Future Ecology Designed

Sustainable design theory manifested in products, infrastructure, and graphic representation. A utopian glimpse of a future New Zealand where environmental considerations are of tantamount importance, and society is designed to accommodate the native ecosystem.

Book notes

Following are some quotes from recently read books. They represent snippets of ideas that I hope to adopt and expand on.

The Architecture of Happiness – Alain de Botton

On the value of buildings: “We value certain buildings for their ability to rebalance our misshapen natures and encourage emotions which our predominantly commitments force us to sacrifice... Architecture can arrest transient and timid inclinations, amplify and solidify them, and thereby grant us more permanent access to a range of emotional textures which we might otherwise have experienced only accidentally and occasionally.”

On creating beautiful environments: “...beauty lies between the extremities of order and complexity. Just as we cannot appreciate the attractions of safety without a background impression of danger, so, too, it is only in a building which flirts with confusion that we can apprehend the scale of our debt to our ordering capacities.”

On City layout: “A city laid out on apparently rational grounds, where different specialised facilities are separated from one another across a vast terrain connected by motorways, deprives its inhabitants of the pleasures of incidental discoveries... The addition of shops and offices adds a degree of excitement to the otherwise inert, dormitory areas. Contact ... with commercial enterprises gives us a transfusion of an energy we are not always capable of producing ourselves.”

Cradel to Cradle – William McDonough & Michael Braungart

On environmental impact: “Individually we are much larger than ants, but collectively their biomass exceeds ours. ...They are a good example of a population whose density and productiveness are not a problem for the rest of the world, because everything they make and use returns to the cradle-to-cradle cycles of nature.”

On being less bad: “The "be less bad” environmental approaches to industry have been crucial in sending important messages of environmental concern... At the same time, they forward conclusions that are less useful. Instead of presenting and inspiring and exciting vision of change, conventional environmental approaches focus in what not to do. Such proscriptions can be seen as a kind of guilt management for our collective sins, a familiar placebo in Western culture.”

On connecting to natural energy flows: “[People] could override nature to accomplish their goals as never before. But in the process, a massive disconnection has taken place. ...It is easy to forget, in the gas-powered glare of a postindustrial age, that not only local materials and customs but energy flows have provenance. ...Connecting to natural flows allow us to rething everything under the sun: the very concept of power plants, of energy, habitation & transportation. It means merging ancient and new technologies for the most intelligent designs we have yet seen.”

Ultimately, we want to be designing processes and products that not only return the biological and technical nutrients they use, but pay back with interest the energy they consume.”

Hunting and Gathering

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. There seems to be a neverending stream of talk about 'sustainability', thus diluting the term more and more. A lot of this rhetoric is also of a nature more palatable to the Business Roundtable et al, so of course must be taken suspiciously: eg. "They supported the government in closing down Timberlands on the West Coast, a lose-lose outcome on both economic and environmental grounds. " - I fail to understand how banning the logging of ancient stands of native forest is an envrionmental loss!?

The right-wing assumption is that technological solutions will be more effective than the ratification of emmisions controls, based on a fear that any climatic legislation will force an economic downturn, as other states are not handicapped in a similar sense. The argument is that the market will favour the most environentally apt product as it naturally becomes costlier to be un-environmentally friendly.

This is a nice idea, but of course true environmental costs are never included in the RRP, so market forces have been allowed to decimate the environment to the extent they have. The human, moral imperative is neglected by the right in favour of economics: sustainability rhetoric in this sense involves the rare occasions where environmentalism and the marketability thereof overlaps economic potential.

At our current point in human development, we really have our hands tied- however 'green' a given product may appear, in reality this will usually be a veneer of ecological respectability over a deeply un-ecological system of production and consumption. The hybrid car conspicuous-consumption craze is perhaps the most obvious example.

I do believe that there is a requirement for carefully designed solutions, principally because it is much easier to subvert the status quo with efficiency. The distributed microgeneration scheme I'm working on should be economically comparable to buying from the large providers, but foster an understanding of environmental realities concerning energy. Of course, the focus should be to question whether we really need so much energy in the first case- perhaps a renewed look at hunter-gatherer lifestyles is in order?

P.S. Can you possibly turn on visual validation in the comments? We've been innundated with spam lately....

Venice Biennale

Some fantastic work at the Venice Biennale. This is the closest I've seen to what I'd like for us as an end result.

It's almost vaguely depressing to see someone else resolve an idea I had earlier:

'With network and computational support, bus routes can become self-organizing systems in space and time much in the way of private automobiles and taxis, rather than structures with fixed routes and timetables. In the self-organizing bus system, bus operators would keep track of vehicle movements, electronically monitor demand from minute to minute, and responsively allocate service capacity to where it is needed most.'

Ideas like these are becoming more and more instilled in a lot of urban thinkers. Our challenge is to really look at how we can integrate them in unique ways, particularly as they relate to the local landscape. One thing I noticed here is that while the systems fostered public transport use and immediate environmental awareness, actual environmental practices at a fundamental level were only assumed or vaguely implied.

Oh dear. So patently ridiculous it's actually quite funny....

I know that's codswallop, and every time I see a rainbow I have it confirmed for me. It tells me that God is keeping the promise he made to Noah after the world-drowning flood thousands of years ago recorded in Genesis.

"I establish my covenant with you," God told Noah. "Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the Earth ... I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the Earth. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between me and all living creatures of every kind on the Earth."

So I'll keep on pumping gas into my four-litre Ford, the home fires will keep on burning, newspapers, magazines and books will remain my reading of choice ... and the doom merchants can prognosticate until the cows stop farting while I laugh in their faces.

Garth George on nature and the Christian ethic....

Resilience Metrics

Dr. Joseph Fiksel, co-director of the Center for Resilience at Ohio State University:

For utility, measure not only usability, usefulness, affordability, accuracy, quality, and reliability, but also versatility.

For life cycle, measure not only feasibility, testability, scalability, serviceability, and disassembly, but also renewability.

For environmental impact, measure not only waste and toxics avoidance, recyclability, and eco-efficiency, but also eco-intensity (the consumption of resources per dollar).

For continuity, measure not only safety, security, redundancy, flexibility, and recoverability, but also adaptability.

For social responsibility, measure not only equity, accessibility, sensitivity, integrity, dignity, but also diversity.


Take the above with a grain of salt:

One of his side-points was that environmentalists' frequent denial of growth and advocation of steady-state systems is wrong. It's natural for organisms to need to grow.

Organisms grow to compete for resources in an ecological niche. They are competeing within nature. It's all very well to compare economic resilience to natural, but when it comes to growth, this notion of economic growth into perpetuity competes directly with natural ecology. You can't have both.