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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Literary Dose #1

Since I read so much, posting quotes from what I'm reading seems like an appropriate feature to add to this page. As these posts expand, they'll be accessible via the sidebar under previous posts::series and the label "literary dose" at the bottom of each post.
Each piece of land the world over is different -- the climate and topography and the vegetation all combine to mean that the field over there is particularly vulnerable to erosion or that the deer need that bit of stream or that the groundwater's shallow here and easily depleted. These kinds of lessons -- and the affection needed to implement them -- can be learned only by long observation. From the ridge on Crow I see most of the few dozen houses in my town. They're where they are for some physical reason -- the creek drops there, so it was a natural place for a sawmill; there the valley floor broadens enough for a farm. The sawmill is gone and the pasture is growing in, but there's still some logic to the layout, some information provided by the topography and the soil. But farther in the distance I can see the spot where a new set of luxury vacation condos will be built next year, right on the edge of a gorgeous but tiny pond. The condos are not placed there for any physical reason save proximity to the ski hill and the increased value of "waterfront," and they're going to be pushed in one on another as close as the landscaping will allow. They will tell their inhabitants and their visitors nothing about the land -- they are "machines for living," albeit inefficient ones, and quite possibly they will overwhelm that small pond, filling it with enough nitrogen that it chokes with algae and then dies. Those houses exist only in a brochure and a spiel, not in a place -- they're like the houses advertised ceaselessly on Fairfax's real estate channel, whose locations refer only to the human world -- "near the mall," "on a cul de sac." Such obliviousness to place exists around the developed world.
- Bill McKibben
from The Age of Missing Information (1992)


  1. It makes you think, how "developed" is the developed world... I was re-reading Aldo Rossi's architecture of the city and thinking more or less the same thing, that we've lost an attachment to the uniqueness of each place. Everything now works under the logic of money and profit, and we "developers" aren't thinking about much else...

  2. It's also not a stretch that we may snap out of our limited thinking about place -- especially its ecology -- as more and more natural "occurrences" give us pause as to what we're doing. I don't mean to get doomsday or anything, but natural process needs to somehow re-enter the equation when it comes to development and I'm not sure how else it's gonna happen. Sustainable architecture certainly helps when done right (meaning not when it's "greenwashed") but that's a very small percentage of what's being done, as so much dev't is SOS.

  3. if i wrote a book, and i am certainly not qualified to do that!, i would title it "the mountains are laughing" ... the book would be a metaphoric response to how even the most holistic, contemporary architecture is so temporary and overly enamored with the "good old days" I can't help but be the cynic and ask what difference does developer intent make? Are we really so easily convinced that a mill on a river was/is not irresponsible or didn't have some kind of negative contribution to the waste stream?

  4. McKibben's thesis in his book is that modern intake of information is at the expense of information about our immediate place in the world, information gained by direct experience with it, and these counter-examples illustrate different ways of thinking that leads to different ways of making. Developer intent in most cases leads to buildings and urban patterns that require greater energy to produce and maintain, and potentially placing a greater burden on the immediate landscape than, say, the mill. In both cases there's a (negative) impact on the environment, because any building/development will have one. But if the designer has the knowledge to make less of an impact over more, than hopefully that path is at least considered, a difficult proposition when the developer's angling to make a quick buck or frame a view rather than interact/use the natural features of a site, like the mill. I hope I'm not falling into a "good 'ol days" kinda person, as I still love contemporary architecture; I think there's just things like this that need to be thought about and discussed.

  5. we can live anywhere we want, however, we should not live within the four walls we built; we should learn to live in the environment we chose to build our houses in. why is inside-outside spatial relationship important? so that we can be aware of what our environment needs, it is not a one-way street.

  6. I would like to offer one brief meditation inspired by this reading.

    You think you own whatever land you land on. The Earth is just a dead thing you can claimn, but I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

    Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest. Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth. Come roll in all the riches all around you And for once, never wonder what they're worth

    Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
    Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains? Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
    Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?


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