Thursday, August 14, 2008

ecological design

Notes on the 10th Anniversary Edition of Ecological Design, by Sim van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan. This is a terrific book that collects ideas from numerous sources into a coherent statement of how we might best rectify the mess we have gotten ourselves into. In some places it waffles a little but it is always thought-provoking and helpful.
"In many ways, the environmental crisis is a design crisis. It is a consequence of how things are made, buildings are constructed, and landscapes are used. Design manifests culture, and culture rests firmly on the foundation of what we believe to be true about the world. Our present forms of agriculture, architecture, engineering, and industry are derived from design epistemologies incompatible with nature's own. It is clear we have not given design a rich enough context. We have used design cleverly in the service of narrowly defined human interests but have neglected its relationship with our fellow creatures. Such myopic design cannot fail to degrade the living world, and, by extension, our own health." (p. 24-25)
This quote sums up the authors' approach neatly. The text proposes that human designers should not "take from nature" but that our designs should actually become a part of it by playing the same roles as organisms and ecosystems. We must ensure that the processes we employ for construction, and the structures they generate, mesh directly with nature's own processes. Everything we do must sit comfortably inside biology. So far our actions primarily degrade it.

My response to this book is therefore, "Design all things within the parameters laid down by organisms and ecosystems." That's a tough call, especially for someone whose career is based on the use of equipment that is so ecologically destructive. Green Computing? Yikes, that is a far cry from the kind of environmentalism the authors of this book champion.

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