Sunday, September 27, 2009

Earth, Life, Structure, Communicating


For me, an early fascination with built form and the reasons for its shape and patterns has led to some "global galloping" in exploration of indigenous architecture and how living creatures change their environment as they interact with each other in the web of life. All the way from the inhabitants of Galapagos and the African savannah to the early indigenous forms of civilization in Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, China, the American Southwest, Alaska, Hawaii and Indonesia, to the old ruins of Stonehenge and built remnants in France, Spain and Italy, I've found coherence in form response to climate and habitation patterns, human and animal.

Architecture is an earth science and a formgiver of purpose and vision in human cultures, evolving into ever more complex patterns. The beginnings of built form, starting with animal adaptations (the Darwinian approach) through to the human modification of the earth that emerged in different cultures and climates are at the roots of this practice. Animal-created architecture presents a valuable window on organizing natural systems, outlined in Animal Architecture: "As ecosystem engineers, the influence of builders is extensive and their effect is generally to enhance biodiversity through niche construction. Animal builders can therefore represent model species for the study of the emerging subject of environmental inheritance." A more general book by the Goulds is Animal Architects. An interesting blog also delves into what its author calls "Cospecies Coshaping"

This is what life does. It organizes patterns to higher levels of effectiveness and dynamic interaction, using available resources. Systems theory (Check out Robert Pirsig's "Lila"). In this sense life is anti-entropic, and the built environment as we create it today is destructive to life, the arrow of entropy moving from vital systems to entombed molecular structure.

As our human ancestors began their large monumental earth-shaping structures based upon their cultural and belief patterns, the first emergent structures were tombs and religious pyramidal structures that oriented to and interacted with sun, moon and stars. The smaller structures that housed shops and living quarters, such as those found in Pompeii, were small, repetitious structures that flexibly accommodated living patterns and chains of commerce and gradually built up into temple structures and civic plazas.

The cultures of Indonesia and Asia produced indigenous structures unique to their climates, local materials and living patterns. Early human settlements represent a very dynamic interaction between the agricultural societies and the resources of the region. These ancient constructions, embedded in human history, emerged with an immense variety and diversity of form strategy and mastered the ability to passively modify climate to the advantage of humans for food and shelter. Prodigious numbers of these ethnoarchitectural structures emerged over thousands of years of history. They have lessons for modern humans in their richness of form and simplicity and durability of structure. Biomimicry Guild is a leading proponent of incorporating these lessons.

These kinds of constructs, from the animal kingdom to the human world, are purpose-driven and integrate valuable systems of behavior to the benefit of natural systems and living societies of all kinds. I think our self-directed evolution has gotten far off track, relying on brute-force-engineering and must now move to a greater wisdom in a post-industrial form of habitation - that is constructive of rather than destructive to - living systems. Civilizations must live within their means to survive and prosper.

(compare this picture of the overgrown Angkor Wat to the photo below in the ad campaign) ;-)