Lessons towards a showcase building

Posted on February 23, 2010


We’re starting to retrofit one of our buildings as a showcase of sustainability.  I’m thinking about Schendler’s advice to find your biggest lever and pull on it.    As an educational institution we need to do more than just have a sustainable building.  For us, our biggest lever is to use that building to create a engaging experiences that will change behaviours – for the better.

I’ve been working up a set of guidelines for the engagement. Here’s a draft (the images here are mostly from the Eden Project and the Centre for Alternative Technology).

1. Be doing the right thing AND provide a quality experience for both the users and visitors.


Eden project

2. Everything is an opportunity for learning.

Eden project

Few wee facts

3. Explain what both what you have done and what you are doing. Anticipate questions.

London Wetland Centre


Eden project

4. Engagement comes not just from information, but interaction, stories and relevance (and appealing to humour).

Eden project

Centre for Alternative Technology

Centre for Alternative Technology

Prawn Farm interpretive sign

Centre for Alternative Technology



5. There is no “back of house”. Even works-in-progress are on show and subject to the same rules of doing the right thing and of engagement.

Kew Gardens

Centre for Alternative Technology


6. Take opportunities to make systems visible in ways that are relevant. Promote systems thinking, especially where resource use and/or impacts are usually hidden.

Centre for Alternative Technology


Centre for Alternative Technology





7. Make the right thing to do the easy option (without taking away from a quality experience), and give frameworks so that people can take that away with them.

Centre for Alternative Technology


8. The right answer is not always clear or obvious. It is OK to present different options.


9. It will never be finished – the journey is as important as the destination: where did we come from, how are we travelling, and where are we going?

Karori Wildlife Sanctuary sign

Eden project

8. Given that it will never be finished, we need systems of interpretation that are timely and flexible (ie temporary signage is needed but still needs to look good).

Centre for Alternative Technology

9. Treat the entire thing as a canvas (even the mundane) (see also this set)

Centre for Alternative Technology

Eden project


10. Use multiple formats for deeper engagament and to extend the experience.

Centre for Alternative Technology

Eden project

Centre for Alternative Technology



11. The development of the space should engage the community and be part of the learning process, in turn the space becomes a part of the community. The aim of the building both as a structure and a process must be engaging experiences that will change behaviours.


Paris street community garden


What have I missed? Let me know.