The amazing image above shows how much can happen in a city over 26 years. We know cities are growing at amazing rates, but these images are poor at capturing any tensions of over stretched infrastructure that struggles to keep pace. Slow development is never desirable in urban growth, but it is hard not to see dystopic visuals of urban decay as the cities struggle to pay their own environmental bills.
Conversations about ecosystem development as a strategy for solving human environmental crises are clearly not new. In a paper from 1969 recently sent to me by Bruce Hinds there is a rich account of the previous thinking and inspiration that has as of yet translated into human innovation. Some of the language and concepts in the paper are clearly out of date, as most of the resilience theory work and C.S. Hollings was not yet integrated, but at the core there are some really key concepts.
Core Trends of Ecosystem Succession
Exploring Wicked Problems with Design Thinking
Last year, along with Jonathan Hoss and Karen Maxwell, I looked into the topic of flooding in Australia. The project was focused on using design thinking to identify and begin to solve wicked problems that were arising through climate change.
Wicked problems are deeply complex problems where the stakes are high enough that it is dangerous to be wrong, and yet no solution is possible without raising a further “higher level” problem. Richard Buchanan defines them (read the full article here) with specific properties where there is always more than one explanation for why the problem exists and that there is no opportunity for prototyping potential solutions, therefore only a one shot opportunity for intervention.
The paper is fantastic as it discusses why designers tend to be drawn to these particular solutions, possibly actively revealing them through design thinking methodologies.
Wicked Problems Caused by Environmental Disasters
For the project Jon, Karen and I ended up exploring insurance, strange but true, as a topic where large issues were being raised that were placing pressure on a wide variety of stakeholders. As you can see in the presentation below that sets up the project, specific regions in Queensland; Roma and Emerald, were so heavily affected by the floods that the insurance company that paid out the most claims, Suncorp, then decided they would no longer support ongoing coverage without mitigation against future damage being developed. A wicked problem emerged as tensions between Government, Insurance Companies, Residents affected by the drought, and other Taxpayers where all at conflict over responsibility and appropriate calls to action.
The results include individuals with damaged homes being repaired at their own expense, all at high risk of repeat damage with no course for preventing it.
Fast forward a year from the project, and there are only now beginning to be stirrings of a solution to the problem. The insurance embargo placed on the region has said to have worked, according to the insurance companies, by forcing the government to act. While nothing specific has happened just yet, it is very intriguing to be able to watch the issues arise when trying to solve a specific wicked problem.
Parallel to our project, Hurricane Sandy hit the shores of New York, causing far more damage economically. But the problems that arose have never quite scaled to the level of a wicked problem that could not be solved. While much debate is under way still about how best to manage future scenarios, clear action is being taken to mitigate future damage, whilst previous damage is being resolved. While I understand there are many homes yet to be fully repaired, and families still struggling to recover, there is a tremendous amount of proactive work being done to prevent future damage. Visit the USGS website and there is plenty of information about how data gathered will be used to predict storms and ultimately inform future projects.
Visually Communicating Context for Wicked Problems
James Hutchinson has designed a resting station for bees, aimed at encouraging urban residents to offer a moment of respite for the busy little insects. It is James’s hope that it may help prevent the alarming loss of bees occurring around the world, known as Colony Collapse Disorder.
I love the design for all the same reasons as the other design blogs, but especially due to my personal obsession around co-habitation. The general concept suggests design should not be solely human-centred, but as my dear friend Carla Gould would say, should be life centred. Seeing what James Hutchinson has done is an example of “bee” centred design, where he has taken into consideration all the needs of the insect and used that to drive his design process.
That the final object is desirable to humans and easy to install in any backyard is a sign of total, thoughtful design methodology. But, the real insight to me is the recognition that there is more than one species to design for.
Yesterday I was on the discussion panel for a quick chat after the screening of two films; “Second Nature”, and “Brick by Brick”. I say quick, because ultimately I may have said two things, which is extraordinarily rare for me. But I did make a couple of connections that will hopefully lead to some interesting opportunities.
The second movie; “Brick by Brick” traced the history and inception of the Brickworks in Toronto by Evergreen, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing nature into the city. I was aware of the project, but now that I am equipped with more information, I recognize how important and valuable this project is.
Integrating nature into the industrialRead the rest of this entry »
The movie is beautiful on many levels. But from a design thinking perspective it highlights a timescale that is unimaginable to most of us. The bridges are woven together from the roots of the strangler fig vines over generations. It is a skill passed down from parent to child, and is a life’s work of maintenance.
When most CEOs hold their positions for less that 5 years, it is incredible to consider that there are cultures that still have the ability to see the “long view”. It is hard not to fantasize and idealize this lifestyle without reflecting on the irony that I am trying to type this in my 5 minute break between meetings and classes… Perhaps when I have some time to reflect there is an interesting discussion to be had around scales of time within “innovation” and it’s relationship to previous discussions regarding “genius of place”.
I don’t want to feel like this is a blog about trashing design and architecture. Movies like this highlight the beauty of some of made world, and it is the sound track that really creates the magic!
If biomimicry principles are used to define the criteria of success for a project, whether someone is “trained” in the biomimicry tool and executes it according to the defined methodologies or not, the end result will fit into the broader vision if the project is successful. Conversely, as outlined here, if the tool is applied without criteria of sustainability from the beginning, there is no guarantee biomimicry adds holistic sustainable value to the process. Therefore, a shift (or a balance) must be made from training specific skill sets of “tool application”, to defining clear, measurable criteria that has value to a project’s stakeholders.
For example: Biomimicry as Tool
Eastgate Building in Harare, Zimbabwe, by Mick Pearce Architect and OVE Arup engineering. They were tasked with the challenge of building a large complex in a desert environment without energy sucking air conditioning units. They could have taken any approach to resolve this challenge, and there are many examples of passively cooled buildings that do not take explicit inspiration from nature.
But, Mick was inspired by a documentary by David Attenborough that led his engineering team to develop a solution inspired by the termite mound, which has since become a celebrated icon of biomimicry. It is an excellent case study, they saved an enormous initial cost, continue to achieve enormous energy savings, and the chimney effect of drawing cold air up through a building has sense been replicated and advanced through many different applications.
Recently I became very aware of living in my own bubble of self interests. Unknowingly I had created a personal echo-chamber where the people I spent time with, read on line and in books, or watched on TV all bounced around ideas and opinions that I mostly agreed with. It makes for a wonderful self full filling environment that depending on your world views can leave you very positive that things are happening the way you want them to happen. Reading nothing but your favourite sport and gadgets makes you think that the latest whizz bangery and winning the game at all costs may be the purpose of the world. Or if your a fan of doom and gloom and you only follow those that let your world view is proven that we are all in serious trouble.
But I realized, especially when I read this paper (one of the co-authors, Jutta Trevianus is now at OCAD University), that I was missing the bigger picture. It might also mean I was weakening my potential for creative problem solving that would require looking at a subject from many different frames of mind. Framed this way in the conclusion of the paper:
“Diversity [of media] promotes innovation and creativity and results in better problem solving. Mathematical modeling shows that this phenomenon is partly due to the increased coverage of possible options that a diversity of perspectives and therefore diversity of paths enables…”
So, only reading the basketball news of your favourite team, the fashion magazine that reflects the beauty of your culture, the newspaper that supports your political and ideological beliefs, and blogs that feed your personal interests, may actually make you a worse person?
What to do with the forgotten spaces in a city? Too small for maintenance, but too abundant to ignore? Why not develop software to scan, categorize and experiment with all these spaces?
Imagine this software, meshed with genius of place. Ecosystem performance could be achieved in distributed sites around the city, and as the video below shows, these different sites add up very, very quickly.
See below for a project overview:
The Welikia Project traces the historical ecology of New York. It is an incredible, and ambitious project that is exquisitely executed. The result of which is a google map of Manhattan 400 years ago (Mannahatta as it was known through the indigenous Lenape people). You can even enter in specific locations to learn what natural ecosystem likely existed 400 years before. Warning: this can be oddly addictive, and there is an enormous amount of content available.