Modern humans are terribly good at transforming raw earth, at a massive scale, into toxic “waste” products that ecosystems cannot re-assimilate. We do this when we make products, develop energy, and when we house ourselves. By all measures, we are doing this too well, and too fast, re-making our planet into one that is less and less conducive to life.
|photo by Malena Marvin|
Luckily, the instructions for this “new” design philosophy are intrinsic in our own biology and the ecosystems we live within. The field of biomimicry is rolling out nature’s blueprints, and the concept of biophilia is helping us to see that this is good news for our stressed out, isolated, and medicated modern selves. Indeed ecological designers and permaculturalists are re-envisioning a world in which humans regenerate their own landscapes, creating thriving ecosystems whose biodiversity feeds our souls just as it does our bellies.
But we can take ecological design even deeper if we acknowledge that how we learn so often trumps what we learn. Sitting in front of the glowing tsunami of electronic information can introduce our brains to important abstract concepts, but it will not address the fact that in order to design like we are part of nature, we need to authentically experience ourselves as natural. Ecological literacy may be taught in the classroom, but ecological fluency must be earned outdoors, through observation and physical inquiry.
Our counter-evolutionary cultural insistence on living physically and emotionally separate from our support (eco)systems has created a dangerous negative feedback loop. We interrupt this loop whenever we spend real time experiencing what is wild and nonhuman. It’s our imperative as designers to consciously translate that experience back into our habitat, so that we can create space that awakens because it is alive.
|photo by Malena Marvin|
If you like these ideas, or know someone who would, consider taking a field- and nature- based Nature of Design course through Yestermorrow this year. Students will explore biomimicry, biophilia, and other concepts in ecology and ecological design on a multi-day backpacking trip before diving into a culminating design project in the studio. Through hands on activities, readings, and discussion, students will ask: How does immersion in a natural environment impact creativity and design decisions? Can an experiential understanding of natural processes lead to more "natural" design? What would it look and feel like to truly align contemporary building with the principles of ecology?