If we want to think really regeneratively about engineering and the creation of buildings, then maybe we should consider building materials as a common resource.

I realise that I have been approaching the question of regenerative design in engineering from the standpoint of a market-driven economy. Materials are supplied by private suppliers, installed by private companies for a mixture of public and private clients. In most cases the profit (surplus) is reaped far from either the source of the materials or the location of the building.

But listening to the Frontiers of Commoning podcast I realise that this is only a relatively modern framing of the mechanism by which materials can be sourced, shared and distributed.

If we want to design buildings regeneratively, then we need to be thinking about how the process of sourcing and manufacturing building materials is regenerative: how the very harvesting of these materials can create more; how these processes can create habitats which enhance other aspects of the ecosystem, building local complexity; how feedback loops are built in so that we know if the system is working within its limits or not.

If we see our construction materials as a common resource rather than a commodity, we can think much more collectively about how these resources should be manufactured, used, reused, borrowed, repurposed, re-imagined and finally returned to the ecosystem.

In this framing, no-longer is the engineer is not serving a particular project but the people who share ownership of that common resource. Their role becomes threefold: harvesting of materials from the local bio-mineral region; managing stocks of resources in the most equitable way; and design and re-design of how these materials are used. (Note there is no return of the material to the ground as there is no waste in a regenerative system – just more used for the materials.)

No-longer would the engineer be working to maximise shareholder value and maximising ecosystem destruction. Instead the engineer would be working to maximise the regenerative harvest of local materials to maximise local flourishing.