Ecological Literacy – David Orr


Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World

Growth is a renewed sense of being reverberates in my mind. David Orr states ‘hidden beneath the rhetoric [of sustainability] are assumptions about growth, technology, democracy, public participation and human values.’ Orr answers the call of awareness with two attractive solutions I will discuss; mimicking nature and decentralized systems. I’d like to evaluate these ideas in respect to an architectural firm.

Entropy: lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.

What firm model develops a business plan to do the right thing for the environment? Must I develop my own projects to progress toward sustainably? Or, take action in educating the public? If I took Orr’s language of the ‘energy efficiency, closed loops, redundancy, and decentralized character of ecosystems allow them to swim upstream against the force of entropy’ to mean stability and current ‘industrial systems, on the contrary, assume linearity, perpetual growth and progress which increase entropy and decrease stability’ as a critique of my own firm how would I change the model? What’s closed loop in a firm, perhaps the hierarchy of principal to project manager to staff back to principal? Redundancy in the type of projects acquired and decentralization of work in team membership? The structure of a team is that they do not cross into the opposing circle. You’re trying to win, or rather, trying to have a project on budget, sustainable, and constructible for clients with the same group of people. What would nature do to be self-organizing? How would nature develop priorities? The Biomimicry Institute has a site,, where these questions may also be addressed.

Would this model of an architectural firm eventually spiral-off to become self-sufficient? (Decentralized systems by Leopold Kahn and Schumacher) Perhaps. Beyond the structure of a firm is the work which is produced. Our practices can rely more on using recycled and local materials, labor, respecting existing places, and renovating when possible. This is an example of ‘unlimited growth in a finite system.’

Architects should be leading others outside of our institution to practice more sustainably and beginning with our clientele is the most obvious opportunity. We architects must educate others that the power of a city is in maintaining what exists. Market research must show a need for the refurbished center, a smarter center patterned like nature.  Architects have the opportunity, if not the responsiblity to be a part of this evolution.

~ Photo from In the Garden with Mariani Landscape ~

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