Design Should Be Sustainable through the Integration of Living Systems

When the late Buckminster Fuller attended the opening of the Pillow Dome, the first of New Alchemy's second generation of bioshelters in June, 1982, he inspected the building and then turned to us with a radiant and approving smile. He announced, "This is what I always wanted to see happen with my architecture—this integration with biology."

The dome is indeed integrative—beyond the combination of architecture and biology. Mr. Fuller's concept for the original geodesic domes took its inspiration from the Earth's great circle arches, from the beginning mirroring nature in the broadest sense. The integration of systems has always characterized New Alchemy's work as well. There are considerable numbers of people at New Alchemy involved in organic agriculture, in aq-uaculture, and in renewable energy research. Using the biological world as a model, it has been New Alchemy's intent to, whenever possible, integrate design and function. A solar pond, for example, is an aquaculture unit, a

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rage unit, and low level furnace. From the beginning we have made i uis effort to pursue this strategy and to stretch its limits. We believe ".his reason that an otherwise small and unorthodox institute has rené attention it has. The integrational approach is part of the funda-t> >licv of Ocean Arks International, also; indeed, we could not pred-•• design separate from this approach.

i >inbining New Alchemy's ideas with those of Buckminster Fuller îYilow Dome represents a more complex matrix of integration than net tofore been achieved at the Institute. The credit for the idea be-¡. Baldwin, then New Alchemy's soft technology expert and also the hnology editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and the CoEvolution Qiiar-". • was a student, protégé, and devoted friend of Mr. Fuller. Respond-lr, Baldwin's insistence that we push the bioshelter concept further ding on the information gleaned from earlier bioshelters, we were .:ch aware that they had been intended as prototypes. Their short-had become evident. As pioneering structures they were custom rd and built, which had brought them in at high budgets even in the ■ enties. Some of the materials had not proved completely satisfac-x wood used in the framing was susceptible to decay at greenhouse : humidity and the plastic glazings were often short-lived and inad-„:; terms of light tranmission. After several years of testing and obit" ideas for improvements began to surface. New Alchemy's com-;r~ "rjhnicians John Wolfe and Joe Seale framed projections on the most t configuration and glazing possibilities for the second generation -.alters while the Ark staff began collaboration on improved designs - ;< ■logical components. J. Baldwin made a study of the economics •>-ible production techniques for the structure. He insisted that ■:> 'nomics be integrated into the thinking to keep construction costs hat it be possible that the components could be mass produced, awing on his training with Bucky, he designed Bioshelter Two as dome." The frame is a geodesic dome, thirty-one feet in diameter, • 'i thin aluminum tubes which will not succumb to rot. Advances phvsics and materials sciences were incorporated. Computer ■niC" and the design team were in agreement that the glazing should a, iij - membrane of Tefzel™, made up into thin, inflatable pillows. The ■ncrir.e is experimental and is produced by the DuPont Company. It i i ".¿n light transmission ability and admits ultra-violet rays which in-ase resistance in plants. The inflated panels are stiff, tough, and T-^:-jut actured. Triangular in shape, heat-sealed along the edges, thev

""sjmilt clamp onto the light frame. They are filled with argon, a heavy, inert g unique as an invisible insulator, which eliminates between fifteen and thi percent of the loss of heat at night. Between the outer Tefzel™ membran is an inner film of very thin Tefzel™. These pillows, triple glazed and fill with gaseous transparent insulation, represent a major breakthrough i solar design. Integrating principles of conservation with solar collectio and storage, a night curtain was installed for use during the colder mont* to prevent reradiation of collected solar heat back to the night sky.

Inside the dome, the biological components were installed to maximize the advantages of what we had learned over the years in experimenting with semi-closed ecosystems in bioshelters. A bank of solar-algae ponds, representing the aquaculture, irrigation supply, and heat storage unit, were placed along the northern periphery of the dome, surrounding a good-sized and productive fig tree, a tenant of an earlier dome. It had been plastic wrapped to protect it during the months of construction and was the reason for resurrecting the new dome on the site of the old. It is apparently unperturbed by the arbitrary intervention in its accomodation and continues to bear prolific quantities of figs. A small central pond was installed to give visitors a chance to look at fish without peering through a layer of solar pond fiberglass and the murk of algae laden water. The central pond contains water hyacinths to demonstrate their water purifying capacity. The southern half of the dome is given over to the same kind of organic agriculture as practiced in the Ark. It has been innoculated with living soils, unlike the sterile soils of standard greenhouses. With some seasonal fluctuations it produces crops of vegetables, herbs, and flowers the year around. It is used to start seedlings in the spring and as a season extender for heat loving crops. A further integration of function is represented by the use of computers, not only in the design phase but, as was the case with both the Arks, with sensors connected to a central computer which monitor the ongoing state of the building, much as the vital functions of a patient in a hospital are monitored. The building with its semi-permeable membrane and contained living systems and integrated functions is seen, not exactly as a living entity, but as a bridge between the living and non-living worlds. It is another step in the evolution of self-reliant, solar architecture.

The mutually reinforcing advantages of integration have been widely studied at New Alchemy. One idea has spread rapidly. In 1970, while working at The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, we started a series of laboratory experiments in which we irrigated and fertilized lettuce with water from tanks being used to raise bullhead catfish. The lettuce fed with ci soon completely dwarfed the control plants. Several years later at hemv we repeated the experiment in field trials, using water from populated tilapia fish pond. Irrigating with aquaculture water rd lettuce yields up to one-hundred and twenty percent. Now, in s. the concept of linking fish farming and agriculture is coming of r: : i hi large farms. In the Gila River Valley of Arizona farmers have growing tilapia and catfish in their irrigation canals prior to releas-• ater onto their fields of grain and alfalfa. The nitrogen rich fish educe their fertilizer needs by twenty percent, and the fish crops tor the expensive geothermally heated water. One Gila River Val-

- r. whose farm economics had been turned around by integrating are with agriculture, was quoted as saying, "Aquaculture is ecolog-

^luful."1

Alchemy is by no means a pioneer in its use of integration in ag-

- t )ne of the elegant applications of this principle we have seen was r i the small farms we visited several years ago on Java in Indonesia.

a farm, one of many that had been farmed continuously for cen-nicli reflected in miniature, the major restorative processes in na-. .creas most agriculture as a rule is short lived, lasting a few centu-. c most before the land tires and falls into disrepair, this was a farm rvtilitv was probably increasing each year as it had for hundreds of : . example of a true partnership between the people and the land, rr.ajor types of agriculture had been interwoven and balanced on r of land. There were trees, livestock, grains, grasses, vegetables, but no single one of these was allowed to dominate. As signifi-:he disparate elements were the connecting relationships between r aquaculture, and land/agriculature. We in the West almost never tt and land this way, which may explain partially why our efforts in re are relatively short lived. The Java farm was hilly. Although the rest was gone, it had been replaced by a domestic forest of trees nomic and food value which protected the hillsides, farm :nd buildings, as well as the crops and fish culture below. "• ater entered the farm in a relatively pure state via an aqueduct or ng the contour of the land. To charge it with nutrients so that it -rtilize as well as irrigate the crops, the aqueduct passed directly animal sheds and the household latrine. The manure enriched a- subsequently aerated by passing over a small waterfall. It then ■etween the deep channels between the crops in raised beds where : splash directly onto the crops, but seeped laterally into the beds.

In this way animal and human wastes were used but contamination of by pathogens harmful to animals or humans was minimized.

The gardens thus filtered and, to a degree, purified the water. W neither absorbed nor lost to the garden then formed a channel whe flowed into small ponds in which fish, which require water high in n ents, were hatched and raised. The banks of the aquaculture ponds w planted with a variety of tuberous plants. The leaves were fed to the and the tubers to the livestock.

The water, enriched by the fish for a second time, then flowed ii rice paddies, flooding and fertilizing them. The nutrient and purificati cycle was repeated. The rice filtered out the nutrients and the organic ma terials and the water left the paddy in a purer state. At the bottom reach of the farm, the water entered a large communal, partially managed, pon From time to time organic matter, including sediments, was taken fro the pond and carted up to fertilize the soils on the higher reaches of t' landscape.

On this Java farm integration was maximized. What was most interesting was the exacting degree to which the farmers had worked out the relationships with the patterns of balanced interdependence between the various components. Had pesticides been applied, for example, the fish, being highly sensitive to toxins, would have died and the chain of ecological relationships would have broken. The ecological integrity of the farm came from an integration of diversified, overlapping strategies mimicked from the patterns of the natural world. In more remote areas of Java, where Western ways have less impact, there is still a high level of cultural integration as well. Art and religion are as much a part of daily life as the tending of plants and animals. The sacred and the aesthetic have not been fragmented and diverted off in separate directions as is the case with much of our spiritual and artistic forms.

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