Design Must Reflect Bioregionality
In the last chapter we defined bioregion as a cluster of ecosystems arranged topographically and climatically so as to delineate a distinct region. At that point we were concerned exclusively with biological concepts. The human element was not under discussion. Obviously without a consideration of the human role, however, any definition is incomplete as, directly or indirectly, there is very little of the planet where we have not left in some way our mark. Nor is bioregionality an easy concept to define. It is a notion that has grown from uneasiness at environmental destruction, increasing cultural homogeneity, and exasperation at the sluggish ineffectuality of centralized governments and their attendant bureaucracies to address environmental issues and the complexity of modern life. Advocates of biore-gionalism hold that it is a crucial conceptual tool for protecting and preserving the biological, cultural, and political integrity of a given area.
Writing in CoEvolution Quarterly for the winter of 1981, Jim Dodge stated, "Bioregionalism is simply biological realism... holding that the health of natural systems is directly connected to our own physical/psychic health
-.dividuals and as a species. We must be constantly interconnecting our <• -.1 o lds with other natural systems. Even so," he adds,'"No matter how "ur laws, technologies, or armies, we can't make the sun rise every r -:ung nor the rain dance on the goldenback ferns.'"
Dodge enumerates a partial list of criteria that determines what it • ~constitutes a bioregion. A bioregion includes biotic shift, meaning centage change in plant and animal species composition from one ~ n to another; watershed or system of river damage; land form or to-> >~jphv: the culture, perception, and behavior of the human population; r ¿;ion or altitude, and the force or spirit or over-riding essence of the :uii:e itself.
For most of humanity's evolution bioregionalism has been unself-«■ v iouslv and ef fortlessly a part of design-from the vurts of Central Asia ' --.c magnificent Pueblo dwellings of the American southwest, to the tents I ^ndering bands of nomads—culture and identity, geography, topog-¿■cc.v climate, and indigenous resource base all have been for millennia si-r- v. but eloquently expressed in a manner appropriate to the bioregion. ~"c ■ >nt rast is great between the diversity of such structures with the recent -i ;«'ward homogeneity in cities world wide which have been erecting vr-jpers that are ringed with bands of urban sprawl. It is only because ni s: >t us do not have a sense of human history over this long period of iur<r that we do not feel how odd it is to build cities and suburbs as we do.
Ta king a very broad and much simplified overview of the North Amer-t it continent is one way to illustrate a number and variety of bioregions. It s- ¿: once obvious that each of them portray, in the broadest terms, the ne-ining of climate. The forests of the northeast indicate the predominance i t -»isture there. In New England, the diffuse light from the sky is buffered tk the North Atlantic Ocean and is filtered and muted. Toward the center it .-e continent are the prairies, natural grasslands which are similar to a -mr?t rial sea in their vastness of movement and light. Distance is omnipres-rfc r.Ued and rimmed by sky and winds with sun and dark intermittent rain :*:i-.«is building far off. The deserts of the southwes t convey intensity—sear-ni£ heat, glaring sun, deep night cold, and raw architypical forms—sculpted fcj;* bevond the human hand. The northwest is again mainly forested aic damp but different from the east coast in biological make-up and over-iar.i essence. Farther south, the diversity of California's climate and to-jceraphv is reflected in the diversity of its cultures.
In the northeast, before the coming of Europeans, Native Ameri cans lived in quonset-like, long houses made of saplings and layers of bark. The arhitecture fit-was suited to the climate. A recent computer study of the optimal shape for a low energy, advanced solar bioshelter was uncannily reminiscent of such quonset-type long houses. The model indicated that the structure sited in an east-west direction be insulated and reflective on the north side and north side interior respectively, and transparent to light on the south side. Except for the transparent glazing, this type of building, following our design precepts, could have existed centuries ago.
Early European settlers in New England had ideas other than those of the Native Americans. Their houses favored high-pitched roofs, salt box shapes, and many fireplaces. They were fairly energy-conserving structures, but the open fireplaces burned copious amounts of the then plentiful wood. Surrounded by forest, the settlers were wasteful and as a result the original forest had disappeared within two hundred years. By the nineteenth century houses were no longer sited according to the dictates of climate but faced the street or road and reflected wealth and status. Some of these were elegant with an almost timeless purity of line, but they still required considerable heating fuel. Increasingly, the principal fuel was coal, which at the relatively low temperatures of firing in household furnaces or stoves, was a polluting material. By the middle of the twentieth century climatic sensibility had been utterly abandoned. Made possible by cheap fuel, the inexpensive, sprawling, badly-sited, fuel-consuming California ranch house had moved east and north. In a colder climate, the extensive use of glass, spread-out configuration, and single story architecture demanded extra heating and cooling. Picture windows which faced north as often as not, further exposed such houses to heat loss and chilling winds.
Before the westward march of civilization the teepee was the dominant traditional architecture for the plains. In a region where hunting grounds shifted and firewood was hard to come by, the teepee was light, portable, energy efficient, and seasonally adjustable, not unlike soft, architectural extensions of clothing. As farmers, the early white settlers were stationary. Livestock and grains necessitated storage, so they built sod houses, barns, and outbuildings. Some of them were well bermed, with sod and dirt, and faced south for light and supplemental heating. Of necessity, as wood was scarce, they were low-energy houses. But by the middle of the twentieth century, prairie architecture caught up with the rest of the country and here again, the California ranch-type house came into vogue. Prairie architecture, however, could take another course. If traditional notions were grafted
jmi , - .. . jR al ideas, an indigenous housing which grows out of and is part of linn: : mis could be developed. These could possibly be in the form of a —^¿c of bermed and sod-covered structures looking like hillocks, to liignii - ar forms rising out of the earth in teepee shapes.
The extreme climate of the deserts has produced some of the most itextiJ"-: -ii and powerful clustered architecture in North America. For over ■ ir!ri_?and vears Native American builders developed and refined their ■it-Hix-v.uh nature. Hopi builders were masters at minimizing the effects of siatn^r«; extremes. Their settlements were built into massive, south-facing, iiijii i that trapped radiant energy when the winter sun was low in the
UK'.. 7vr\ used thick, heat-absorbing adobe as a building material to buffer siir tvremes of heat and cold. After the arrival of the Spanish, villages and .fwtrrit :■* became less well sited partially because, in some cases, military con-«■r"-i■:>:<ns were predominant. The natives and settlers did continue to use ami*:* as a building material, recognizing its function as a thermal buf-*r r r reventing overheating in summer and extreme chilling in the winter. ~tin...». -«alls, proper solar orientation, and suitable lighting persisted in re-
architecture and some of this tradition yet survives. But again, by the imo-t :>t die twentieth century, the most prominent form of urban archi-■ii-ii-e had become the ranch house.
The ranch house in its original form and indigenous surroundings miifr ir. elegant and appropriate architectural form, its design reflecting iwrrr-.'">nal cultural, climatic, and resource criteria. As long as we lived in jii -f cheap fossil fuels even its cloned descendant offered the advan-stprf :•: convenience and relative economy. But we now no longer live in an wpr >: innocence with regard to energy, and the inadequaces of inapprop-lait zesisjn are becoming increasingly apparent. What has become of jurnn^r. importance now is how we think about design. Merely to substitute ¡n HTcuorated form of the ranch house or the high rise is to limit our thinking :he short term and is a continuation of the same process that has us a r obie now. In mathematical terms it would be a change of coefficients »i ->■■: i>f structure.
The concepts of bioregionalism, in concert with the other precepts of ■rsiiT. :.ic have described, offers a means of learning to think in a different
¡mi — re integrated and comprehensive way. In launching into a descrip-
i»«»] : bioregionalism in relation to design, however, we are in danger of wwa.- i ourselves hoist with our own petard. We cannot possibly cover the »«prison or even its facsimile, of every person we hope to reach as a reader of this book. That, eventually, must come from the inhabitants of each area-not from outsiders. We shall, rather, heed William Blake's caution that, "General good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrit and flatterer," and confine ourselves to what Blake called "minute particulars."2 We will limit our discussion of the role of bioregionalism in design to our own bioregion of Cape Cod and show its functioning by examples, only venturing briefly afield to describe a design appropriate to an area in Colorado that we have come to know well.
We live on Cape Cod, a former peninsula thatjuts into the mid-Atlan-tic, made an island early in the century by the exertions of the Army Corps of Engineers when they dug the Cape Cod Canal. The sea is the over-riding natural presence, an ameliorator of climate and the only untamed wild-ness. The sandy, acid soil, the remains of a terminal glacial moraine and our legacy from the ice age, is covered with pitch pine and scrub oak and dotted with kettle hole ponds. Stone walls straggle through the low-growing woods, memorials to the sheep farms of the last century. Long a home of the Wam-panoags, for many years after European settlement the Cape was an agricultural area supplying Boston with vegetables and fruit, even growing some grain. Now, with the exception of fish and native cranberries, strawberries, and blueberries, we import almost all our food at extremely high prices. Cape Cod has become a slightly rustic, woodsy suburbia, and a haven for tourists. The poverty of close to a third of the inhabitants is fairly well disguised in the general affluence. It is an area ripe for increased independence in food and energy.
According to the Barnstable Register, one of Cape Cod's leading newspapers, the past decade has done more to alter the character of the Cape than the previous two hundred years. The newspaper has kept a close eye on the Cape, describing the pace of development here as "virtually unmatched in America." Arthur Palmer, author of the book Toward Eden, and an environmental lawyer and landscape designer, has pronounced Cape Cod "a community on the edge of a cliff"3 because, again in his words, it is an "attractive nuisance." Its attractiveness has led, as a result of very rapid population growth, to haphazard commercial development, traffic congestion, problems with waste disposal, and water pollution. This last, along with the threat to the remaining agricultural land, present together the most pressing ecological problems. Whereas most bioregions think in terms of watershed, on Cape Cod our water source is a single aquifer which lies like a lens under the ground. It can only be replenished by rainfall. The growing pop-
ULiif:> r. is drawing off water more rapidly than the rain can keep it filled, so lit c-- ei of the water table is slowly going down and, in the foreseeable fu-ur- ; >uld be inadequate to meet the needs of the Cape's inhabitants. Fur-.tir—<re. although there is little industry, as a result of run-off from years nf >ciung with pesticides, fertilizers from the cranberry bogs, salting the Ti^zs :n winter, leaching from septic tanks, and some leaching from the "iur.jini of toxic wastes by the military, the purity of the water is in ques-i»» ii ir.d certainly is seriously threatened if nothing is done fairly soon.
The soundest solution would seem to lie in bioregional planning. ¿11 :oe sense, such a concept is not too difficult to communicate on the Cape ar-ii-.sc. since the cutting of the canal, we are an island and our boundaries mk recognized and defined. With characteristic Yankee indepen dence. however, the various committees and planning boards of the Cape's icme-er. towns have always met separately to consider, separately, such commit problems as water quality, land use, and the despoilation of the nat-jjtb. 11 onment. Recently with considerable encouragement from several me-» soaper editors and community leaders, Cape-wide meetings and work-«:cs have been organized and have succeeded in achieving a fair hearing air :»•: regional ideas. The word "bioregion" is now tossed about quite casual« r. :he local press. Greg Watson of New Alchemy has proposed "A Cape C-iO Regional Development Plan," the first step of which would be to develop a : :cr.p!ete inventory of local natural resources. He has made a proposal -rm^niscent of New Alchemy's early work in the California hills, through »fiicri he intends to catalogue and codify information on the soils, geology, ■tfu—^ogv. and vegetation on the Cape. It is Mr. Watson's hope that such an Bpswsr.i'jrv. when complete, will influence zoning laws, subdivision bylaws sac : uiiding codes. Accepting the fact that development here cannot be «.¡coed, the inventory is intended as an educational tool through which it r*r limited and controlled.
Whereas this aspect of New Alchemy's recent work has been more »MMitxal in terms of bioregionally appropriate design, there are now also «•iJtr.il advanced new structures at the farm which can serve as models of fflrKiiTi suited to the bioregion: a super-insulated auditorium designed not is ~<eTrd central heating and a pillow dome which will be described later.
Alchemist Ron Zweig suggested to the Town of Falmouth that it has the jrtennal to improve its water purification capability by establishing a treatment plant based on a bioshelter design which would provide a solar heated n'-:roiiment for sewage-purifying aquatic plants. A full-scale ecological solar powered waste treatment plan along this design is currently under construction in Woodstock, New York, for which New Alchemy was a consultant. Falmouth will not likely follow suit as we did not come forward with our ideas until another commitment was too far advanced to change plans, although town officials did express some regret. In the long run our solar powered design would have been less expensive in terms of energy costs and would have offered the further economic advantage of commercial byproducts in the form of soil amendments and livestock feed made from processing the aquatic plants and biogas for use as a fuel.
Although integration with its own immediate community and surrounding bioregion has been a part of New Alchemy's plans since the beginning, acceptance on the home front has been the hardest to win. In the winter of 1977, however, came both the opening and the organization to allow us to serve our own community more directly. We were approached by the Community Action Committee of Hyannis, a group with a long and established reputation, to band together with four other groups, including the Housing Assistance Corporation, the Wampanoag Councils of Mashpee and Gay Head, and the Martha's Vineyard Energy Resource Group, Inc. The result of this coalition was the Cape and Islands Self-Reliance Corporation. It has a claim to uniqueness in being the first of a kind-the first food and energy assistance corporation dedicated to low income residents of a particular area in the country.
The Co-op, as it is familiarly called, has given New Alchemy a timely opportunity to share the knowledge and skills that we have been accumulating over the years, and equally important, a network for reaching people, often those who most could use it, who otherwise might not have known of our work. The program which has grown out of the collaborative effort offers free energy and food audit and financial counseling for home energy improvements and food production. It provides access to the skills, services, and materials needed for energy conservation, renewable energy use, and local food production at discount rates. It also holds technical workshops with courses that cover the ecological, political, social, economic, and legal considerations integral to the effective functioning of small local organizations so as to further empower them to greater independence.
Largely as an exercise in ecological fantasy we have created a design for an area much more modest than that of the bioregion of all Cape Cod. It is for Sippewissett, the area that immediately surrounds our house. Sippe-wissett is a part of the Town of Falmouth. Around the turn of the century it
Emerging Precepts of Biological Design
niEaiiroination of sheep farms and a summer colony. Now almost each «5 *Lr:ce wooded acres has a house on it. Rimmed with superb beaches tracts tourists, and the fine salt marshes are a magnet for marine There is one sprawling Victorian hotel which serves group tours usur-mer. Four-hundred acres of woods have been set aside as a pre-ai rr jvide wildlife habitats, a haven for townspeople, and a place for :<d tor running in the spring and fall and for cross-country skiing Sippewissetts's inshore waters provide some sport fishing and canrrmng; a few lobstermen work the offshore rock formations. It —»cun^ and horse boarding stable and an excellent little orchard and jirden farm which does a booming business. There is some boat ¿.id repair work carried out by a few master craftsmen in their back-C<:cnmercial zoning begins a mile or two away closer to the center of «nr. The most likely course for Sippewissett lies in maintaining the iiuo At the present, during the summer at least, the area is close to its n ing capacity. A more promising and stable future calls for the i ¿ci» >n and enhancement of the woods, the salt marshes, and inshore
Tr.ts could be achieved by the residents undertaking to diversify the s—:ent base of the area. Our idea is to turn to the sea and create float-pfir-ci offshore from the great Sippewissett marsh where vast numbers ii«diBiii.str^. clams, mussels, striped bass, salt water-acclimated trout, and sal-!■■ - «-a! be cultured. Most of the technology to accomplish this has been »;ced in Japan and Scandinavia, and some elements have been tried m North America. The Cape, with its great range of currents : temperatures could be a major center for the culture of marine ^lections to floating rafts marring the view of Buzzards Bay could ■ j£ii«e_>: rated by towing the complex offshore in summer. The food cul-uc -ir:s could be seen as an alternative to further housing development ■E Trs^itant pressure on the immediate ecosystem and more broadly, on »L.¿re's questionable water table. A program to produce trees useful in ilhaa: T«_:iding. both fast growing trees for wood/epoxy boats like the Ocean ■kx-^ and more traditional building trees, would pay within a generation ■■t » :uld further diversify and preserve the woods.
Realizing a design such as this for Sippewissett is still unlikely, but wmae t-jenients already exist. It helps that we are very sympathetically treated li* tie j»xal press, particularly the Falmouth Enterprise, which has been ex-i«iriie:-. supportive of New Alchemy. One story we did about the possibilities for Cape Cod in the year 2000, which was predictably an ecological scenario, was read widely and commented upon. Already germs of the ideas are floating about in the air like dandelion seeds. Some have already taken root, others will. Dandelions are sturdy and good at thriving.
If our scenario for Sippewissett still ranks with the largely futuristic, we have realized a small personal attempt to protect the area in the solar retrofitting of our own house. We had several reasons for retrofitting and building a solar addition to the house where we have lived for more than ten years. The trees stand tall around it and the orchard which we planted has begun to bear. It is where our children have grown, and it is home. We had no desire to live anywhere else, but we felt a certain amount of pressure, as a result of our work at New Alchemy. Visitors to the farm would often complete a tour or a workshop on the bioshelters with a comment to the effect of, "This is wonderful. I suppose you live like this at home too?" It posed an awkward moment. We tended to shift uneasily and mutter something about not doing it quite yet. It began to be increasingly embarrassing to advocate and not to do. Our house had been built in the late sixties and as a result w poorly insulated and heated exclusively by natural gas. We asked archit Malcolm Wells to suggest a method for retrofitting the house and to design a solar addition and greenhouse. The extent of the project involved retr^ fitting the existing house by insulating the basement, roof, and windows ' addition to building the new part. We had the one advantage of almost di rect southern exposure on the front and we wanted the sun to do as much the heating of the existing house and a greenhouse as possible. We thoug that the electrical requirements for heat circulation should be mininr equivalent to no more than two or three lightbulbs. As a result of Malco Wells' work and that of local solar designer Greg Wozena the solar retro has been completed and the workings are quite simple.
Against the north wall of the basement and ground level south-facr greenhouse are ten organ pipe, translucent, fiberglass fish tanks, whi stretch eight feet in height from the lower basement floor to a person's w~ in the first floor living-room. They are eighteen inches in diameter-a v iation in shape on the traditional New Alchemy solar-algae ponds. Th serve double duty as fish culture units and as primary heat-storage com nents. The tubes absorb solar energy during the day and release heat night, warming the greenhouse and adding heat to the house. In them grow tilapia, catfish, trout, as well as mussels and oysters in the one sea wa tank. The basement is the other heat storage component which, to av
¿¿-i^e. was clad on the outside with four inches of styrofoam coated nr. las er of stucco. The interior basement walls and the contents of including furniture, and a boat, firewood, tools, as well as i-e writer tactfully called, "the flotsam and jetsam of a family of five," lea: from the greenhouse.
The solar heating is primarily passive, as the design called for ther-trc Tempered glass on the southern exposure to capture light and heat, re-i". distribution in the living areas of the house is both active and pas-T~ e ^tair wells and air vents in each of the rooms permit a passive up-'«■■n r- of warm air. A ceiling fan in the living room circulates air warmed llr-tie w. ■»xlstove. In the summer the glass on the south side acts as an air ac-«enr-H: 7. drawing in cooler outside air which, passing through the house, is iiiHtsiii» - „pstairs and exits through the north windows. We are sun-warmed in nuBBrr- and cooler in the summer than we used to be. Internal insulated shut-jbs* <~ ;hc inside windows reduce heat loss at night and shut out draughts »«nctc'.elv.
The project is by no means over. Our future fantasies include, some-■miK :» ••• n the line, photovoltaics on the roof and a solar hot water heater, to Hr fii-c Jed in the upper part of the interior of the greenhouse. We already ® < r.c smug satisfaction of our own salad greens, tomatoes and herbs in fcrnii". and incongruous pleasures like seeing the sun glance off an icy ■k »u-.c of snow and dazzle an icicle even while it is raising the thermometer ■»¡*:e :he greenhouse to seventy. Winter need not be one's sole reality dur-"~jc months of hard, frozen ground. Earthy smells, flowers and fresh «ri^abies are with us all year, because the greenhouse is open to the living-'Tiii.li''irr not separate from it. A tangerine tree blossoms in early December, mliin r ;he house with the smell of citrus while we do battle with whiteflies am: ¿ohids. monitor the weather, and are doubly glad to see the sun.
We will be discussing a number of other designs which have incorporate-; 'regional criteria throughout the course of the book, many extant, »>s.:w> still ahead of their time. We include one more in this section because it illustrates so clearly the precepts of the design within which we are • i r*an<J. It was done in collaboration with the architect David Sellers for me Lindisfarne Institute near Crestone, Colorado, but it is well suited to ma;" of the rest of the arid, mountainous southwest.
Lindisfarne has an ideal location fora solar village. We have suggested « -arriiet which, seen from a distance, will seem so much a part of the land-as to be barely discernible. Unlike our low lying, sea-bound bioregion, mechanical wall-
Lindisfarne Hamlet, Crestone, Colorado house site-
Lindisfarne Hamlet, Crestone, Colorado in Colorado it is the power of the continental land mass and the vastness of the sky that dominate. At the Lindisfarne site the Rockies tower over the plain of the San Luis Valley and the ghost of the long vanished inland sea still lingers. The sun shines almost daily, summer and winter. Behind Lindisfarne each evening, as the sun sets, it stains the snowy peaks of the Sange de Cristo Mountains red. Water comes from the melting snow. Occasional
POND GRAZING LANDS
GREENHOUSES & RESIDENCES SPAN BETWEEN WALLS
Surrounding Walls, Lindisfarne Hamlet emt - through the rugged mountains creating rifts where aspen, cot-■; ¿ncl wild flowers grow-pockets that are gentler and less austere t recurring ranges of mountains. The climate is extremely arid. It is -cent. but not particularly hospitable, region. • plan, developed further by architect David Sellers, suggested a jt unded in the rugged terrain built to be a continuous part of that The encircling exterior walls of the hamlet are of native stone and i - mall inner settlement comprised of clustered houses, gardens, fish . estock and fountains. The outer wall is eight to ten feet in height, down the middle, and contains wiring for electricity, water and r .ping, and fittings for the various attached buildings. It follows the : ;he land with a rectangular shape overall, completely enclosing star
SMALL BACK HOE
SMALL BACK HOE
the village and gardens and protecting them from cold winds and from foraging deer, cattle, and rabbits. The wall will render the hamlet almost invisible among the pinyon trees. It could be built in stages and the living components added as money and labor became available. The wall would be owned collectively by the villagers and sites for shops, houses, garages, and tes along the wall could be purchased. In this way the community >rk its way, boot-strap style, into existence as people acquired sec-:he wall.
he drawing is an early schematic of the idea. On the south face of :i wall houses are connected to each other by bioshelters. Each house >> to at least one solar greenhouse. There would be espaliered fruit ng the house walls to the south as well as shrubs which need the rmth of the wall to mature at that altitude. These would create a "".opv to shade the houses in summer. The gardens would be sited ir. front of the bioshelter sections for maximum warnth and sun-rners that receive poor light would be used for storage and equip-d all cars would be kept outside. A stream, or aqueduct, which would .miming pool midway, would run through the hamlet. Along the ai] on the south side a low fence barrier would retain livestock like nickens, sheep, horses, and perhaps llamas. They will have their d fed by the stream. On the north side of the southern wall there r and hay barns, granaries, stalls for the sheep and llamas, and poul-- An orchard would be planted to give shade for the animals.
wastes would be purified in an inexpensively constructed bioshel-::nilar design to the one suggested for Falmouth. It would be built ..r>ide of the enclosure that runs the full length of the south side of wall. Supplemental winter forage crops could be grown in a con--«rries of solar-algae tanks. At the opposite end of the structure com--.< iwer and vegetable crops would be grown for local sale. The ham-L' Hiceived, would be bioregionally sound and would provide for :ne needs of the inhabitants in terms of food, energy, shelter, and raiment. Like a self-contained oasis of green and warmth in that :rv. it will satisfy the needs of the inhabitants for sustenance and • et not impinge on the silence and solemnity of the great moun-.iround.
Was this article helpful?
You Might Just End Up Spending More Time In Planning Your Greenhouse Than Your Home Don’t Blame Us If Your Wife Gets Mad. Don't Be A Conventional Greenhouse Dreamer! Come Out Of The Mould, Build Your Own And Let Your Greenhouse Give A Better Yield Than Any Other In Town! Discover How You Can Start Your Own Greenhouse With Healthier Plants… Anytime Of The Year!