Natural building often calls to something deep within people: The feel of earthen floors, heated by the southern exposure of the sun underneath your feet, the solid, reassurance of a straw bale wall insulating you from the cold north winds, the late western sun heating the earthen plastered wall as you lean against it, “the cathedral of the forest” sense you get when standing in a structure framed from hewn lumber, the ingenuity of a greywater system that uses waste water from your sink to nourish fruit trees growing inside your kitchen. The technologies are ancient and simple. The process of building with them hones the craftsman just as surely as it hones the material.
The process of design taps into patterns that our modern mind has forgotten. It requires communities to co-create structures that are vibrant and alive with the relationships and cultures of the people who crafted them. It retraces laws of nature that should be etched in our minds from birth and revealed to us through play with the elements- not memorized from a text book in science class. As designers, we face the challenge of remembering the patterns of science and nature that we have forgotten. Sequestered from the elements and bound inside of “ticky tacky” boxes, we have forgotten the innate wisdom that humans used to inherit through stewardship of their ecosystem:
- How the sun works- now called “passive solar design,”
The science of materials – for example, what insulates versus what serves as thermal mass
- Patterns in nature that solve design problems efficiently- for example, why does a river move nutrients most efficiently, why does fine sediment fall out when the flow lessens, how does gravity over distance move all materials so that we can conserve energy?
Many ancient civilizations knew all of these things innately. They taught their children and lived their lives by these natural sciences. Now we are reclaiming our natural ability to read our landscapes and our drive to design. We are reviving our relationship with the patterns all around us. As an educator and a designer, I believe that pattern literacy and engineering is JUST as crucial as numerical or linguistic literacy, but it is a science we have neglected to teach children. Nowhere in current educational standards do we teach design or engineering until students are selected into specialized colleges. Why? Children are naturally attuned to patterns and design. Let’s capture their wisdom, hone it and shape it before they forget their first language as observers & stewards of their natural world.