We’re moving. We’ve packed lots of stuff these past few days, filling boxes with only those items that we know we will use in the future. Our basement is nearly empty of the mountains of things that it once contained and our attic is organized, lean, ready to go. Two weeks from now the moving truck is coming and we are leaving this house to go north and to settle a 35 acre piece of land where we will build a new house, start a small agricultural operation, and hopefully figure out what it means to live in the northern forest, get a sense of our place. Key to this project’s success is design. As any architectural student knows, design is important to the building of a house, and as any farmer knows, a good design makes or breaks a farm. So good design is important and really is important in any cultural endeavor but what makes it a good design?
That’s a hard question if there is nothing to model your design after. Is it simply personal preference? Is it art? Is it the cost of the materials to build the house or the farm buildings? Is it following others in their design methodology? Is design theory, something for philosophers and kings to muse about and then set the course for all the rest of us? Is it simply efficiency without tolerance of any seemingly out of place thing, and how do we know our efficiency is efficient at at all?
Beyond theory and assumptions, the only real model is nature. Nature follows its own laws. It designs itself according to its own principles and its design is very good. Fluids and gases flow in certain observable patterns. Plants grow in certain cooperation and on occasion in competition with other plants and animals. Ecosystems develop a synchronicity to their parts. There are weather patterns and land formations that disrupt these patterns and create new weather patterns; building patterns as well, the way natural objects are formed and the way animals build their nests. Even more intricate structures show themselves when nature is studied under the lens of a microscope, complex systems that we can model in our technologies. Cycles also exist, nothing is wasted, everything is used and reused. Nature is impeccably efficient.
Bill Mollison in his book Permaculture: A Designers Manual writes about how effective this form of design is and details numerous ways individuals and communities can observe nature and attempt to model their technologies, their infrastructure, their agriculture, and their homes after what they observe. There is so much that to share with you concerning design, observation and modeling. In the next few posts I will only try to give a few possibilities of this type of design in economics, technology and agriculture.
It should be noted here that this type of design is not ideological. Rather it is a tool used to manufacture culture through the observation and modeling of nature. No grand theories here. Nature is the context of all people. It is the grand leveler of social status and belief. It is that which gives us a common heritage and as such this design tool is for anyone no matter what their ideology.