I’m Bryan Quinn and I’m an ecological designer. I’m also the founder of One Nature, which is a five-person Beacon-based business that implements landscape-scale solutions to the environmental crisis. (I’ll explain what that means later) We are a team of artist-scientists, a small plant nursery, and builders. That’s me in the red box.
And this is me in Malawi as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2004. No red box needed. These are some farmer friends of mine. My job was to promote sustainable forestry and agriculture. Fields like this one are where I became interested in ecological design.
Malawi was inspirational to me. It is first and foremost an agrarian culture based on thousands of years of traditional knowledge. Our culture has largely lost that link here. People live close to the earth and I did my best to integrate into that lifestyle.
I slept with this book next to my bed for two years. The more I read it, the more I became inspired by the potential of permaculture. It talked about integrating human culture into the landscape, and that spoke to me on a very deep level.
When my term of service ended I went travelling in South Asia. I still remember the internet cafe in Sri Lanka when I discovered an academic field of study called “landscape architecture”. It was May and classes start in August, so I drew this sketch as a “portfolio” piece and sent it off to the Rhode Island School of Design’s school of architecture with a rambling letter about how I wanted to make the world a better place.
To my surprise, they let me in and I spent the next three years exploring the aesthetics of ecological design. It was a tough place to be an environmentalist. All these architects dressed in black would come up the Amtrak from New York City and not give a shit about the planet. Design to them was all about human ego and culture. I wanted it to be about the ego of the ecosystem.
But that adversity made me stronger and I actually twice won the biggest graduate design award given by the college. I learned how to make models, to talk with other designers, and how use architectural strategies to achieve my own ecological goals.
Much more important than the education or the design awards, I met my amazing wife Ilana in Rhode Island. Some of you may know her- she is the owner of Beacon Craft Workshop here in town. We took care of this amazing urban garden in Providence and together imagined ways to make our dreams reality.
After school I had (and still have) a lot of student loans. So I needed to make some money. I took a job with New York City Parks designing and planning ways to implement the Bloomberg administration’s sustainable parks vision. I worked on a lot of really good projects and was exposed to a huge variety of complex construction and political topics.
I did that for a few years, but I wanted to be doing more applied ecology work, so I took a job with an ecological consulting firm and started a design wing of their business. I hired a bunch of people and we made projects like this one, a restoration plan for a 200 acre polluted brownfield in the Hudson estuary.
Throughout all this, on nights, holidays, and weekends I’d work on my own projects. Mainly design competitions and brownstone backyards. I registered as an LLC and called the company “One Nature” because I wanted my work to break down the division between people and their environment, much like the goal of permaculture.
I also took up watercolor painting. Where I could explore the kinds of visual energy in the world that can’t be captured in photography or black and white. These are a series of paintings I made in Trinidad and Tobago.
In 2010 the Deep Water Horizon oil spill happened and in 2011 the company I was working for was assigned as BP’s ecological impact expert. I found myself suddenly on the wrong side of the fight to fix the planet. And I started planning an exit strategy from that job.
The basic problem I address as a designer is that human designs too often have a parasitic impact on the earth. Current environmental politics promote reduce, re-use, and recycle to zero our impacts. But the real answer I believe is to become mutualistic with our environment- to regenerate it and make it better.
So I took the plunge and switched full time to One Nature. The idea behind the company was to use architectural design methods to apply ecological fixes to the environment. I wanted to implement research-backed, landscape-scale solutions to our planet’s environmental crisis. With this platform I was able to land a few small jobs- some science-based, some design-based- and rent a studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
I found a lot of work quickly! More than I could do. So I started hiring people to help. We designed a pollinator corridor along Brooklyn’s waterfront. Performed a major shellfish inventory for New York City. We executed a large estuary master plan for a river in Bridgeport, Connecticut. And we also took on a substantial amount of farm planning jobs.
To be clear, we also take smaller jobs because we believe design inspiration can come from anywhere. One great example of this is a group of 7 small Beacon residences we are re-landscaping to create a series of stormwater absorbent habitat islands within the city.
Here’s another local project we are working on: a really important new urban park in Newburgh for Safe Harbors of the Hudson. It will do so much to connect people in Newburgh to each other and the environment around them. We are breaking ground in just a few weeks and hope to be open by this Summer.
As for the future, we want to increase our influence. Our goal is to compete in larger and larger business markets over time until we can make a significant different on the health of the planet through both direct and influential impacts. Right now there were over $250 billion dollars being spent on “landscapes” in the United States. We want to make these activities as earth-regenerative as possible.