Deep Roots Workshop Summary

We at Biomimicry Chicago were thrilled to kick off our Deep Roots Initiative with a diverse group of 30 other passionate professionals from around the Chicagoland region at our workshop on April 21, 2017.

Participants learned about how the systematic removal of ecosystem functions in the Chicago region (and all cities) has resulted in the multitude of sustainability and resiliency challenges we see in our urban and suburban environments, from flooding to extreme heat to biodiversity loss to climate change. Participants then had the chance to explore how learning from nature can provide insight as to where current practices are falling short, and where opportunity exists to develop innovative more robust, resilient solutions for the future.

"The collaborative environment and meeting professionals with different perspectives on sustainability and the built environment. It was great to have some high profile representatives in attendance; shows that the Biomimicry philosophy holds importance and has influence on the industry.” - Workshop participant

Check out our summary of the event below, and of course reach out to us with questions! Please visit our Deep Roots Initiative page for what we're up to next!

Biomimicry & Ecosystem Functions

Critical to our initiative is developing a common understanding of and language around what we mean by "biomimicry in the built environment" and "lost ecosystem functions."

Participants had a brief introduction to the practice of biomimicry, including understanding that design decisions are choices filled with assumptions impacted by the language we use and the stories we tell about our place. Participants then began to learn how to listen for ecosystem functions and how they are achieved (strategies) through learning about the stories of our local ecology. Guest speaker presentations focused on the high-level functional categories of water, carbon & energy and biodiversity management. We then tied biomimicry and ecosystem functions together through the introduction of our Deep Roots Initiative.


Ecosystem Functions in Context

Exploring the Lurie Garden

Connection with nature is key to the practice of biomimicry, so after an introduction to ecosystem functions, everyone gathered to tour the Lurie Garden. The Lurie Garden is an oasis of biodiversity within the city; built as a garden roof above a parking garage. Millennium Park Executive Director, Scott Stewart, and TGDA founder, Terry Guen, led our groups through the tour to discover its history, its beauty, and the functions it performs for the ecosystem it inhabits.

Biomimicry Chicago co-leaders Amy Coffman Phillips and Rachel Hahs led the group through an activity to discover these ecosystem functions through a biomimicry lens. For example, we discovered that the soil performs the function of “sequester carbon”, leaves “cool ambient temperature” and mycorrhizal fungi “transport resources and signals.” Using these abstracted functions, we began to explore how nature solves the same challenges that we do in the built environment. We began to ask the question “what would nature do here?” but also critically, “what wouldn’t nature do here?”

What participants said about their experience in the Lurie Garden:

Comparing and Contrasting Ecosystems
& the Built Environment

Participants had a chance to apply what they explored in the morning session about ecosystem functions and the Lurie Garden into a brainstorming of what functions the Lurie Garden does or does not perform. To take it one step further and explore our Deep Roots concept of measuring the performance of our built environment to an ecological performance standard for each function,  we then as a large group conducted a quick and dirty analysis of how well the Lurie Garden performs.

Discussions explored how the limited size of the Lurie Garden limited its ability to meet ecological metrics; however, relative to traditional parks, the Lurie Garden performs well. In addition, participants expanded their thinking to understand how an organization's strategy could begin to bridge the gaps, such as encouraging native landscape management throughout neighboring parks to increase habitat which would in turn support greater biodiversity within the Lurie Garden.

Brainstorming Ecosystem Functions in Buildings

Legat CasE study

After working with our Deep Roots metric concept for the Lurie Garden, we gave participants a chance to apply this idea outside of the realm of “green infrastructure” and start to bring it into the realm of “grey infrastructure.” A representative from our sponsor, Legat Architects, shared an example of a green school they recently completed and challenged everyone to explore how ecosystem functions are being or could be applied to a building project. Participants used the cards at right to brainstorm how to achieve ecosystem functions in building design.

Next Steps

Our workshop was just the kickoff of our Deep Roots Initiative. We have developed an evolving process outline for implementing our initiative (discussed in greater detail on our Deep Roots Initiative page) which includes the following next steps:

  • Stakeholder Meetings
  • Developing Case Studies
  • Developing Working Groups
  • Development of a tool

We can't do it alone. We have a fantastic group of interested individuals, companies and non-profits who are on board, but we are working to expand our network - diversity, experience and knowledge about our communities, local and regional initiatives, funding sources, potential case studies and biological genius are needed! If you are interested in finding out how you can participate in our initiative, please reach out to us directly at

“Absolutely, Deep Roots has a place in Chicago! I think the city is in a great position to take advantage of this. It feels like the sustainability work in Chicago is finally getting legs and there is critical mass of people interested in these problems to make the Deep Roots idea happen here. I think it is key to rally the various stakeholders to build some direction/consensus. It seems there are many architecture firms as well as nonprofits and municipal organizations involved in this sort of activity. It would be critical to identify common goals or processes.” - Workshop Participant