Ayres Knowledge Center Learning From Nature | Page 2

This isn ’ t a Nature is good ; humans are bad rant . While some may hold that view , I don ’ t . We are part of Nature . I think there is a lot we can learn from Nature that will help us be better design professionals . So what are Nature ’ s rules and how do they impact the built structures and places we ’ ve created ? Can we borrow Nature ’ s rules to benefit how we design ? I think we can .
Human beings are primary change engineers 1 ( PCEs ). We aren ’ t the only PCEs 2 , but as PCEs go we might be about the best at re‐engineering our environments to fit our specific needs in pretty short order . Unfortunately , much of what we make lacks lasting power . Heck , we don ’ t even think of design in that way , at least not anymore . No sane design professional has the audacity to declare today they are designing a new , fill in the blank , to last a thousand years ! That wasn ’ t always true . In the past , the Incas , Mayans , Egyptians , Babylonians , and the English Crown , to name a few ( and certainly not the only examples ) all envisioned unending dynasties literally housed in structures expected to last equally long ( i . e . forever ). But they haven ’ t and they didn ’ t . Nature , however , left to her own devices , has very little trouble building long-lasting places for organisms 3 . Nature can play the long game better than us because very early in time she established some key rules that everything , and I mean EVERYTHING must follow . As designers of spaces built in Nature , it ’ s in our best interest to understand her rules .
Before considering some of Nature ’ s rules , we need to first establish a truism . Nature always wins . She made the game , heck she made the deck of cards we use to play the game so , you either play by her rules , or you get kicked off the game board . When we don ’ t pay attention to Nature ’ s rules we pay for it . Ignoring or overcoming Nature costs us a lot of money , energy 4 , and , in the worst cases , can lead to disasters and death .
Let ’ s make sure this first point is well understood , it is axiomatic to understanding the relationship between the structures and places we humans design and build , and Nature ; Nature Always Wins . No design by any human is worth the paper its drawn on if the designer doesn ’ t understand this most primary of truths . And to be fair , most designers do understand this , at least implicitly if not overtly . I suspect most design professionals have never thought of their work in this way , but all design is governed by this truth .
Primary change engineers , are ecosystem engineers that are autogenic , capable of changing their surroundings via their own
physical structures ( such as root systems , or leaves ) and allogenic , capable of changing their surroundings through mechanical or
other means . Jones et al . ( 1994 ), defined six factors that determined the scale of an ecosystem engineer , they are as follows :
a .
The anticipated amount of activity that can be accomplished within the organism ’ s lifetime ;
b .
The population density of the organism ;
c .
The spatial distribution of the organism ;
d .
The duration of an organism ’ s occupation of a region ;
e .
The type , formation , and permanency of construction , artifacts , and impacts and their durability in the absence of the engineer ;
f .
The number and type of resources that are directly and indirectly controlled by the engineering activity .
Many organisms are PCEs , for example elephants have been known to rearrange whole landscapes in days , ants build mounds , gophers dig holes , wasps build nests . The classic example is the beaver , who constructs a physical structure that alters in negative and positive ways , an entire ecosystem .
Hey , you object , what about the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs ? Or maybe you just object , if Nature is so good at this how come we don ’ t have dinosaurs , or the dodo , or whatever your favorite objection will be . First , my response is there ’ s only so much we can tackle in the brief space allocated to this essay . But you are right , Nature didn ’ t do a very good job ensuring the dinosaurs are still around . But in the context of Rule No . 2 , below I ’ d also suggest any one organism is a pretty low investment . I ’ ll also note , this essay is about highlighting generalizations . A simple rule of philosophy is to base a rule on generalizations not exceptions .
In today ’ s world , often money is a unit of energy , we constantly balance our ability to directly purchase energy sources : food , fuel , or electricity , or indirectly purchase energy : labor , cab fare , or even eating out .