Design on the Edge

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Eindhoven Technical University]On: 15 November 2014, At: 14:49Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    International Journal of EnvironmentalStudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/genv20

    Design on the EdgeRonald V. Wiedenhoeft aa Professor Emeritus, Liberal Arts and International Studies,Colorado School of Mines ,Published online: 15 Feb 2010.

    To cite this article: Ronald V. Wiedenhoeft (2010) Design on the Edge, International Journal ofEnvironmental Studies, 67:1, 87-88, DOI: 10.1080/00207230701430377

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00207230701430377

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  • Book reviews 87

    Drosscapes require the designer to shift thinking from tacit and explicit knowledge(designer as sole expert and authority) to complex interactive and responsive processing(designer as collaborator and negotiator).The designer does not rely on the client-consultant relationship or the contractual agree-ment to begin work. In many cases a client may not even exist but will need to besearched out and custom-fit in order to match the designers research discoveries. In thisway the designer is the consummate spokesperson for the productive integration ofwaste landscape in the urban world.Drosscapes are interstitial [small space or crevices between things] The designer inte-grates waste landscapes left over from any form or type of development.The adaptability and occupation of drosscapes depend upon qualities associated withdecontamination, health, safety, and reprogramming. The designer must act, at times, asthe conductor and at times the agent of these effects in order to slow down or speed them up.Drosscapes may be unsightly. There is little concern for contextual precedence, andresources are scarce for the complete scenic amelioration of drosscapes that are locatedin the declining, neglected, and de-industrializing areas of cities.Drosscapes may be visually pleasing. Wasteful landscapes are purposefully built withinall types of new development located on the leading, peripheral edges of urbanization.The designer must discern which types of waste may be productively reintegrated forhigher social, cultural, and environmental benefits.

    It is evident that the American government has played a powerful role in encouraging andfinancing bankers, realtors, home builders, automobile and aircraft manufacturers, oil andgasoline interests, and highway builders. Combined lobbies of civilian fields have joinedwith the all-powerful American military-industrial complex to create the feverish pace ofconsumption of natural resources that remains unhindered at present. Let us hope that theambitious program outlined by Professor Berger will help ameliorate our situation oncefertile land and other crucial resources have been depleted to critical levels.

    Ronald V. Wiedenhoeft, 2010

    Design on the Edge by David W. Orr, MIT, Cambridge, MA, 2006, xvi = 267, USA $27.95,hdbk, ISBN 0-262-15117-0, 16 b&w illustrations

    This book is the fascinating story of how the head of the Department of EnvironmentalStudies, David W. Orr, at Oberlin College (in a small town Oberlin, Ohio, USA) succeededin building, from 1995 to 2005, one of the first green or high-performance academic build-ings. The title implies commanding avant-garde ideas. The current meaning of doinganything on the cutting edge means doing things better and sooner than others. But anotherimplication is that of standing at the edge of precipice of failure. Oberlins reputation as aliberal institution partly stems from its striking example of social liberalism. Soon after it wasfounded in 1833, it admitted women and African Americans. Despite Oberlins renown,getting this building funded and built encountered stiff resistance. Collegiate politics nearlystifled the project.

    Orr dreams of a new way of building and a new kind of environment, tangible and intangi-ble. For their achievements in producing this high-performance building, Orr and hiscolleagues received accolades from many free-thinkers in universities, design studios, and

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  • 88 Book reviews

    modifiers of city and state building codes. What a paradox: on the one hand Orrs positiveimpact on the architectural profession, on the other the protagonists attempt suppressed byhis own institutions hierarchy (colleges dean and president).

    This book relates Orrs story of his ecological philosophy and the collaboration he devel-oped to get the Adam Joseph Lewis building built (Lewis Center for short). As the authorsays of his book, it is a personal tale and I tell it as suchequal parts memoir, reflection,analysis and exposition. But it is also a story of institutional behavior in a global context weare only beginning to fathom. Orr developed his ecological plans for college campus build-ings by interweaving quotations from the Bible, and from Enlightenment philosophers ( e.g.,Goethe and Adam Smith) as well as influential landscape architects such as the late AldoLeopold and Ian McHarg. From these words of wisdom David Orr built an unassailableframe of ecological design principles. Among his foundation ideas are the following: Usesunshine and Wind energy; Preserve Diversity; Account for All Costs; Eliminate Waste;Protect Human Dignity.

    Whether one accepts or rejects his design impact, his ecological and political views arerefreshing and objective. Among his clear principles, All Design Is Political! is his mostimportant experience of developing the science of an ecological building. Orr intended theLewis Center to be a means, not an end or a result, but a process through which solar tech-nology was joined with operational systems to develop practical solutions. Providing agrand synthesis of lifes conditions, this environmental studies head was finally able toincorporate not only structure, garden and water into the plan but also spiritual aspects. Hesayswe at Oberlin are silent observers. But collectively as sociologists, biologists,psychologists, economists, artists, planners, and political scientists, college professors knowa great deal about the causes and possible remedies of sprawl. But more important this prin-ciple might havein timechanged the college itself by encouraging wider collaboration,cross-disciplinary research and the application of that research to real, local problems. It isnoteworthy, that finally, Oberlin has written a comprehensive environmental policy as adirect result of the battle over this building.

    Some of Aldo Leopolds key concepts are: That land is not merely soil. That the nativeplants and animals keep the emergency circuit open; others may or may not. That man-madechanges are of a different order from evolutionary changes, and have effects more compre-hensive than is intended or foreseen. These all bear on the question of making buildings fitinto landscapes. The Lewis Center is one mans attempt to make these points, and perhaps thebuilding has proved its worth by the controversy which it has provoked.

    As the author very truly states: Finally, Ecological design is simply an informed loveapplied to the dialogue between human kind and natural systems. The origins of the practiceof ecological design can be traced far back in time, but deeper origins are found in therecesses of the human heart.

    Ronald V. Wiedenhoeft, 2010Professor Emeritus

    Liberal Arts and International StudiesColorado School of Mines

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