Chances are you are reading this article in the built environment.  Your house, an office, maybe at the mall (although doubtfully InnoD readers are mall rats!) So, what is the built environment? It refers to all the man-made places, built up around us by our own society- a term that broadly encompasses all the infrastructure and buildings we see, the mechanical processes and even art that we make. Everything that humans make and build, is the “built environment.”

A city is a great example of the built environment, made up diverse buildings and infrastructure. Image: Ghassan Tabet/flickr

The purpose of a manufactured, non-natural environment is to provide us with all the conveniences that nature does not conveniently provide. Theaters for entertainment, shopping  malls for home and pleasurable purposes, hotels and homes for shelter, train routes and planes for transportation, even greenhouses for year round growing. The built environment is dominant in our daily life.

Our society is particularly “built up” since industrialization era, and especially flourished with cheap energy and oil enabling construction. Before these modern times societies were using more sustainable materials to build up the environment. This is evident in villages throughout Europe that use locally sourced eco-friendly materials such as wood, rock or adobe, among other innovative techniques of the time.

Humans in technologically advanced countries often spend most of their time in man -made habits. Funny, how advancing technologies and innovations are meant to improve our lives and give us more leisure time, and yet we still spend most of our days inside away from the natural beauty  that awaits us in the great outdoors.

Although the built environment provides us many true conveniences and benefits, when it comes to living habitats, real estate and property values are always shifting due to global and local economic factors, and can often result in a downward spiral, in which case the built environment becomes particularly unhealthy or even dangerous for human occupancy.

A link between health risks and the built environment has been established when conditions of the man made environment significantly limit a person’s ability to access clean air, fresh food or quality water. Obesity is also a byproduct of some built environments when a city or space is planned with inadequate exercise space.

A beautiful "green" built environment in Germany. Image: def110/flickr

Long term city planning, architecture, and engineering coupled with sustainability practices, such as Permaculture design, can help the built environment flow more naturally, closing energy and waste loops and organizing an environment that reflects a space where needs and resources are met for a diversity of individuals effected by the built space. In summary, there is great hope when apply sustainable design principles to the built environment. Going green from the start is optimal, but there is certainly no shortage of opportunity for improvement in almost all present-day structures.