Friday, November 19, 2004


An ecovillage is a human-scale full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.
- Robert Gilman, 1991

Ecovillages are examples of an integral and holistic approach to human life and settlement. They provide for most of our basic human needs, and also take into account the impact on the larger society/ecology and future generations. It is an approach closely aligned with the Cultural Creatives, who weave together strands from a variety of movements from the last few decades: social justice/peace, ecology, holistic health, consiousness.

Role in Society

  • Laboratory
    Ecovillages function as a laboratory. They are places where new social and technological tools/approaces are explored, developed, implemented and refined. These can then be implemented by others and possibly the wider society.

  • Education
    Ecovillages function as a model and they disseminate their lessons through visitors to the ecovillage, educational events and publications.

Altough ecovillages share many features and intentions, there is a wide range of forms of ecovillages.
  • Rural vs. Urban
    Some are in cities, others in rural settings.

  • Close to Mainstream vs. Experimental
    Some ecovillages are close to mainstream in their appearance and function, others explore alternatives to the mainstream. Both can be on the leading edge in terms of sustainability and providing for basic and deep human needs.

  • New vs. Adaptive Reuse vs. Transforming
    Some are new, some reuse buildings and complexes, others transform existing villages and neighborhoods.

  • Small vs. Large
    Some have only a few individuals, others several hundred.

  • Light vs. Dark Green
    Some are taking initial steps towards becoming more ecologically sustainble, others are at the leading edge.

Three Approaches
  • New

    New ecovillages, built from scratch. These will always be for a limited number of people with a strong motivation and the opportunity.
    Examples: Ithaca, New York; Findhorn, Scotland; Dancing Rabbit,
    Missouri; Gaviotas, Colombia; Auroville, India; etc.

  • Adaptive Reuse
    Adaptive reuse of existing buildings/complexes. This is an approach that has larger potential and may be more widely implemented in various ways.
    Examples: BedZED, former sewage plant in London; Lebensgarten, former military base in Germany.

  • Transformation
    Transforming existing villages or neighborhoods into sustainable and more intentional communities. This approach may have the largest potential for transforming the wider society.
    Examples: Tiara Street, Eugene, OR; N-Street Cohousing, Davis, CA; Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka; EcoYoff, Senegal; Eco-municipalities, Sweden.


The Global Ecovillage Network has a large amount of information on ecovillages on their website, including links to regional and national networks.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


In design, applied to any area of human activity, it seems essential to study the underlying patterns of past designs in the particular area.

Which patterns survive the test of time? How do they change over time? Are there "universal" patterns across cultures and situations? How do the patterns change depeding on culture, social context, and - in terms of physical structures - material availability, climate, etc.?

These topics are essential for informed design, whether we modify a resilient pattern or decide to try something new.

Some interesting topics for study:
  1. Social and cultural change
  2. Sustainable relationships with ecosystems
  3. Conflic resolution
  4. Built structures (use of fire in dwellings, water in public spaces, nomadic structures, public spaces, well functioning communities)

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Approaches to Sustainable Design

There are two main approaches to sustainable design (as outlined by Bill McDonough and others).

First, the approach common today which tries to minimize harm. To be less "bad".

Second, the approach that focuses on regenerative design. One that enhances ecosystems rather than depleting them.

Realistically, we need to work on both. But it is vital that we differentiate the two. We need to be honest and explicit that the "less bad" approach is just that, and not truly sustainable design. We need, and can, go far beyond to a truly regenerative approach.
Sustainability & Population

What is "ecologically sustainable" is a function of behavior and population. With a large enough population, it is very difficult (or impossible) to achieve sustainability.

There are of course natural and built-in population controls, such as ecological disasters, epidemics or wars (all either naturally cyclical or brought about by over-population).

Still, it is difficult to talk about "sustainable design" as long as the global human population counts more than 6 billion. We will either need an extremely sophisticated approach to sustainable design (regenerative rather than just minimizing the harm), or a less sophisticated (more realistic) approach and a significantly reduced population.

We often think of over-population as more serious in poor countries, but it may - ironically - be a far more serious problem in richer countries where the lifestyle of each individual has greater impact (impact = lifestyle + population).

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Whole System

Our post-industrial history has been one that combined an old worldview with new and powerful technology.

We have continued to perceive the world as fragmented: There is an "other" and there is an "away". While in reality, the world (as always) is a seamless whole.

At the same time, we developed technologies that allowed us to be remarkably effective in modifying nature: taking molecules apart, recombining them, moving huge amounts of mass, distributing new chemicals around the world and in our bodies.

The two do not combine well. It has led to an economic system that externalizes cost and where short term economic profit (for the actor) is the main priority. It has led to designs, of chemicals, processes, transportation technology and more, that (apparently) solves one problem while creating many new - and often more serious - ones.

Seeing Blue Vinyl reminded me of this. It is a product developed with narrow evaluation criteria used, a set of criteria that focused on certain aspects of performance and prodcution cost. The wider impact on worker's health, the health of people living in manufacturing communities, and others impacted by toxins released into the air, water and soil, was not factored in. And still is not. See My House is Your House for more information.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Culture and Building

There are some commonly noticed differences between US and European (as varied as it is) culture.

In the US, it seems that work and moneymaking has priority - even at the expense of sinking roots and friendships. People typically move after about 5 years, and most often because of work. Connection with local friends and neighbors is less important.

In Europe, family, friends and free time seems to be a priority (still). People typically stay in one place most of their life, and create deeper connection to place and local friends.

Some of the consequences, beyond the personal ones, can be seen in buildings. In the US, houses are seen as a temporary investment - something to stay in for a while and then sell again. It means that poorer construction techniques and materials are chosen, and the houses are not individualized. In Europe, people see their houses as somewhere to live for most or all of their lives, so they invest in high quality construction and materials - and they tend to be given more character.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Patterns & Function

The Universe embraces all polarities. It expresses and contains both poles in any polarity: existence-nonexistence, nonliving-living, body-mind.

One of the polarities it seamlessly and effortlessly expresses is that of function and aesthetics. Everything in the Universe is function, and also - to us - astonishingly beautiful.

Every pattern expressed in the Universe and the Earth has particular functions. The branching pattern distributes. Explosion patterns spreads. Cracking patterns allows for expansion and contraction of rigid materials. Spiral patterns allows for slow expansion or contraction.

We can learn from these patterns and their functions, and apply them to designs on all scales and areas. Doing that can help us to integrate more seamlessly both function (efficiently and effectively) and beauty.

It is also an expression of our acknowledgement of the wisdom of the Universe. A wisdom that is - and must be - far beyond any human wisdom as we are just a small segment of this immensely large whole. We express the patterns and processes of the Universe, but the Universe is always more and different from our experience of it.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Climate Change

Although University of Oregon has a relatively good architecture program when it comes to ECS (Environmental Control Systems), with an emphasis on ecological considerations, I have noticed that a crucial factor is left out of the education and discussion: climate change.

There is no longer much doubt that we are in for - possibly sudden and dramatic - climate changes (for instance a stop in the ocean currents warming Northern Europe).

Architecture is connected to climate change in two major ways: (a) The energy consumption of constructing and operating buildings (amount and source), and (b) architectural responses to climate change. Expecting possible sudden climate changes, we need to take that into acount in our designs. We cannot assume that the current climate at any one location is what we are actually designing for when we look at the lifetime of the building.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


I have been thinking for a while on ways to create interesting and varied journeys through our built environment. The following is a guideline for developing journeys. It can be developed further into multiple patterns, based on types of journeys/experiences. (This can be a lifetime work for someone - documenting, analyzing and categorize journeys, and develop general patterns for each type).

1. Initial Considerations

Explore and decide on the type of journey(s) you want to create the setting for. What is the overall experience and progression of the journey(s)?

Think of it as a musical composition: a journey through moods and experiences with sequences, transitions, rhythms, and contrasts. Decisions here will influence which ones and how the following patterns and elements are applied.

2. Overarching Patterns

~ Analogs/metaphors/worldview
Be careful here – it may be good to focus on the experience and avoid heavy-handed analogs. But, it is also important to take a look at the journey you have created and be aware of what it expresses (the worldview it reflects).

Examples of metaphors…
- A series of minor destinations/oasises without any final destination, always something beyond
- A varied journey to a clear destination
- Through starkness/dark to richness/light
- Segments with few choices opens up to area of many choices

~ Progression
Decide on balance, sequence, transitions and rhythm among the following…
- Directed vs. user choices (few and many choices)
- Varied vs. uniform
- Straight vs. meandering
- Gentle vs. dramatic
- Journey vs. destination(s) emphasis
- Hierarchy/variation among destinations

~ Thresholds, Transitions and Layers
- Public/Private Gradient (move from one to another)
- Layered vs. “flat” (many or few transitions)
- Continuation vs. delineated (layered continued transitions through similar spaces vs. delineated transitions into very different spaces)
- Abrupt vs. gradual (thick wall/compressed vs. gradual changes in size/material/light)
- Change dimensions (in which dimensions do the transitions occur – light, material, space size, etc)

3. Variation and richness of experience

~ Contrasts
Use contrast to create experiences, variety, sequence, transitions and rhythm…
- Simple/rich
- Straight/meandering
- Rest/activity
- Close/far
- Overall forms/details
- Compression/decompression
- Large/small
- High/low
- Over/under
- Through/around
- Inside/outside
- Bright/dark
- Opaque/transparent
- Cold/warm
- Human made/nature
- Clean/textured
- Quiet/sounds

~ Involve all senses:
Explore how involving the senses enhances the journey…
- Sound
± Water (fountain, creek, rainwater)
± Wind (trees, whistles, wind chimes)
± Surfaces (hard/soft, clean/textured, gravel)
± People (voices, music)
- Smell
± Plants (flowers, herbs)
± Materials (wood, treated with natural waxes or paints mixed with aromatic oils)
± Essential oils
± Natural ventilation that brings in outside smells
± Cooking/food
- Taste
± Fruits (atrium, outside)
± Edible flowers
- Touch
± Texture (varied surfaces/materials on walls, floors, furniture)
± Water
± Plants
- Sight
± Light levels (bright/dark)
± Views/vistas
± Materials/texture

4. Tools & Approaches

The following are some tools and approaches that may be useful for designing an architectural journey…

~ Create a menu of possibilities
- List the different elements that can be included in the journey, think of polarities and contrasts

~ Explore relationships among the elements using…
- Pieces of paper
± Write the possibilities down on pieces of paper (one on each)
± Move them around to explore sequences, rhythm, transitions
- Drawings
± Visually explore moods, sequences, rhythms, transitions through drawings – represent the elements/experiences abstractly using color, shade, texture
- Visualization
± Mentally walk through and spend time in the spaces - explore moods, sequences, rhythms, transitions

~ Exercise suggestion
- Transpose a journey described in music, literature or dance into an architectural journey

In essence: Consider the journey as a musical composition – explore contrasts, sequence, rhythm, and transitions. Focus on the experiences of the user, but be also aware of the worldview your journey setting reflects.