Thursday, May 08, 2003

Design & Humanure

It is often what is closest to us that offer the best lessons. In the realm of design, looking at how we deal with human output (aka shit) reveals our thought patterns and how our designs follows our views.

The current situation: In our culture, we operate from several assumptions - all revealing a fragmented and dualistic worldview. We think there is something called "away". We have phobias regarding our body functions. We operate from an idea of unlimited inflow of essentials. All this makes up our current system: We take purified water, deposit our feces and urine in it, flush it down through a intricate system of pipes, into a wastewater plant (in the best case), then into the ocean. In the process, we take a valuable resource (clean drinking water) and soil it, we make ourselves dependent on an expensive infrastructure, and we let go of an invaluable resource.

How it can be: Operating from a different view of the world - one that acknowledges interconnections, we arrive at different solutions. The Earth is a closed loop system, there is no "away". It is more efficient to close our loops as locally as possible. We can set up simple composting toilet system - odor free, low in cost, and simple in operation. These allows us to keep our water clean for drinking and food. They also provide us with invaluable nutrients for later growing foods. We close one of the many loops we are part of - nutrients flow into plants, our bodies, our feces and urine, into compost, and back into plants. A beautiful and efficient system.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Patterns & Flow

Patterns and flows connects everything with everything else. We all share in the same patterns (born from the characteristics of the Universe we are part of) and matter flows through and binds together all phenomena.

The patterns of emergence and dissolving (life and death), flow and disruptions, compaction and expansion, gathering and dispersion, are shared by all phenomena - at many scales.

Andrew Goldsworthy is one who understands how immersion in the patterns and flow of nature can give us a deep understanding of our own life - intimately tied to the processes of the Earth and the Universe.

Saturday, May 03, 2003


Pattern Languages
The term Pattern Language has been applied to several different areas. Here are some.
(a) Architecture - Christopher Alexander
(b) Sustainability - Stewart Cowan
(c) Programming

Patterns in nature serve certain functions. A branching pattern indicates distribution or collection. Explosion patterns indicate distribution. Cracks indicates expansion or compaction (function is to release energy).

When we explore and familiarize ourselves with these patterns and the functions they serve, we (a) have an idea of what function an existing pattern in nature has before exploring the particular instance in depth, and (b) can apply these patterns in our designs depending on the function they are to serve. The patterns can be applied on any scale - regional planning, cities, communities, gardens and buildings.

Sensitive Dependence
Sensitive dependence on initial conditions is a central idea from complexity, and specifically chaos, theories. It is also known as the butterfly effect. The terms applies to complex systems, and refer to small variations in initial conditions having large effects on the trajectory of the system. Initial choices has large effects on the final outcome.

Some examples: Deer trails becoming highways. Spacing between wheels of roman carts, becoming the standard train guage. Assyrians prison camps (straight lines, easy view and access + dividing people from each other), becoming the grid system of modern cities.