Sunday, August 9, 2015

Summer Reading

The promise of long lazy days, backyard barbeques, and weekends at the beach (or at least our romantic longing for such times) sustains the tradition of summer reading. Avid bibliophiles find the prospect of sitting on the porch in the evening, unwinding with a cool drink and a good book, to be the quintessential summer experience. 

I’ve never numbered myself among those who ravenously consume book after book, whether during the summer months or any other time of the year. Typically, I’m too easily distracted— too unfocused—to earnestly take up reading. When I do read, I tend to favor non-fiction rather than fiction (though I do hope to remedy that imbalance at some point). I’m also more apt to favor small, easily digested snippets of text. I definitely suffer from a short attention span. 

This summer is different: I hope to finish reading four important books before the dog days of 2015 are over. I owe three of these to the kind generosity of Nikos Salingaros, who gave me Design for a Living Planet, which he coauthored with Michael Mehaffy, and two of his other books after reading my blog post entitled Things about architecture that make you say “Hmmm . . .”  Nikos wished to thank me for publicly expressing interest in and promoting his work. In addition to Design for a Living Planet, Nikos selected for me Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction and Twelve Lectures on Architecture: Algorithmic Sustainable Design, based upon my expressed interest in the application to design theory of fractals, networks, self-organization, dynamical systems and other revolutionary ideas. 

Rather than paraphrase what others have said about these books, the following are direct excerpts from some of their reviews: 

On Design for a Living Planet:

"Lucidly describes what's coming in the world of design -- and what needs to come." ~ Ward Cunningham, Inventor of wiki, and pioneer of Pattern Languages of Programming, Agile, and Scrum.

"Essential reading for all urban designers." ~ Jeff Speck, Author of Walkable City.

"Inspired, compelling and fascinating... Recognizes that a true architecture can be dug from the facts, insights, and theories, that occur with a broadening of science to include the human being." ~ Christopher Alexander, Author of A Pattern Language and Notes on the Synthesis of Form.

"This new science of design is the most exciting frontier there is presently in the fields of architecture, urban design and planning. Mehaffy and Salingaros offer easy access to the true potential of living design that can heal our sensibilities and realign our collective future on this planet. This is the genetic building block of a new science for building and rebuilding human settlements and all built form across the urban, suburban and rural spectrum." ~ Mahesh Butani, architect. 

On Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction:

"Undoubtedly, this manuscript is a voice of logic and reason against anti-architecture norms, and the destructive attitudes of their followers. I would add my voice to other reviewers of this manuscript: that it must be a mandatory reading in schools of architecture worldwide."
~ Ashraf Salama, Architect and Educator, Doha, Qatar 

"Less than twenty pages of text is enough to deprive Deconstruction [sic] of the complex scientific arguments that offer its exponents scientific authority and social approval. It is astonishing that while architecture abandons the principles that made civilizations reach the highest building achievements, at the same time scientific knowledge that results from a drastically improved understanding of Nature rediscovers the quality of those traditional principles. Whereas the most celebrated architects abuse the latest technological gadgets in order to produce caricatures of science, mathematicians such as Nikos Salingaros and Christopher Alexander use science to reveal the ability of traditional architectural principles to innovate by creating humane urban environments. The clarity of vision that characterizes books such as Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction shows that such a future may not be so far away after all."
N. Karydis, architect and author, London and Athens 

"Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction should ruffle lots of feathers in the building and design world. But I suspect it'll also fascinate many who aren't generally architecture and urbanism fanatics. This is a stunning and deep book, as interesting for its analyses of psychology and politics as it is for its discussions of architecture. It's guaranteed to get the brain buzzing; what a treat too that it's a real reading pleasure, written in a voice that's both urbane and forceful."
~ Michael Blowhard, Author and Filmmaker

On Twelve Lectures on Architecture: Algorithmic Sustainable Design:

"A fantastic manual of architectural algorithms explaining exactly why some designs make us feel at home on this planet and why others offend our neurology." ~ James Howard Kunstler, Orion Magazine

"From architectural megalomania to media culture to the habit of cutting design and construction costs by ignoring the obvious . . . modernism acts like a computer virus that erases data banks and substitutes something much simpler and less functional, with collective social memory as the 'data bank' in question." ~ James Kalb, Turnabout

"Biology and architecture intersect in mankind's unconscious perceptions . . . in ways that cause traditional architecture to be perceived intuitively by most people as more natural and life-affirming than modern architecture . . . the importance to change the world might be an additional incitement." ~ David Brussat, Providence Journal

Thank you again, Nikos, for sending me your wonderful books. I’m hopeful other architects will share my fascination with your work and discover for themselves how paradigm-shifting your definitions of architecture and urban design are. 

The fourth book I am presently reading is The End of the Long Summer by Dianne Dumanoski. I learned about Dianne Dumanoski from Alder Stone Fuller. Alder is back in Eugene following several years in Maine, where he established the Ermah Ge education collective, which is dedicated to teaching about complexity (system) sciences and living systems—from cells to organisms and ecosystems to the whole Earth. Ermah Ge includes education about abrupt climate change, and how to mitigate it to the extent possible but simultaneously build community resilience by increasing our adaptability. 

Alder believes Dumanoski’s work, and in particular The End of the Long Summer, to be vitally important because she directly confronts the question of how humans must adapt to the inevitability of large-scale climate change. She does not offer false hope, which would be unethical because doing so would prevent people from fully understanding what is coming. Instead, she redefines hope in a way that is grounded in reality. Dumanoski counsels that “Fear, despair, and denial are indulgences we cannot afford. It is time to turn and face the future head on.” Humanity's future, she argues, will depend on our ability to return to systems based on flexibility, diversity, redundancy, and community and away from current trends that rely on technological fixes, unsustainable economic models of growth, and excessive globalization. 

Here’s an excerpt from The End of the Long Summer, which offers a glimpse into Dumanoski’s sobering message: 

"The most formidable obstacle ahead may be an imaginative one. The first step is to recognize that we have entered a period of deep change. Of course, simply suggesting that our civilization may be hitting a dead end is considered a message of ‘doom and gloom.’ But this judgment is a matter of perspective.  Acknowledging that we’re at the end of something means we’re at the start of something else.  We need to imagine futures that don’t much resemble the present—all kinds of futures, creative alternatives as well as frightening scenarios. The question is not how to preserve the status quo, but rather how to make our way in a new historical landscape. Today’s children will likely confront challenges we can hardly imagine in a radically altered, unrecognizable world. Can we responsibly continue preparing them for business as usual? And if not, what can we do to make them ready for a survival game in which wild cards rule?” 

Architects would do well to heed Dumanoski’s words. Indeed, it’s increasingly clear to me our profession must first comprehensively understand the interconnectedness of all things from a systems perspective and then assume a leadership role, serving as guides in the new historical landscape Dumanoski foresees. This is an unprecedented challenge, one I hope we’re up to taking on. 
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Summer reading is meant to be pleasurable. I want to enjoy what I read, but I also want to actively engage myself in that reading. I want to think, ponder, and expand my horizons. The four books on my summer table are certainly helping me do this. Check them out for yourself.  

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