Friday, November 25, 2011

Rachel Armstrong: Beyond Sustainability 25 Points 5

Yet again a continuation of Dr. Armstrong's Twitter University lecture titled, Beyond Sustainability, sponsored by the Swedish Twitter University.  We cover here points 17-20.

17.  When solutions need to change with time this poses a key design challenge – how is it possible to design with emergence
For some of our readers, it may not be clear what is meant by emergence.  We discovered an excellent definition of emergent systems, i.e., self-organizing systems.
They are bottom-up systems, not top-down. They get their smarts from below. In a more technical language, they are complex adaptive systems that display emergent behavior. In these systems agents residing on one scale start producing behavior that lies one scale above them: ants create colonies; urbanites create neighborhoods; simple pattern-recognition software learns how to recommend new books. The movement from low-level rules to higher-level sophistication is what we call emergence.
This new approach is still at odds with the typical and traditional reductionist mindset that wants to detect in nature, and human systems of interaction, a top-down interaction.  Tompkins and Lawley elucidate:
When we see repeated structure emerging out of apparent chaos, our first impulse is to build a centralized model to explain that behavior. It's as if we can't help looking for nonexistent 'decision-makers', 'controllers' or 'pacemakers' [cells that order the behavior of other cells].
In quoting a wonderful book titled, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software, by Steven Johnson we find this insightful statement about cities, which, we are sure Dr. Armstrong would support:
...are patterns of human movement and decision-making that have been etched into the texture of city blocks, patterns that are then fed back to the residents themselves, altering their subsequent decisions. ... A city is a kind of pattern-amplifying machine: its neighborhoods are a way of measuring and expressing the repeated behavior of larger collectives — capturing information about group behavior, and sharing that information with the group. Because those patterns are fed back to the community, small shifts in behavior can quickly escalate into larger movements: upscale shops dominate the main boulevards, while the working class remains clustered invisibly in the alleys and side streets; the artists live on the Left Bank, the investment bankers in the Eighth Arrondissement. You don't need regulations and city planners deliberately creating these structures. All you need are thousands of individuals and a few simple rules of interaction."
This is a radically different definition of a city from traditional models.  This science of emergence, is changing the paradigms in all areas including architecture.  Dr. Armstrong's approach is seeking a natural, adaptive, emergent solution to the world's critical need for the survival of its cities.

18.  Long-term solutions are needed to generate the necessary systems & infrastructure for change – fundamental shifts take time!
This statement should surprise no one.  In the artificial industrial era, the critical need as speed and accuracy in the manufacture of items.  But there was a price to pay.  That price was durability and adaptability.  The industrial age brought us the infernal idea of planned obsolescence.  Things were built with the idea that they would be soon outdated, and needing to be discarded.  It produced an impatient era, where things were needed immediately and lasted for the "now."  This is totally different from nature, where things are suppose to endure, adapt and change with their environment.  We are only now understanding how important this long term investment in time is in nature's cycles.  We are only now, beginning to be wise enough to wait.  The future cities and building materials will be grown instead of manufactured.  They will be living instead of dead.  They will be animated instead of inert.  To illustrate this idea we include a short video at a TEDx conference by Igor Nikolic.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

19.  In order to design and build 'the real future'. We need systems, strategies and teams of people that can respond to constantly changing contexts.
Just like we see nature respond and adjust to changes in its environment, thus our human-made systems must do.  We need to escape the hierarchical prisons we have built for ourselves.

William McDonough
Another example is the Cradle to Cradle initiative.  In an article entitled, Toward a Sustaining Architecture for the 21st Century, McDonough and Braungart write:
Cradle-to-cradle design is an ecologically intelligent approach to architecture and industry that creates materials, buildings and patterns of settlement that are wholly healthful and restorative. Unlike cradle-to-grave systems, cradle-to-cradle design sees human systems as nutrient cycles in which every material can support life. Materials designed as biological nutrients provide nourishment for nature after use; technical nutrients circulate through industrial systems in closed-loop cycles of production, recovery and remanufacture. Following a science-based protocol for selecting safe, healthful ingredients, cradle-to-cradle design maximizes the utility of material assets. Responding to physical, cultural and climactic settings, it creates buildings and community plans that generate a diverse range of economic, social and ecological value in industrialized and developing nations alike.
Similar to the statements of Dr. Armstrong, McDonough explains how sustainability is not enough. effective are the typical approaches to design for sustainability? Most are aimed at using energy and material more efficiently, a strategy that grows from the idea that decoupling material use from economic growth can sustain architecture and industry over the long term. This would seem to be a critical insight. A report by the World Resources Institute, for example, projects a 300% rise in energy and material use as world population and economic activity increase over the next 50 years. As long as economic growth implies increased material use, the study warns, "there is little hope of limiting the impacts of human activity on the natural environment." But, the report continues, if industry can become more efficient, using less material to provide the goods and services people want, economic growth can be sustained-thus decoupled from resource extraction and environmental harm. 
The same study found, however, that despite 25 years of dematerialization by five of the world's most potent economies, waste and pollution in those nations had increased by as much as 28%. Though many European nations in the past ten years have achieved significant reductions in waste, they are merely reaching for sustainability, which is, after all, only a minimum condition for survival. 
It is true that efficiently constructed buildings can cut waste, and that lighter materials can minimize resource consumption. But while designers may make material substitutions-super-efficient glass, triple glazing, recycled plastic-the chemistry of materials in efficient buildings tends to be the same as that in their more gluttonous contemporaries. And that presents a serious threat to human health.

We include a short video which explains the principles of this initiative.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

20.  Biodiversity and other factors that constitute a mature urban ecology cannot be monetized & exist outside of the current economic & industrial frameworks.
Rachel Armstrong states, "We need richer visualisation tools - the branched diagrams tell us very little about the nature of the connections between hubs which makes it impossible to use them in any deductive or predictive capacity."  Indeed, the present manufacturing systems of constructing materials which cannot interact with the environment, must end.  Biodiversity cannot be manufactured and therefore cannot be monetized.  It must be grown over a period of years.  It cannot be produced in an robotic assembly line of the late 20th century.

Perhaps new areas like personal manufacturing will upend existing manufacturing paradigms.  We include a short video describing "personal manufacturing."  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

Another example of a new way to create biodiversity can be seen from Mitchell Joachim's lecture at TED in July of 2010.  If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link:

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