornerstone feature of Optima communities, a key component to our sustainability initiatives and so much more.

Our signature vertical landscaping system at Optima Kierland Center.
Our signature vertical landscaping system at Optima Kierland Center.

Aesthetic Enhancement

On its surface level, our signature vertical landscaping system serves to enhance the natural beauty of our communities. The lush verdure enables a palette of vibrantly colored plants at the edge of each floor to grow both up and over the edge of the building. This creates beautiful, private terrace gardens for each unit in buildings like Optima Camelview Village, Optima Kierland Center, and Optima Sonoran Village. The intense greenery also plays bold juxtaposition to our building’s facade, where concrete and glass work work in harmony to celebrate the relationship between the built and natural environment, with glass blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor, home and garden. 

Our signature vertical landscaping system at Optima Sonoran Village.
Our signature vertical landscaping system at Optima Sonoran Village.

Functional, Sustainable Beauty 

Our signature vertical landscaping system isn’t just for aesthetic value — it plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy and sustainable environment. The system, with self-containing irrigation and drainage, provides a haven for urban wildlife, promotes evaporative cooling, re-oxygenates the air, reduces dust and smog levels, reduces ambient noise, detains stormwater and thermally insulates and shields residents from the desert sun, all of which contributes to a sustainable urban environment. Residents also experience the direct impact of being surrounded by nature, with the vertical landscaping system serving as a connection to nature and added source of privacy.

Like all good design, our vertical landscaping system is a natural study in form and function. We’re proud to pioneer a system that contributes to the natural beauty of the environment, and helps preserve it, too.

The History of LEED Certification

As real estate development continues to evolve a more environmentally-friendly mindset, green building certification programs are becoming a worldwide normality. LEED — or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is a common practice across the globe and within our Optima properties

The first concept of LEED emerged in 1993, spearheaded by international environmental advocacy groups. By the early 1990s, the demand for sustainable buildings was already on the rise; the combined development in environmental legislation and the concern of tenants and shareholders pushed real estate developers, architects and industry leaders to re-think their methodologies. Non-profits, government agencies, architects, engineers, developers, builders and manufacturers came together to officially introduce the LEED program in 2000.

Since then, LEED has grown into the world’s most widely-used green building rating system, with nearly 80,000 projects participating across 162 countries. From residential buildings to commercial spaces, LEED provides a framework that project teams can use to create efficient, cost-saving green buildings. 

So how does a building become LEED certified? It depends on the project. There are various LEED rating systems for different situations, including building design and construction, interior design, building operations and maintenance, neighborhood development, homes, and cities and communities. Depending on the given system, requirements can range from material choices, to greenhouse gas emissions, to energy and water consumption, to air filter systems. Through these strategies, LEED buildings have a positive impact on their residents or tenants, their communities and the environment.

 Landscaped Courtyard at Optima Biltmore Towers
Landscaped Courtyard at Optima Biltmore Towers

From our building materials to our amenity spaces, we are in constant pursuit of bettering our buildings with environmentally conscious practices, something we’ve been passionate about since our beginnings. Ultimately certifications like LEED help us improve our buildings, support environmental efforts and create a long, lasting impact

Green Space Spotlight: Optima Kierland Center

As we began construction on Optima Kierland Center, we envisioned a beautiful community that embraced the desert surroundings and welcomed residents and visitors alike with beautiful Modernist design and, of course, gorgeous green space. A multiphase development project, each building within Optima Kierland Center is connected to the others through aesthetic structure and physical pathways amidst lush gardens. More than 5.5 acres of landscaped open space create a park-like setting for both our neighbors and our residents. 

Within the building, our innovative vertical planting system features self-containing irrigation and drainage, including the vibrant and colorful planters at the edge of each floor. The system ultimately culminates into a beautiful rooftop garden, one of the many amenities throughout the building. Within the individual residences, hanging gardens and expansive, private terraces bring the outdoors in, perfectly designed to let our residents enjoy the surrounding greenery. 

As with all of our projects, we designed Optima Kierland Center to take advantage of the beauty of the surrounding environment and to integrate our design with soft, natural elements. Working in tandem with our expansive amenity spaces, our green space gives Optima Kierland Center residents endless opportunities to enjoy — and be a part of — the outdoors. With the next two towers underway and with 7180 Optima Kierland 50% sold, we eagerly await the completion of what will be a truly stunning community.

person name goes here

Maintenance Supervisor

Glencoe, IL





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