Nov 18. 2014


  • Reading, researching & synthesizing @ the Monteverde Institute
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I am currently reading “A Better Place to Live: New Designs for Tomorrow’s Communities,” by Michael N. Corbett, a truly inspirational read for those interested wanting to design with an sustainability in mind. The following are a set of assumptions that can serve as a framework for designing:

Assumption 1: Living things are dependent on the complex, interdependent and self-regulating structures or ecosystems, which provide the conditions necessary for their existence.

Assumption 2: Human technology permits powerful manipulations of the elements of the ecosystem.

Assumption 3: Ecosystems and parts of the ecosystems composed of a wide variety of species tend to adapt better to environmental changes or human tampering than those involving fewer species. According to Ashby’s law of the requisite variety in cybernetic systems, a system formed by more elements with greater diversity is less subject to fluctuations. Similarly, human communities with the greatest diversity in energy sources, in form of economic enterprise, and in food sources will tend to be more stable and to adapt most successfully and painlessly to severe changes, by they environmental, political, economic, or social.

Assumption 4: Part of the ecosystem is a complex system of energy transfer that depends, ultimately, on energy input. Introducing new sources of energy, such as nuclear fuels and fossil fuels, may yield by-products that change the chemical balance and radiation levels in the environment.

Assumption 5: In the long run, every one of humanity’s physical needs must be satisfied in one of the two ways:

  • By consumption of ‘renewable resources,’ like lumber that are continually generated by the ecosystem and can be consumer no faster than they are generated by the ecosystem.
  • Recovery and reuse/recycling or nonrenewable resources that like metals, are not generated by the ecosystem. This recycling can be planned (ex. recycling soda cans) or unplanned (ex. mining the trash heaps of preceding generations)

Assumption 6: Some environments potentially allow their inhabitants to reach higher levels of fulfillment and well-being than do other environments. In designing our environment, we must be aware of our responsibilities to optimize that potential. In doing so, we must give as much attention to the social environment as to the physical environment.

Assumption 7: Humans are for the most part genetically adapted to the environment that existed about 200 to 20,000 years ago. This adaptation involves not just our physical makeup, but also our modes of perception and behavior, and relates to the social environment as well as to the physical environment. In other words, we as a species are genetically better equipped to live and thrive in some social settings than in others just as we are better equipped for some physical environments than for others. Rene Dubos states that “ In many cases, modern life has rather impoverished the methods by which fundamental urges can be expressed (ex. how throwing a rock at a bully is more human than cyber bullying). Modern societies can escape from boredom only by direct sensory experiences of primitive life; the need for these experiences persists in the modern world for the simple reason that it is indelibly inscribed in the genetic code of the human species.” The author goes on to elaborate on how he believes that “one of the most serious sources of stress in our modern environment is people’s confrontation with automobiles, moving or parked, or with streets designed for automobiles, even when no automobiles are present.”

Assumption 8: The relationship between people and their environment goes both ways: humanity both shapes, and is shaped by, its environment. This is a critical point for us to realize if we are to break away from those social patterns that are detrimental to our well-being (ex. Because we are a society of mobile individuals with only weak community ties, we design our new neighborhoods with more concern for mobility than for community life). Murray Bookchin also describes this process: “the basis for a vital urban entity consisted not primarily of its design elements but of the nuclear relations between people that produced these elements…knitted together at the base of a civic entity, people created a city that formally and structurally sheltered their most essential and meaningful social relations. If these relations were balanced and harmonious, so too were the design elements of the city. If, on the other hand, they were distorted and antagonistic, the design elements of the city revealed this in it monumentalism and extravagant growth. Hierarchical social relations produced hierarchical space; egalitarian relations, egalitarian space. Until city planning addresses itself to the need for a radical critique of the prevailing transformation of existing social relations, it will remain mere ideology—the servant of the very society that is producing the urban crises of our time.”

Assumption 9: Humans can adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions, but the cost of adaptation to inhospitable conditions is temporary or chronic stress. People can reduce this stress by becoming insensitive to the stimuli that cause it, but this produces a general deadening, a lack of awareness and responsiveness, that is equally harmful. Stress in its various forms, and insensitivity in response to stress, contribute to a wide variety of pathological human afflictions. To understand what causes stress and to avoid designing it into our environment is a responsibility that cannot be ignored as it has been in the past (ex. noise pollution). Design that enables the process of retarding or destroying human sensitivity to the natural and human environment must be considered a major problem in society.

Assumption 10: Increasing the economic self-sufficiency of towns and regions would increase economic stability and security, both for towns and regions, and for the nation (ex. we have become increasingly dependent on our specialized system of distribution, such as food production).

Assumption 11: In order to improve the political stability of the world, the well-being of all the people on the earth should be of equal concern when decisions are being made that will affect their lives. According to Richard Barnet, “Until people can play a direct role in shaping their own physical and economic environment, they are not fully alive.” A failure to recognize the right for all people today to have the same opportunities to provide good lives themselves will lead to unrest. Adlai Stevenson states: “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship dependent upon it vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and, I will say, the love we give our fragile craft. We cannot maintain it half fortunate, half miserable, half confident, half despairing, half slave to the ancient enemies of man, half free in a liberation of resources undreamed of until this day. No craft, no crew can travel safely with such vast contradictions. On their resolution depends the survival of us all.” Essentially, our own well-being is connected to the well-being of the larger body of humanity. We are partially responsible for much of the human suffering in the world, then maybe we will change and restructure our communities so we can live with a more equitable portion of the world’s resources.

Assumption 12: Human beings are primarily social animals that seek both solidarity with others (love) and status (power). This conflict between concern for the self and concern for the other is seen to be made up of three independent, bipolar components: self vs. immediate other (love), self vs. all others (society), and self vs. the products of social thought (rationality). These are also known as the three dimensions of the “psychopolitical cube”: power-love, freedom-security and emotionality-rationality. The need for personal freedom and the need for social structure is a key aspect in designing an area with a highly interdependent economic system.

“You know you are on the right track when you notice that your solution for one problem has accidently solved several other problems…solutions like these do not lend themselves to neat categorical analysis.”

“Learn to manage plants to delight the sense with color and fragrance, the sound and movement of windblown foliage, and the order and complexity of natural forms. I believe these pleasures go deeper than mere stylish aesthetics; I believe they reflect the fact that our perceptions and responses are genetically tailored to the natural environment and to living things, so that such environments are good for us psychologically. Humans managed their landscape environment to meet all these needs simultaneously in an integrated way.”

“The word landscaping has different connotations today. Both as generally practiced and as taught in schools of landscape architecture, landscaping has little to do with protection from climate or with definition of spaces and nothing at all to do with food, fuel or fiber. Its aesthetics reflect stylish fads ad status seeking more than any understanding of what is intrinsically delightful to the human spirit.”

Landscape for climate control:

  • Plants are invaluable for controlling sun and wind
  • Significantly reduces heat loss through the wall in cold weather. Shrubs can also be used to protect outdoor living spaces or entrances to buildings from wind.
  • Improves ventilation. Robert F. White’s studies at the Texas Engineering Experiment Station published in 1945 d show sin detail how various combinations of trees, shrubs and hedges planted beside or upwind of a building can increase or reduce the airflow through the building, change the patterns of circulation within the building or even reverse the direction of flow. This knowledge can be particularly valuable in locations where wind directions are faily regular.
  • Where summers are warm, shading is an important goal of landscape plantings. Good shading can keep temperatures of comfortable both indoors and outdoors. It can also save energy by reducing or eliminating the need for artificial air conditioning.
  • Streets and parking lots should not be designed without considering how they can be shaded. At the same time, trees used for shading must not substantially shade solar heat collectors on the roofs of houses or south-facing windows that function as solar heat collectors in the winter. For example, deciduous trees can be used to provide shade in the summer, when solar space heating is not needed, since they lose their leaves in the fall and allow sunlight to reach the collectors or windows through the bare branches.
  • In is particularly crucial to shade windows from direct sunlight during the summer.
  • With thoughtful planning, deciduous shrubs and vines can shade windows as effectively as artificial shading devices, like awnings and can do it much more cheaply and attractively.
  • The landscape designer must be familiar with leaf-fall dates and growth patterns of various species in the local climate.

Landscape Productivity: Food and Fuel

  • Productive trees, bushes and vines performed the same functions as the unproductive ones now generally used for landscaping, providing shade, wind protection and privacy, defining spaces and creating a pleasing atmosphere by echoing the natural environment in which humans evolved.
  • Be aware of unproductive spaces—it wastes energy and resources used in transporting and marking agricultural produce, it wastes fertilizer and where irrigation is required and it also wastes human labor, especially when it requires others to work to produce the food elsewhere and to process and distribute it as well.
  • Thorsten Veblen developed the concept of “conspicuous consumption” and observed that lawns are considered tasteful not so much because they have the same aesthetic appeal as a well-kept pasture, but because they are kept manicured by expensive and wasteful means rather than by simple productive grazing.
  • Turf lawns are especially wasteful in many situations because they demand a lot of water and fertilizer to keep it attractive and healthy.
  • Important to realize that the urban landscape is capable of food production in economically significantly significant quantities. If everyone in a neighborhood has 1-3 fruit bearing trees and no need for a grocery store.
  • An important advantage of neighborhood agriculture is that it allows for a healthy ecological balance that cannot be maintained in large-scale, single-crop plantings. Since plantings of pests of that species to build up a large population and they make it harder for pests and diseases to spread.

Consider the climate, the proximity to other settlements and to natural resources, the availability of water and the potential for dispersion of air pollution, existing drainage patterns and natural aesthetic features of the site, soil types and solar orientation. See which areas are best suited for agriculture, forestry, sewage recycling, buildings, roads, paths and parks.

“Architecture should be judged by how people feel when they are using the space for what it is designed for.”

“The two most important features of a garden city are: (1) reliance on pedestrian and bicycle circulation (2) high degree of self-sufficiency”

“This means it is not enough for the designer to be intellectually knowledgeable about human needs and ways of meeting them, nor even to be skilled at integrating a variety of needs into a single harmonious, elegant solution. To masterfully design nurturing spaces, one must also be intuitively sensitive to the ambience of spaces, to the shades of mood and feeling that spaces evoke, and the meanings they suggest. The designer must be able to arrange spaces to evoke the desiered feeling, meanings and mood, just as the poet must be able to arrange words to evoke the desired feelings and understandings in a reader’s mind. The designers’ task differs from the poet’s only in that the elements she works with, unlike words on paper, must also perform definite concrete physical and social functions. Her solutions must integrate ambience and function.”

“The designer of any space (i.e. a room, a building, a garden or neighborhood) cannot take lightly the responsibility for the ambience of that space. The ambience will be a strong and persistent influence on the moods, feelings, and behavior of the people who use that space and that influence can be either nurturing or oppressive.”

“People who are uncomfortable in an environment will first try to avoid it or change it. If they cannot do either of these, they will learn to or ignore it. In doing so, if it happens often, they deaden their sense of beauty and lose some of their human sensitivity.”

Design nurturing spaces, spaces that are beautiful, comfortable and useful!

“The architectural designer does not have the same liberty as the pure artist; it is not acceptable for her to create unpleasant environments either intentionally or unintentionally because people have to live with them; they cannot experience them and then walk away from them as they can from purely artistic works.”

“Good solutions do not change; they are not arbitrary and appropriate materials are not arbitrary.”

“There is fundamental variation and individuality in design, overlain with a harmonious thematic consistency. Consider peach trees; no two are alike, but there is a fundamental consistency in shape, color and growth pattern that allows one to easily distinguish any peach tree from a palm tree or rosebush. Landforms and types of rock also exhibit this patterned variation…I believe that human perception is adapted by evolution to natural forms.”

“Stylish consistency is more crucial in high density development. Where buildings are close together, inconsistencies are more apparent and less susceptible to masking by consistent landscaping.”

What’s Next:

  • Writing the paper for this project
  • Creating content for the restaurant