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Questioning Ecological Design-Deep Ecology

Questioning Ecological Design-Deep Ecology

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Questioning Ecological Design: A Deep Ecology Perspective

By Eugenio A. Lomba-Ortiz July 2003

Short Bio
Eugenio A. Lomba, B.S., M.Sc., J.D., LL.M. Eugenio Lomba comes from Orocovis, Puerto Rico. He holds a BS degree in Agronomy and Soils from the University of Puerto Rico, a Masters of Science (M.Sc.) degree in Soil Chemistry from Virginia Tech, a Certificate of International Research and Development Specialization from Virginia Tech, a J.D. from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, and a Masters of Laws (LL.M.) Degree in Agricultural Law from the University of Arkansas School of Law. Eugenio served as the Assistant Director to the AgriBusiness and Food Business Management Program at Universidad del Este, as Instructor in the Department of Biology of the University of Puerto Rico, and as Visiting Lecturer in the Environmental Sciences program at the Universidad del Turabo. ... " Taken in its entirety, the increase in mankind's strength has brought about a decisive, many-sided shift in the balance of strength between man and the earth. Nature, once a harsh and feared master, now lies in subjection, and needs protection against man's powers. Yet, because man, no matter what intellectual and technical heights he may scale, (is part of nature) too, the threat that he poses to the earth is a threat to him as well" - Jonathan Schell, The Fate of the Earth (1982). " I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay until sundown, for going out, I discovered, was actually going in" - John Muir " A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise" - Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac. ... Thinking ecologically about design is certainly not a "new" idea. Since ancient times "designers" looked to nature for "solutions" to their common problems; they saw nature as the perfect model to follow. More recently, designers such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, among many others, have attempted, with some degree of success, to address ecological issues through their designs. "Green Architecture," "Alternative Architecture," "Sustainable Design," and "Ecological Design," are some of the terms commonly used today to describe a special expression of design that takes as its primary driving force nature's processes. Van Der Ryn and Cowan (Ecological Design, 1996) defined this form of expression as "any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes." A "new" movement among design professionals has been developing for some time now with many of its principles synthesized by the current "green" movement in design.

" (attempt to) merge architecture and ecology through design. Probably the best proponent of this idea was technologist/designer R. The Role of Technology Some designers envision a society in which technological advances will ultimately provide the answer to any possible problem that society might confront in the future. The current eco-design movement has many times approached environmental issues in this fashion. Soleri. cultural-historical and biophysical processes associated with that specific area. He expressed his motto of "doing more with less" through the innovative use of "new" materials and the exploration of "new" forms in order to create "new engineered" houses and vehicles. and in charge of. Deep ecology as expressed by philosopher Arne Naess is "simple in means. This "green" design movement is shaped by the dominant worldview. They simply refer to their own past experience and the application of a design "recipe" that might be thought of as the best fit for a particular project. Fuller envisioned self-sufficient shelters by attempting to recreate or simulate nature by design. Ecological design should be sensitive to local environments and cultures and respond accordingly. which he called. as well as Buckminster Fuller attempted to design . These outsiders in some cases do not even care to try to understand local cultures and their relationship to their surrounding environment. there is still the need to better understand the expression of ecology through design. as superior to. and it implies self-regulation. collectively. but general. Fuller's "new way" of looking at the world revolutionized design. Devall and Sessions. Unfortunately. the rest of creation. It is learning how to be more receptive and trusting. states. Buckminster Fuller. 1985). the understanding that everything is interconnected. "Deep Ecology" presents itself as a possible alternative to the common dominant worldview of technocratic-industrial societies that regards humans as isolated and fundamentally separated from the rest of nature. Bioregionalism Due to the ever-increasing reach of technology. only scratching the surface without really considering deeper questions. a more sustainable way of life and work. Globalization vs. 1995. many of the proposed solutions to the problems humanity faces today are based on the concept of the "global society. that in the end lacks ecological consciousness. design is no exception. prescription-like solutions are the norm in dealing with them. or even countries are called upon to intervene on a site without really knowing the relevant socio-economic. in recent times. Deep ecology involves cultivating ecological consciousness. A deeper examination of the current paradigm(s) driving the ecological design movement will show that it addresses issues in a reactionary and remediative fashion. more holistic in perception. and is grounded in a vision of non-exploitative science and technology." Problems are no longer studied within their own context.Even though. rich in ends" (Drengson and Inoue. An example is the common and repetitive scenario in which "expert" designers based in other cities. Bioregionalism predicates giving importance to natural boundaries between ecosystems instead of artificially made boundaries. a highly westernized and human-centered view. an increase in ecological education and environmental awareness is apparent among design professionals. Architect Paolo Soleri's ideas. "Arcology. taking into account a bioregional approach.

it is clear that the approach taken by many "eco-designers" today is one in which nature is taken as a model machine. We need principles that help us modify present technocratic-societies. 1986). Todd provides us with a clear example of "ecological engineering" to "create" what he calls "living machines. and again the dependency on technology is more and more pronounced among today's eco-designers. Another example is found in John Todd 's designs. in general. Todd's work attempts to find by design. Studies such as those by Odum (1953.self-sufficient cities in which everything "takes place under one roof. According to Devall and Sessions (1985) there are three main dangers to technocratic solutions: "(1) First is the danger in believing there is a complete or acceptable solution using modern dominant ideologies and technology. material components." Even though the search for selfsufficiency is very much in accord with deep ecology principles. We need technology that is compatible with the growth of autonomous. Again. ecosystems were supposed to "resist" any changes they faced and if left alone they were expected to reach equilibrium. where technology is the central institution. The ruling paradigm of ecology today sees ecosystems and populations associated with them as "dynamic and open systems. his Arcologies would become "a reflection of the medieval city. and the bioregional approach to design. Populations were supposed to reach a "climax state". Although to some extent these designers question the role of some of today's technologies. Deep ecology questions all forms of technology." . which parts and components need to be studied and understood and then designing and creating an abstraction or simulation based upon current or future technology. such as the search for alternative materials. A biochemist by training and self-named ecodesigner." According to Soleri. the amazingly technology-dependant design solutions proposed by these eco-designers raise important questions." He also acknowledged the importance of "intelligent membranes" in the search for design solutions to ecological issues. and finally. (3) there is danger of assuming there will be new experts who will provide solutions" Steady-State v. Dynamism The development of the discipline of ecology has been very dramatic. (2) the second danger is the presentation of an impression that something is being done when in fact the real problem continues. and living components. Ecosystems were first considered "closed and static" systems. particularly in the last thirty years when the underlying paradigm of ecology has changed. "the missing link between nature and architecture. In his own words. it is also clear that technology itself is at the core of the design solutions they proposed." Todd defines his "living machines" as "a composite of engineered components. Hence." Todd has suggested that problems of modern cities can be "de-aggregated or isolated" and then redesigned as "living machines" (Van Der Ryn and Calthorpe. 1969) and others on successional ecology on abandoned agricultural fields were critical to the development of the steady-sate paradigm in ecology. selfdetermining individuals in nonhierarchical communities.

For example. 1995. 1985. for example the cycles of materials. Peregrine Smith Books. Today's eco-design movement tends to address design problems for a particular point in space and time and forget the dynamic nature of the systems and processes within these systems. Drengson. of becoming aware of the "actuality of birds. questions about human life. Let That Soak In. So What? So why should designers (particularly eco-designers!) care about deep ecology and its possible relationship to design? Probably the biggest task any designer might confront is that of working on the inner-self. and Y. wolves. question the new forms of technology and how ultimately technology relates to the environment. that of cultivating ecological consciousness. Odum. 1996). ants. Thompson. question the socio-economic impact of their designs on local cultures.B. and oceans. The Strategy of Ecosystem Development. Inoue. and G.This is critical not just for scientists trying to gather as much information as possible on ecosystems. 164(18)." that of realizing that everything is interconnected. B. 1969. J. Many of these eco-designers do not consider the lifespan of their designs. 1953. E. Vol. In addition to overlooking the dynamic nature of ecosystems. rich in ends. and nature. Berkley. one of these projects addressed "ways of putting storm water to good use" by designing "green-grassed parking lots" (Thompson. trees. 1996. transportation and the effects on natural ecosystems. maybe then. A." Bibliography Devall. without really questioning deeper issues. This is apparent when you flip through one of the professional magazines such as Landscape Architecture Magazine or Landscape Design and review what they consider to be ecological design work. PA. Gibbs Smith. North Atlantic Books. Science. Current understanding and paradigms underlying the study of ecosystems should be brought to design in order to truly integrate both forming that special expression of design. though apparently successful in dealing with runoff issues for a particular point in space and time lacks a deeper sense of responsibility in addressing the bigger. Philadelphia. more important issues such as the over dependency on automobile. UT. It is apparent that the "ecology" within ecological design is in need of critical revision. but to other disciplines such as design. society. Odum.86 (11): 60-67. Rpt. common eco-design projects tend to address issues in an overly simplified way. . The essence of deep ecology is to address "deeper" questions. Sessions. 1969. W.P. CA. Designers should question the establishment. ecological design might become "simple in means. question novel alternatives of materials. rocks. and then. This concept. Landscape Architecture Magazine.Saunders. The Deep Ecology Movement: An Introductory Anthology. E. Salt Lake City. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered. P. Publisher. Fundamentals of Ecology. W.

Lomba-Ortiz. and S. If you want them published. Sustainable Communities. 2003. Calthorpe. Address your comments on articles or other matters to editor@ecotecture. Washington. 1996. A New Design Synthesis for Cities. and P. D. -PSW and the ECOTECTURE Associates . We at ECOTECTURE welcome you feedback. Van Der Ryn. 1986. CA. This ECOTECTURE article is Copyrighted by Eugenio A. Suburbs. Video: "Ecological Design: Inventing the Future". put "LETTER TO THE EDITOR" at the top of the page. San Francisco.com. Ecological Design.C. S. Island Press. Cowan. S. All Rights Reserved. and Towns. Sierra Club Books.Van Der Ryn.

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