Ecological Design

Analysis of cardinal points and keystone ideas in the text.

Summaries | The Point | Chapters | Preface | Lesson | Ecosystem services | Accounting


Ecological design is defined as:

“any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts
by integrating itself with living processes.”

page. x.

“an integrative, ecologically responsible design discipline.”

hopeful vision + pragmatic tool

p. x.

D). overview
chapter analysis of five design principles
resource guide: Real Goods, Hopland, California.
“examples that best demonstrate the pattern of thought involved in ecological design.”
for instance: “renewable energy, transportation and urban planning.”

p. xi.

Chapter 1 Preface ix-xi

PART ONE Bringing Designs to Life

Chapter 2, Sustainability and Design, 3-15.

Chapter 3, An Introduction to Ecological Design, 17-32.

Chapter 4, Nature’s Geometry, 33-47.

Six design elements for Toronto’s waterfront (44-45)

PART TWO The Ecological Design Process

Chapter 5, Introduction to the compost privy story, 51-56.

All Five design Elements in brief

Chapter 6, 1st Principle solutions grow, 57-81.

Ojai school, pp. 69-70.; Bateson Building 76-77

Chapter 7, 2d Principle ecological accounting informs by following the flows, 82-102.

Flow diagrams (96)
16 different questions to answer 94-95

Chapter 8, 3d Principle design with (McHarg), 103-139.

industrial stream-flow, 115, wastewater 119,

Chapter 9, 4th Principle everyone is, 140-159.

Chapter 10, 5th Principle Display visually a recognition of natural powers, 160-172.


Chapter 1 the game we are in is a zero sum process by which gains come at some costs: appropriateness.

Chapter 2 two approaches to the ecological crisis of consumption can be resolved by design change, 4-5

Chapter 3 defining eco design & contrasts of specific concepts; Conventional vs. ED: Criteria Table 26-28

Chapter 4 “Consider a drop of rain.” as a model for plans, biological systems are implicit history of places

Chapter 5 what goes in must come out (Newton’s laws): linking 1-5 Five design principles to the privy

Chapter 6 #1; places embody effective resilience & lasting forms, often ignored by “Clothesline Paradox” 73

Chapter 7 #2; internalizing the externalities means “this kind of result challenges us to think more carefully about patterns of consumption and practices of design.” 101

Chapter 8 #3; symbiotic approaches work because of the “Limits Commandment” of McHarg, ecotones 105

Chapter 9 #4; inclusive, participatory activity comes together in the Charette (a cooperative exercise). 156

Chapter 10 #5; showing biological & systemic relations’ functioning is an abiding lesson because it works.

The point


Bringing Designs to Life

Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4
dialectic of sustainable respecting limitations measure of places
technological vs. ecological material & functional inherent structures


The Ecological Design Process

Chapter 5: A story about waste, which is not really waste, disposal common to all.

Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10
site is crucial life-cycle self design cooperative phaneron

form & function

follow from there!

accounting models the consensus see nature function
  biosphere   is effective always learn


Ecological Design, Cowan & Van der Ryn

Chapter 2: Sustainability and Design

Critical of the idea
“the possibility of balance and permanence in a world where we experience precisely the opposite”

“already changing climate patterns.”

One hundred square miles of rain forest are being lost each day. Species are going extinct at the unprecedented rate of three per hour.”

“In search of comfort, convenience and material wealth, we have begun to sacrifice not only our own health, but also the health of all species. We are starting to exhaust the capacity of the very systems that sustain us, and now we must deal with the consequences.”

p. 3


So what is the connection?

“ they largely fail to deliver the particulars involved in making a transition to a more sustainable world

grappling with the issues it raises.”

redefined limitations, costs and value

“People committed to changing their own communities.”

p. 4.

Technological versus Ecological sustainability contrasted [ “..they embody two very different visions.” p. 5]

Technological “every problem has either a technological answer or a market solution”

David Orr,

“It is about expert interventions in which the planet’s medical symptoms are carefully stabilized...”

p. 4

Ecological sustainability “is the task of finding alternatives to the practices that got us into trouble in the first place, it is necessary to rethink agriculture, shelter, energy use, urban design, transportation, economics, community patterns, resource use forestry, the importance of wilderness, and our central values.”

p. 5. (top)

sustainability from OUR COMMON FUTURE defined as
“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

“This prescription (in the fine print details) implies a highly technical approach based on more and better management and technology.”

p. 5

“a cornucopian spiral of material, technological, and economic expansion.”


“our material wealth and physical well-being depend on nature’s own health.”

critics of development

“Is technological sustainability simply a kinder gentler form of reductionism to which we do a more efficient job of using up, accounting for and managing nature?”


Wolfgang Sachs
“a reality that contains mountains of data, but no people.

The data do not explain....”

“they provide knowledge that is faceless and placeless, an abstraction that carries a considerable cost: it consigns the realities of culture, power, and virtue to oblivion.”


Technological Sustainability, “seems to fit well into existing structures of power”

Narmada Valley Dam, India [ not unlike: Three Gorges. Yangtze, Dinosaur Nat. Mon., TVA, Hetch Hetchy, etc]. me.

social justice and technological virtues are on each side in the debate to flood 10,000 of villagers' homes, fields, orchards, forests, and wildlife.

p. 6

“fine tune the global interface between people and the and the biosphere,... while displaying a naive optimism concerning our ability to manage planetary systems.”


Ecological Sustainability (on the contrary)
“requires limits to technology, limits to material wants, limits to the stress placed on the biosphere and limits to hubris.”

p. 7

Orr’s four attributes of ecological sustainability accounting for why we screw up a good thing.

Four characteristics:

1st people are finite and fallible
2d rebuilt only from the bottom up
3d traditional cultural knowledge derived from place is crucial to effective designs
4th nature is a source for modeling what succeeds.

restated by me

“the true harvest of evolution is encoded on nature’s design.”

“Nature is more than a bank of resources to draw on: it is the best model we have for all the design problems we face.”

“Such redesign --
attending carefully to scale
community self-reliance,
traditional knowledge,
and the wisdom of nature’s own designs
-- requires patience and humility.”

“It is a search for the nitty gritty design details of a sustainable culture, one grounded in the texture of our everyday lives.”

p. 7

A critique of the growing dependence of homes on centralized delivery of essential services, such as power, water, sewage.


p. 8

Sean Wellesley Miller
Towards a Symbiotic Architecture

“Infrastructure for the provision of food, fuel, water, and building materials.”

Crucial, unseen, yet critical 1/12th and 1/3d

“One BTU in twelve is used to heat and cool the US building stock”

“On average it takes as much energy to heat and cool the US building stock for three years as it took to build it in the first place.”

p. 8

In the end ecological design provides a means of meeting our needs within limits so that an ecosystem's services are made available on a periodically renewing basis for those who come after us.

J.S. 4-11-08.

Ecological Design,

more about Cowan & Van der Ryn

Summaries | The Point | Chapters | Preface