Flickhead
DVD Review
By Christine Young

____________________

Wertmuller01.jpg

____________________

____________________

Ecological Design: Inventing the Future

A film about integrating nature, technology and humanity

Visit the Official site

____________________

____________________

With each second of everyday there is a child born,
and he shall be nourished so that he may grow;
so that he may learn;
so that he may teach;
so that he may replenish the source sustaining his life
in whatever way he can;
so that he may help those less fortunate than he.
And, if not, so that he may draw what he will from his earth
without one thought of giving back—until the day he dies.
        © 1981 by Christine Young

____________________

    “For thousands of years humans have adapted to their environments through the process of design; weaving local materials to meet their needs and intertwining nature’s patterns with their lives. Indigenous communities live within the limits of their local ecosystem; nature, technology and culture maintain a dynamic balance. The designs of the industrialized world have developed beyond the limits of local ecosystems. Today our global technologies are depleting the earth’s resources; darkening the skies and waters with waste and endangering much of life’s diversity. Can we invent a more comprehensive way of designing which will integrate the built world with our larger ecosystem, the biosphere? Can we find a way of life which will create a harmony between nature, technology and humanity?”
—from the film, Ecological Design

____________________

    Ecological Design: Inventing the Future, narrated by actress Linda Hunt and produced by Brian Danitz and Chris Zelov, is about this built world of ours. It’s about the spirit of invention from many vantage points in relation to preserving the earth’s natural resources. It has been put together with much care and insight and is perhaps the icing on the cake of environmental awareness, which has been baked by the expert design outlaws it features, from a recipe R. Buckminster Fuller (Bucky) devoted his lifetime to. Bucky’s recipe is simple: “Optimize the way we use the world’s resources. Do more with less. Don’t wait for the politicians. See what needs to be done and do it.”
    Enhanced by the peaceful sounds of Some Songs to the Stars by David Darling and Annie Haslam, the film delivers its message in neither a condescending nor technical tone of voice. It speaks to all people in all places—but its message is clearly meant for the industrialized countries of the world, where industry and technology have a tendency to destroy rather than nourish, and where too often greed drives government and government ignores the scientific evidence that proves our ecosystem is walking a tightrope of vulnerability.
    In the first segment, “Design Revolution: the Outlaw Perspective,” we are introduced to Bucky’s ideology and some of his innovative designs. We hear from innovative professionals who speak about their predecessor with admiration. These are the design outlaws and environmentalists who have been influenced by Bucky in all the ways that matter. As software designer Ted Nelson explains, “The responsibility of the designer is the outlaw, and the outlaw thinker is certainly to try to reach forward beyond the restrictions of today, beyond the stupidities of the current political situation—whatever that may be, of the current way things are done and say ‘God, how shall we really be doing this?’” With this driving force and our current technological expertise, today’s pioneers in environmental design are making their own headway; each in his or her own time and each within his or her particular field of science. What they are doing—some on a large scale and others on a small scale—is extraordinary.

BuckyWorks01.jpg

    Perhaps one of the most noted design outlaws is industrial designer, inventor and technical educator Jay Baldwin, who spent more than thirty years alongside Bucky as a student, employee and colleague, and was fortunate to have been with him during pivotal moments of experimentation and prototype. Baldwin was a central participant in the formation and construction of the strongest and most economical structure ever designed, the Geodesic Dome. The depth to which he was influenced by Bucky can be found in his own life’s work and in the pages of his book, Bucky Works: Buckminster Fuller’s Ideas for Today, and as editor of The Whole Earth Catalog (1968-1998), devoted a lot of time to the accuracy of the technical information within its pages.
    Originally conceived by Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Catalog provided readers with the tools and inspiration necessary to proceed competently with their own innovative ideas. There was an ecological consciousness to this periodical that manifested throughout its tenure, which had been Brand’s intention. The Whole Earth Catalog was a forerunner of the Information Super Highway, only with a more precise and focused mind-set, and it was one example of Bucky’s synergetic ideology—of what can be produced by collective efforts for the benefit of mankind.
    In the segments, “Design With Nature: Learning from the Earth” and “Designing for Prosperity: Giving Back More Than We Take,” Ecological Design: Inventing the Future highlights the accomplishments of the design outlaws, covering each aspect of ecological design as it relates to a specific area of concern, and illustrating our potential to work with nature in a positive way—to blend our living, working and playing into the surrounding landscape. We’re shown how life around us replenishes without fail. Some of us are already in tune with Mother Nature and respect Her natural environment. We gain energy from being in Her living room (the outdoors) and intuitively know what She needs from us in return. Individually we achieve the necessary balance in our living, our working and our playing.

.

“If machines influenced
the first half of the century,
then clearly a concern for the earth
is certainly the iconographer of
the images of the future.
How do we recognize the earth?
How do we go back and look at it
as a fresh source of imagery?
Who amongst designers today
will bring about this ecological evolution?”
James Wines, architect

.

    As stated in the film, Bucky was the quintessential design outlaw, and all of his inventions acquiesced to his goal, which was to help mankind build a sustainable living environment. His mission for housing was simple: “apply modern technological know-how to shelter construction; to make shelter more comfortable and efficient; and to make shelter more economically available to a greater number of people.” (For more information, visit The Buckminster Fuller Institute.)
    The ideas and prototypes he gave life to would in actuality ensure a sustainable living for all mankind while preserving Earth’s natural resources, but they would have to be embraced and implemented on a large scale. Therefore, Bucky was just scratching the service of his new design revolution—and he knew it, as he explained in his book The Grunch of Giants (copyright 1983 by R. Buckminster Fuller): there are “gestation lags between the conception of something and its birth,” and that “because of these lags, the earlier I could introduce the conception model, the earlier its birth could take place.”
    For example, in the housing industry Bucky put the gestation lag at between fifty to seventy-five years from time of conception, and most probably his prototypes would surface to implementation during a time of emergency, which he called “emergence through emergency.” As an architect and designer he could either conform to the current standards of building or he could go a separate way. He followed his heart and his logic by going the separate way, once saying that he “learned very early and painfully that you have to decide at the outset whether you are trying to make money or to make sense, as they are mutually exclusive.”

.

“When you try to quantify everything
in money terms you lose all sense
of what’s valuable…there are
so many things that really cannot be
quantified in money terms, like the purity
of the air or the purity of the water,
or the hectares of land that are lost
due to deforestation and desertification
—the species lost that is going on
on around the world—none of these
things we can put numbers on.”
Hazel Henderson, systems theorist, futurist

.

    Unfortunately, in our how-much-money-can-we-make-out-of-it society, if there is no monetary value placed on a thing, then it is perceived by the money making corporations as a thing of no value. This presents a conflict of interest for heads in the corporation when they want to become environmentally responsible. The environmental issues that have come to light over the past few decades are hitting home with many people—and this affects the heads because they want to be perceived as environmentally conscientious by the people who use their products or services, so they will adjust to the concerns of the people who will hold them accountable for their actions.
    Over one hundred years ago, Anheuser-Busch began recycling used brewing grain to feed cattle. The environmental issues we face today were of course not as apparent back then, but this waste-not-want-not ideology (in the hands of a major corporation) was a means for Anheuser-Busch to save money while giving back to the earth—and that constitutes making money and making sense. Granted, the bottom line for the corporations will always be making money, but some heads are learning how to incorporate social and ecological concerns to meet their goals, and to that end they will have influenced all concerned in a positive way.
    It is obvious that we are at a critical juncture in our efforts to preserve natural resources. When Ecological Design: Inventing the Future first premiered in 1994, the price of gas in the United States was approximately $1.30 per gallon. As of this writing, it is on average $3.05 per gallon, and a major hardship for working people who depend on fuel to get to their jobs in order to make their salaries and provide for their families. Nothing has changed in terms of our dependence on fossil fuels; the construction and the manufacturing and the driving of automobiles in the densely populated, industrialized places on earth is a contributing factor to the high carbon dioxide content present in the atmosphere; our buildings and our automobiles are not designed for sustainability and our over-consumption is appalling. But it’s not just the responsibility of the architects and the corporations to change things and to set better standards; as individual members of society we clearly have to make some changes in our daily lives.
    In the Washington Post (6/10/06), Roger K. Lewis’s article, “Shaping The City, Sustainable Architecture Can Help Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions” reported that “Carbon dioxide is in the air like never before, but not just as measurable parts per million in the earth’s atmosphere. Increasingly the subject of everyday conversation and cultural discourse, rising CO2 emissions are seen by many as no less a threat than terrorism, uncontrolled immigration, avian flue or escalating gasoline prices.” This is a great article to follow up with as it reports the facts about carbon monoxide and global warming and the critical need for reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. It reports the challenge delivered by New Mexico architect Edward Mazria to “design all new buildings, whatever the type, to use half the fossil fuel energy used now by buildings of that type.” If architects can accept and meet this challenge, then by the year 2030 new buildings will have been created that are “carbon neutral” and will use no energy from fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases.
    The 2030 Challenge is a tall order, but it stems from the fact that our archaic buildings are a “major source of demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases.” This challenge to “stabilize emissions in this sector” and then to reverse emissions to an acceptable level is set at a pivotal point in time—and is not so tight a timeframe as it sounds if based on Bucky’s gestation lag theory, and that most of the innovative work has been done already. Landscape Architect Ian L. McHarg (1920—2001), one of the design outlaws featured in Brian Danitz and Chris Zelov’s documentary, was a very significant presence in the community of design architects. In his book Design With Nature, he provided the professionals with a timeframe as well, and “a simple concept strong and powerful enough to help architects heal the fragility of our planet through how and where” they build.
    Roger Lewis’s report corroborates what design outlaws around the globe have been proving—and what Ecological Design: Inventing the Future has effectively communicated to its audience: architects and designers can build within the limits of their local ecosystems. What remains to be seen is whether or not they do it, and whether or not we as individuals can adjust ourselves, mind and matter, to the ever changing needs of our planet.

____________________

Links for further research:

  • Earth Ethics Institute (Recommended Books, Sustainable Design)

  • The Knossus Project

  • Emergence through Emergency

  • Amory and Hunter Lovins – The Rocky Mountain Institute

  • Paolo Soleri - Arcosanti

  • Corporations and the Environment

  • Rainforest Alliance: How Corporations Can Help

  • The Original Whole Earth Catalog Special 30th Anniversary Issue.

  • Willing to Learn by Mary Catherine Bateson. “We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn.”

  • Ed Bacon Stories

  • Treehugger interview: Dr. John Todd “Ecological design goes way beyond any other field of design. It taps deep into Nature’s operating instructions, some three-plus billion years of evolution of life itself, and out of the incredible legacy inherent in the living world, past and present, it provides a road map and a set of blueprints for the redesign of the infrastructures that sustain the human enterprise.”

  • Pliny Fisk’s Sustainable Methodology

  • William McDonough “I believe we can accomplish great and profitable things within a new conceptual framework—one that values our legacy, honors diversity, and feeds ecosystems and societies . . . It is time for designs that are creative, abundant, prosperous, and intelligent from the start.”

  • The City of Tomorrow: An Interview with Peter Calthorpe by Scott London

    ____________________