Design for a Vulnerable Planet

An excerpt from the introduction.
Design for a Vulnerable Planet

Introduction: Interdisciplinary Design and the Fate of Our Planet

The planet is in peril. The Earth will go on with or without us. But we know enough about how human actions are impacting the planet to change the role we play.

Designers conceive the future. Therefore, design can help us address this planetary emergency. Designs involve plans to guide deliberate actions. Oberlin environmental philosopher David Orr suggests that designers need to learn to make five key contributions: to use nature as the standard, to power the world on current sunlight, to eliminate waste, to pay the full cost of development, and to build prosperity on a durable basis. These contributions derive from looking closer at the world around us, understanding nature better in the process, then applying that knowledge to use the power of the sun and to see waste as a resource. By understanding the full costs—economic, social, and environmental—of development, we can design a brighter future.

Although designers and planners and their educators must think about integrating sustainability at every scale, the regional scale provides a good starting point for thinking about change. Through understanding the landscapes of the regions in which they work, architects and planners can critically consider cultural and ecological processes at the broad scale that can be employed locally.

This book explores how we can make the necessary changes through planning and design. The book contains seven parts. Part I establishes the foundations for a more ecological approach to planning and design. Ecology includes human and natural, urban and wild environments. The second part explores precedents for human ecological planning and design provided by the architect Paul Cret, the landscape architect Ian McHarg, and the developer George P. Mitchell. I discuss emerging Texas urbanism in Part III. This exploration is extended to broader considerations of regionalism in the fourth part, which also expands beyond the Lone Star State. In Part V, I reflect on lessons from abroad, most specifically from Italy and China. The sixth part is dedicated to learning from disaster; the final part to reflection and prospects for the future.

Part I contains five chapters that build the case for new regionalism. In Chapter 1, I look at three essential needs for integrating ecology into architecture and planning: thinking comprehensively, making places matter, and designing with time. I advocate a new approach to architecture. Such an approach is necessary because of the pressing issues we face and the failures of Modernism and Postmodernism. Modernism moved architecture, art, and design away from history and context toward free expression and abstraction. In architecture,

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