Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The alcohol stung sharply as it made contact with the deep laceration on my thumb. Earlier in the evening, two friends and I were enthusiastically hiking the trails of the north Georgia mountains in search of adventure. If adventure was what we were after, the camping trip was a success, but clearly our ability to survive in the wilderness was not…
A thin layer of snow speckled the ground, and the sun had set by the time we arrived at the trail’s entrance. The temperature was near freezing. We came prepared with multiple layers of synthetic cold-weather clothing, waterproof boots, battery-powered headlamps, and a handful of Bic lighters. After hiking through the wooded trail for a few miles, we found an ideal campsite and began to make preparations for the cold night ahead.
One important component of braving cold nights in the wilderness is building a warm fire. The three of us had been camping together before and we were confident in our fire-building skills; however, we Georgia-boys did NOT have the experience of building a fire on the wet, snow-covered ground. We struggled for hours trying to ignite wet leaves and twigs. As an Eagle Scout, I remembered some tricks to employ should starting a fire prove difficult. None of the tactics worked, and I gave my thumb a pretty nasty cut in the process (which I disinfected by cleaning with an alcohol-soaked, individually wrapped, moist-wipe purchased at a department store earlier that day).
Everything was wet, and we were feeling discouraged. In a last-ditch effort, we pulled lint out of the pockets of our jeans and balled it up inside a few paper towels. Miraculously, it worked. We rejoiced as we added more twigs and branches to fuel what we started. Slowly, and seemingly reluctantly, the fire grew larger.
As I slept, warmly curled up in my synthetic-down sleeping bag, sheltered from the elements inside our tent (a combination of nylon, plastic, and metal), I pondered the idea of how a human being, or any organism for that matter, could survive in such a harsh environment. I thought of the luxuries we took for granted during our excursion; battery-powered artificial light, butane lighters, rubber-soled boots, etc. I fell asleep wondering: “How the hell has mankind distanced itself so far from mother-nature? And why?”…

The preponderance of technology in design is responsible for the decay of mankind’s relationship with the natural environment. This receding relationship between man and mother-nature has influenced mankind to ignore his role within the cycles and systems of the natural world and her inhabitants, resulting in a decline of awareness, appreciation, and implementation of the natural environment’s intrinsic design perfection. A heightened awareness of these cycles and systems, with the aid of technology as a tool (rather than allowing technology to dictate a design), may unveil valuable lessons necessary in designing a built environment that is beautiful, culturally reverent, sustainable, timeless, and meaningful.

Every region of our planet, stretching from the Tundra to Death Valley and even deep into the frigid enigmatic depths of the ocean, has been declared “home” by one of earth’s wide-ranging variety of organisms. The organisms existing on earth today have evolved over thousands, even millions of years in order to thrive in their respective environments. These inhabitants and their adaptations manifest the vast array of beautiful and exciting design modifications perfected to successfully challenge the tests of time and mother-nature. Even human beings, having developed large bulbous craniums to store our large brains, eventually discovered the means necessary to inhabit some of earth’s most extreme environments. Remarkably, with the aid of technological advancements, destinations outside of earth’s atmosphere have even been reached. Up until the early 1900’s, the majority of human beings were traveling by means of horse-and-buggy; a centuries-old technology. Suddenly on July 20th, 1969, man walked on the moon. Without argument, the technological advancements of the 19th and 20th century have been profound. In retrospect, I raise the question: “Have the sudden advancements in technology, and the rash implementation thereof, become detrimental to the well-being of humanity, our earthly neighbors, and the ecosystem?”

Sadly, the answer to the question above seems to be “yes.” Along with the incredible technological advancements made during the Industrial Revolution came extremely destructive systems of production. According to the authors of Cradle to Cradle, written by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, the systems of production during the Industrial Revolution committed the following abominations:
- put billions of pounds of toxic material into the air, water, and soil every year
- produce some materials so dangerous they will require constant vigilance by future generations
- result in gigantic amounts of waste
- put valuable materials in holes all over the planet, where they can never be retrieved
- require thousands of complex regulations – not to keep people and natural systems safe, but rather to keep them from being poisoned too quickly
- measure productivity by how few people are working
- create prosperity by digging up or cutting down natural resources and then burying them or burning them
- erode the diversity of species and cultural practices

Many would agree the industrial leaders of the age never maliciously meant to cause the harmful byproducts resulting from the Industrial Revolution. In defense of those responsible for the unfavorable side-effects, McDonough and Braungart state:

“Of course, the industrialists, engineers, inventors, and other minds behind the Industrial Revolution never intended such consequences. In fact, the Industrial Revolution as a whole was not really designed. It took shape gradually, as industrialists, engineers, and designers tried to solve problems and to take immediate advantage of what they considered to be opportunities in an unprecedented period of massive and rapid change.” (18-19)

Regardless, the culprits’ lack of control and foresight concerning the power of industry is evident – and it appears as though none of them cared enough to make any significant operational changes for fear of falling behind their competitors. One would think witnessing the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution would command drastic changes in the operations of modern-day industry. On the contrary, it seems little has been learned as the world consumes and spends increasing amounts of natural resources, particularly within the building industry; by far the largest industry in America. (Cole’s notes 1).

For example, compare two typical suburban houses built in the United States. One being built in the desert of Arizona, the other on the shores of the Great Lakes in Minnesota. Instead of responding to the natural characteristics of the drastically different environments, the two houses have probably been built with nearly identical building materials and construction techniques. The only significant difference between the two residences might be the season in which their respective HVAC systems reach peak usage (not to mention the lack of regional expression in the aesthetics).

What about the animals living in the environments mentioned above? What about the plants? What lessons can be learned through in-depth observations of the adaptations of these organisms, and inside the actual organisms themselves? They don’t use electrically fueled air conditioning or heating/cooling, and they seem to be fine. Granted, evolution has gifted those organisms with some advantages over human beings for living in the wild, but what about our very own human ancestors who once thrived without such “necessities?” Are we really as smart as we like to think we are? If so, why do we perpetuate a lifestyle that is detrimental to the future of mankind, the earth’s wildlife, and its natural resources? Does mankind need to invent new solutions or strategies for living more responsibly, or are the answers right before our very eyes hidden within the cycles and systems of the natural environment?

The need for a new way of thinking is evident; a method of observation and learning that promotes looking at our surroundings from a different perspective. This “new school” should challenge, and eventually change, the way in which the natural environment is viewed, treated, and interacted with by our modern societies. This new way of thinking should connect mankind back to his mother land, the planet earth, and all of her inhabitants. Yet at the same time, the agenda should not prohibit or hinder advancements in technology and progress, but rather promote them simultaneously with responsibility and sensitivity. To change the lifestyles and perspectives of enough people to actually make a difference is indeed a mammoth task. What can be done to spur on such a change? Where does one start, and is the idea realistic or impossible? In retort, the answer is: one must start at the beginning! In other words, nothing will ever change if no effort toward a new direction is initiated. Just like an obese person’s first day starting a new workout regime; change will be slow, arduous and at times clumsy -- but possible, nevertheless…therefore:
In order to initiate the first step toward a more conscious society, to live and learn within a symbiotic relationship with ALL of nature’s organisms, to eliminate any imposing relationships between mankind, nature, and technology, I propose to establish a school of higher thinking; The School of Symbiotic Design.

Research Rationale:
In order to achieve a successful outcome from The School of Symbiotic Design (SSD), the students must be submerged into a new learning environment and introduced to the new curriculum at the appropriate time. A proposal to begin such a program would be around the age of 12 or 13 years of age, similar to the age of the typical high school freshman. In defense of this notion Saul Kassin, author of Psychology: The Second Edition, states:

Paralleling the physical growth spurt brought on by puberty is what we might be called a cognitive growth spurt. Adolescents who mature early get slightly higher scores on tests of intelligence than those who mature later. And you may recall Piaget’s observation that adolescents are capable of logic, abstract thought, and hypothetical reasoning---hallmarks of the formal operational stage of cognitive development. This capacity for abstraction spurs teenagers to think critically, to challenge parents and society, and to contemplate possibilities. Eliot Turiel found that at the age of twelve or thirteen, adolescents begin to see various social conventions---for example, appropriate clothing, hairstyle, or the proper way to address a teacher---as arbitrary and unreasonable (408).

The biological makeup of every living organism consists of a series of systems. Each one of these systems serves a specific function of the organism. All of the systems are efficiently coordinated; performing specific and separate tasks simultaneously. In fact, the systems are reliant upon each other in order to sustain the life and health of the organism for which they are indentured. Can the parallels of this coordination of systems be applied to both architecture and urban planning? Can the coordination of systems of an organism, which has evolved over thousands of years to thrive under the conditions of its particular environment, offer the architect (or designer) a new insight on how to design architecture that will respond sustainably, efficiently, and cost-effectively in a similar or different environment? For example, examine the following scenario:
- reptiles are cold-blooded
- reptiles rely upon the conduction of heat through their skin to survive
- the heat source is provided by the sun
- reptiles, therefore, bask in the sun
- the efficiency of this process is increased when the reptile basks in a particular fashion which maximizes the surface area of its skin against the sun’s rays
- therefore, a building that requires heating (efficiently of course), should rest on its site in such a way to maximize its surface area against the sun’s rays

Although a simple example, the process is clear. Ponder the following questions: “Exactly how does the skin absorb the warmth? What color is the reptile’s skin, and what is its impact on efficiency, if any? What is the texture of the reptile’s skin? What is its chemical composition? During what hours does the reptile prefer to bask? How does the skin on the reptile’s dorsal side differ from the skin on its anterior side and why? What affect does it have on the organs and systems within the reptile?” Investigation into these inquiries may provide architects and designers with solutions to challenges they may face within their professional fields. Now consider the specific environment shared by the reptile and a given building. If the building is modeled after what the architect has learned through the observation of the biological adaptations of the reptile, could the result be the generation of a regional-aesthetic that is specific to the qualities of its natural environment?

The same logical process can be implemented in many ways. Broken down into its simplest form, the equation would read as follows:
- Identify the design challenges (context, altitude, sprawl, etc.)
- Identify an organism that faces parallel challenges (plants, animals, insects, human ancestors, etc.)
- Research how the organism selected overcomes its design challenges (physical adaptations, behavior, internal structure, etc.)
- If applicable, implement the research findings into the design of the architecture, product, infrastructure, or system.


Blogger williamcarpenter.com said...

what happened to the architecture high school idea? dr. carpenter

8:54 AM  
Blogger Leo said...

it IS an architecture high school...or rather a "design school" with an emphasis on architecture...an architecture will be influenced/inspired by some of the systems and cycles already found in nature...including plant & animal adaptation, anthropology, and their interrelations...

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Blogger smdenton said...

What the hell was that?
Sorry, it took me a while to figure out that I was simply not scrolling down far enough to find these posts.
As somewhat of a side note, Leo, this latest version of your paper reminded me of every review that I have ever seen of your work: you always present your work as it you are telling a tale. I am surprised that your thesis, then, is not more about myth and story-telling than this whole biology thing. Anyway, thought that was important to point out.
I hope you read my reply to Zach as I believe there are many points, although specific to his ideas, that apply to yours as well. But mostly, I still think your project so far is simply about the building project and has no conceptual premise to create architecture from. I am simply confused about what you intend to investigate and theorize about that will be the basis for your design work. You talk alot about things, but it needs some organization to understand how you setting up your statement, support and strategies for architecture.

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