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Back to the future?



The Big Picture: Sometimes it’s useful to look backwards to get a handle on the steps one needs to take to see real progress.  This is especially true within this movement for building a better planet-wide society.  Much has been tried already, and from those projects, much was learned.  Today we’ll take a glance at the Green Building Movement that began in the 1970’s.

For the Record: By now Green Building practices have a real active presence in the economy.  There are LEED standards that new and renovated buildings are following, and much innovation in the generation and storage of power on-site.  These are good, and more could be done in this arena.  Part of my own independent studies in the 1990’s acquainted me to longstanding projects as Arcosanti & Cosanti; in the western US states.  These folks bought 800 acres in Arizona, and over 50 years of development have carefully managed to thrive within only 20 acres.  So they have all they require, and are able to protect a huge swathe of land from encroachment.  Their focus on architecture is renowned; not least in the ways they managed to cool their dwellings without modern Air Conditioning, simply using good design principles.  No small feat, in a place that routinely tops 100 degrees Farenheit for much of the year.


Meanwhile in neighboring New Mexico and Colorado, the Earthships architectural movement was also taking off.  They too seek to work more closely with nature and its teachings; to create homes that work efficiently within their given situations.  I am lucky enough to have stayed in a few, they are truly beautiful as well.


Looking further south, we come upon the Centro de las Gaviotas project in Columbia. I’ll focus a bit more on Gaviotas, since it’s not terribly well represented online.

Their founder was Paolo Lugari, another architect with ideas similar to the above-mentioned folks.  It’s fair to say though, he and his team went bigger with their efforts.  Much bigger.  The Gaviotas folks had the notion to go out to the desert, and re-create a viable jungle with good animal life, good water (drinkable water) and good living for nearby villagers.  They succeeded beyond anyone’s hopes, and are now 5 1/2 decades into their project.  They have also been very clear about never patenting their innovations, rather they depend on folks such as the economist Gunter Pauli to take the ideas to other places; teach and share the technology around the world.  He has been doing that for quite some time now.  Some of their ideas are laid out in a book, “Gaviotas – a village to reinvent the world“, by Alan Weisman (Chelsea Green Publishing), and include:
  • drinking bottles made of plastic, but shaped like Lego brick toys so that the village kids use them for play after they are no longer good for holding water
  • a well-pump that is also a children’s see-saw, no motor / fuels required
  • regionally appropriate windmills
  • bricks made from waste by-product, for building
This latter idea has started moving around and catching on.  Just the other day I read about a startup making paver-stones, and I have to believe they probably got technical advice from the ZERI** folks. 
But there is so much more about Gaviotas that might inspire you.  It’s useful to know that they built their entire village with no outside support; during a long and protracted civil war.  The Government saw what they were doing, and left them alone.  The rebels saw what they were doing, and left them alone.  The drug lords also saw the value and let them build anyway.  Now they have a vibrant community that has eco-friendly buildings, a steady income from forest products, and are able to supply drinking water to folks for many many kilometers around them.  Not bad, for a college professor and some of his students, who simply had a notion way back in 1974.
The value in exploring these 3 models has several facets. By and large these folks all started with nothing, literally nothing.  And yet they managed to set good examples which can be drawn from today.  They are far from alone, of course.  Also, by embodying the practices of reducing waste and finding ways to turn disadvantages into reliable assets, their lessons are incredibly timely and applicable anywhere.  Including where you are.  


What they’re saying: “Better quality, Low price, and Zero Waste.  We’re doing this.  If your economists say that it cannot be done, sack them!” – Gunter Pauli

Next Steps: Folks like these certainly do inspire me, and hopefully they will be that for you as well.  Back here in the states, I am lucky enough to live near Berkeley, CA.  Which was the place where the entire ‘environmental’ movement began in this nation, way back in the late 1960’s.  So, we have facilities such as:
  • Urban Ore, who divert tons away from landfills every week, and sell usable products such as old doors and house furnishings
  • The Ecology Center, who likewise finds novel ways to repurpose trash into art, toys, etc…
  • Build It Green, a trade association that is on the forefront of teaching big ideas to the stodgy old building trades.  
Stuff is happening everywhere!  There is no shortage of folks such as this guy:
So, I could not be more lucky.  And so am happy to pass on leads such as these to you.  As well, I have 2 other essays on here Mobilized that may tie into this discussion:

{Late edit}  Here are a few more sites that are relevant to this discussion:

  • (Much more on this site, in the next essay)



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