Introduction to Contemporary Thought on Socially and Environmentally Sustaianble Housing

Hawaiian Native Plants Eco Living Community, Kauai, Hawaii, 1992

Tomatoe, pepper, and flower garden; Katy and Alison in the modular cabin; pole tree house


Pole tree house construction; Channing and Robert; pole tree house from across the canyon



Monster Houses, Cafes, and Dogs: Purpose in Eco Design


When, how and why are there theories of architecture? To be pondered along with their life, effect, and accuracy, is purpose. Perhaps the purpose of a theory of architecture is simply to structure complex projects with an order imposed from a design idea. Introduction. This notion of changes in contemporary rural and urban ecology is based on observation. Many of the great cities are experiencing venetian sunsets. (Kaplan 1997) Their usefulness as production centers is limited. Post-urban pods like Orange County (without a city center yet ranking in the top thirty countries in the world as an economic entity), Newmarket, Auckland, and many others can act as city states. Given this succession in the ecology of people and the natural environment, monster houses (and abandoned neighborhoods), cafes and dogs, with what might our built environment be regenerated? Further, "Instead of castle or town protected by a labyrinth, we have the city as a labyrinth. The convolutions have moved within, and are threatening rather than protective.... The labyrinth is no longer a special dwelling constructed for a particular monster, but rather a house where everyone lives." (Faris 1988)


A conclusion is a beginning in generating ideas. What constitutes a satisfying and useful embryology of built form? The assumption of interconnectedness, ecology and architecture, landscape, and urban place and realm as figure and ground, openness and enclosure, inside and outside, and memories and desires, is a start.

The following six posturban projects are a suggestion. 1. Rural conservation reserves. 2. Rural agricultural collectives. 3. Parks, gardens, atriums, plazas, forums and passages are timeless. 4. Restoration, revegetation, and reclamation are ideal but costly. 5. Post-urban pods like Orange County (without a city center yet ranking in the top thirty countries in the world as an economic entity) and many others can act as e-commerce city states. 6. Formless projects might allow dwelling (the essence of human being) and community. Cafes are a popular icon and museums contain the odyssey into the hypertextual poetics of virtual reality: "What happens when we go to the museum? (Joyce 1997)

Monster houses. In 1991 the worst urban forest fire in history destroyed 3,910 houses in the Berkeley Hills. Today- "The middle distance is filled with architectural contraptions risen crazily from the ashes, their variegated roofs (flat and mansard, bowed and peaked) overshadowed, a bit farther up the hillside, by the immense backsides of the boxy new constructions commonly called "monster houses." "Boxes," "monster houses," "motels," "houses on steroids," "mushrooms springing up in charcoal," "factories," "trailers," "visual indigestion," "kitschitecture"...Much of what has happened since 1991 bears witness to the triumph of selfishness: immense and ugly structures designed without a care for context or consanguinuity..." (Kirp 1997)

Cafes. From MFK Fischer, The Art of Eating, to Bill Holm, The Heart May Be Found Anywhere On Earth, To Bunuel, My Last Breath, and others, the huge significance of the cafe in dwelling (the essence of human being) and community is illustrated.

"Chairs in Paris spill out of cafes, redefining the edge of buildings. A corner cafe will, during its working hours, arrange outdoors an undulating skirt of chairs and tables, a shifting landscape fluttering and cluttering in response to climates meteorological and conversational.

Particularly wonderful about the Cafe Costes chairs was the way they appeared to be talking to one another before they were occupied....The art of the cafe is to sell time. Historically, these public spaces of Paris have acted as literary salons in whose spiralling smoke, to the clink of glasses, theories artistic, philosophical and political have been elucidated. (Campbell, Barbara-Ann 1997 Paris: A guide to recent architecture. Koln: Verlagsgesellshaft)

Dogs. In Terminal Architecture Martin Pawley argues that art history is what stops us understanding architecture. He believes that the real barometer of the value of buildings today is not their aesthetic pedigree, but their usefullness as terminals in the maze of communications and distribution networks that sustain modern life.

Pawley contends that because we use the wrong system to value our buildings we send the wrong signals to the people who plan our cities. As a result urban life is being destroyed by politicians, planners, art historians and the heritage and tourist industries, all of them ignoring network thinking if favour of fake historicism, crumbling infrastructure, phantom populations, no-go areas and increasingly restrictive security measures. As a result authentic architecture has become disurbanized. It survives only in the shape of buildings like distribution centers, factories and petrol stations that are designed as instruments [dogs], not monuments. (Pawley 1998)

Later that summer on a road trip, I listened to the abject music of failure in the abandoned former centre of that cold (or hot) California town. The hotel has been torn down, the lot fenced to prevent the homeless from moving in. The big letter sign across the highway now connects the former hotel with a rest home occupancy. Down the way several small African-American girls played jump rope behind the standard chain-link fence, with guard dogs, to keep the homeless out. A dusty nadir point of the West, a neighborhood with an "ecstatic form of disappearance" (Baudrillard 1988), and a human touch.

Purpose. The theory of architectural design work is a semantic theory and not a scientific theory. Such a theory has to do with experienced order and meaning; direction; and purpose; assessment and evaluation - all non-scientific terms. Such a theory cannot satisfy those who seek an architectural theory framed along scientific lines.

...many problems of architectural theory stem from a search for meaning and intention in design over and above the meeting of immediate human shelter needs. Architects as a group are prone to philosophies on the nature of man in society; and a man's relationship to his built environment and on the nature of his perception of the world in which he lives. They are forced by the nature of their task to do this in the attempt to match social needs with an appropriate personal vision in order to make a design.

...the environment of human beings is multi-dimensional. ....raw nature ...society, an economy. a civilisation and a culture. If therefore we are to create an intelligible order in our comprehension of universal space ...within our technological age, civilisation and cultural space. A humanising architecture will be of necessity be devised by reference to all these dimensions of human environment. Following this line of thought then architecture as an activity is seen to be the art of bringing order to our spatial environment - in all its dimension.

...For architecture represents a "world". We know that man experiences his environment along two channels - through the immediate sense reactions of his body and through the eyes (or spectacles) of his culture. Architecture concretised both experiences into one totality. As this it is more total activity than either the pure sciences or the fine arts. The coherence of a work of architecture stems not from the objective organisation of clear description, as does the work of science, nor solely for the effect of presentation and symbolisation as do the fine arts; but from the simultaneous organisation and revelation of the character of an enclosed and structured place in physical, social and cultural space. In a work of architecture man/time/place/activity/materials/technology/science/beliefs are resolved and dissolved into plastic organisation, form and image.

...Architecture is best understood as an association of intentions resulting in a work.... (some intentions) permeate the designer's thinking either consciously or unconsciously or unconsciously and relate to ideas of the nature of reality, nature of the physical world and man's relation to it.

...Purpose and context thus shape the design world. (Oakley, D.The phenomenon of architecture: in cultures of change, Permagon, Oxford 1970)


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