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Healing The Metabolic Rift: Designing In Social-Ecological Systems


The term metabolic rift describes the alienation between humans and nature that opened up with the growth of the the modern economy. Could the growth of bioregionalism, and research into ‘social-ecological systems’, be signs that the rift may be healing? And if so, what are the opportunities for design to contribute?  [Picture: The Stockholm Resilience […]

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Venice: from Gated Lagoon to Bioregion

Computer rendering by Christian Kerrigan. Rachel Armstrong, who develops synthetic biology applications for the built environment, believes it could be possible to grow an artificial limestone reef underneath Venice using ‘metabolic materials’ – photosensitive protocells, engineered to be light averse. Her idea is to stop the city sinking into the soft mud on which its foundations […]

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From Autobahn to Bioregion

[Above: for CRIT, Mumbai may look a mess – but the city enjoys ‘high transactional capacities’] The big Audi that collected us from Istanbul airport contained nearly as many electronic control units (ECUs) as the new Airbus A380. The Audi, and similar high-end cars, will soon run on 200 million lines or more of software […]

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Transition Dogville

In Lars von Trier’s 2003 film Dogville (below) there is almost no set. Buildings in the town are represented by a series of white outlines on the floor. Dogville was a to-the-limit exercise in what von Trier calls ‘pure cinema’ – a commitment to use only real locations, and no special effects or background music, when making […]

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Old Growth

[Photography courtesy of  Marc Adamus] Here follows the talk I gave last week at the Global Design Forum in London.   “Last week I went a restored paper mill in a tiny village in the middle of Sweden. I was there (*) to meet a bunch of people who’ve been given a uniquely challenging task: make the bedroom and […]

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Why Bill Gates Needs To Listen To More Gamelan Music

Ritual as Feedback in Bali  The unique social and ecological nature of regional watersheds was the focus of a mesmerising presentation by Stephen Lansing at last month’s poptech conference in Iceland. His key point: Bali’s subak water management system is a “coupled social-ecological system”. Balinese farmers have been growing rice in terraces since at least the eleventh century. […]

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Love vs Power In Iceland

For some Icelanders, in a country whose inhabitants have survived 1,100 winters without central heating, the environmental costs of aluminium smelting are worth paying if the alternative is a return to a life in grass-roofed huts. To many, that choice does not feel far-fetched. Andri Snær Magnason’s grandfather, for example, worked continuously on the land and sea […]

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Oil-Powered Thinking

Last week the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (which has a new director, Martin Roth) staged a conference about Design & Risk. (The videos are online here). Its keynote speaker, the eminent sociologist Ulrich Beck, was on the committee of experts that, last year, persuaded Germany to abandon nuclear power and go for renewables by […]

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Design In The Light of Dark Energy

[ This text is a shortened version of my talk at last month’s conference in Philadelphia on Architecture & Energy; proceedings of that event will be published as a book later this year. Whilst preparing the talk, and this text, I also prepared this Reading List for Mr Monti. ] When the new Italian Prime […]

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