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Design Under Sky discusses landscape architecture, the utilitarian but leaning towards the conceptual, thinking on modern occurrences and peripheral boundaries.  

DUS is the blog and personal design studio of Adam E. Anderson, a designer based out of the East Coast, currently a Critic at the Rhode Island School of Design, and a designer at Landworks Studio.

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Are We a Cancer on the Planet?

{25 years in six seconds via Archidose}

It's images like these, NASA satellite photos of 25 years of the growth of Las Vegas, that depict our existence as infectious growth on the land.  Maybe I'm just feeling particularly cynical today, but is there any other way to describe it.

Our incessant need for "things" (full disclosure, I'm re-reading Thoreau's Walden) drives our ambitions at a unfounded pace.  It began in the U.S. with Manifest Destiny, our seemingly inherent nomadic tendencies to wander, to find new lands, which is fine until our technology became so that we left scars on the land wherever we traveled.

It is a truly scary self-reflection to actually sit down and ask, "Why the fuck do we do it all?"  Why do we build tall buildings?  Why do we build giant corporations, hoard giant monies, build giant houses?  It's scary, because if you answer it correctly, much of what we've frantically pursued in our lives (including my own), just doesn't mean much.

Sure, we're a product of everyone before us, it would be naive of me to think, at this point, at least in most areas in America, there is opportunity to live as comfortably as Thoreau does at Walden Pond, the space and resources just aren't there.  But this paradigm shift we're reaching in sustainable living, and this global financial meltdown makes me think it's possible, and makes sense to return to a similar type of living.  Not living beyond what we actually need as humans, food and shelter.  Everything else might be considered frivolous pursuits.

{Simon Dale's hand-built home for $5,000}

A young couple in Whales is doing just that.  Managing on an annual income of just $10,000 went ahead and built their own cheap home anyway, sustainably, mostly out of materials from “a rubbish pile somewhere.”

They had wanted to spend as much time as possible at home while their two children were young. Their nearby woodlands ecological management work would have been impractical if they were paying a mortgage.  So with the help of some friends and people simply passing by completed their very low impact homemade house. A hand built unique setting for a charmed life for their two young toddlers. Completed in just four months. Total expenditure? $5,000. Tools? A chisel, a chainsaw and a hammer. Building expertise? Home owner Simon Dale says:

“My experience is only having a go at one similar house 2yrs before and a bit of mucking around in-between. This kind of building is accessible to anyone. My main relevant skills were being able bodied, having self belief and perseverance and a mate or two to give a lift now and again.”


Sustainable design and construction:

  1. Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  2. Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  3. Frame constructed of fallen trees from surrounding woodland
  4. Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally very easy to do
  5. Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  6. Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  7. Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture compared to cement
  8. Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  9. Other items were reclaimed from “a rubbish pile somewhere”: windows, wiring, plumbing

The Dale's are now working on a precedent setting settlement of nine low-impact smallholdings where families can live and work on the land for a simple livelihood.

So its clearly possible, and I'd like to think we have the capability to live without greed, but I think it would take a massive event to globally change our living mentalities at this point.

{Simon Dale's hand-built home for $5,000}


Reader Comments (4)

I've often considered this notion myself when looking at cities from above. Is city development an inevitable act of man, a continuing cancerous growth that eventually infiltrates uninfected parts of a land.

Perhaps this is a bit morbid, but "all in the name of progress" has perhaps led us down the primrose path.

It's a fantastically complicated mess we're in, but as much as I'd like to, I think a little house in the woods like Thoreau is out of reach for me and many others at this point. Perhaps things will change.
May 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Bevel

Your right, I was feeling a bit morbid when I wrote this, and I don't necessarily believe this is the contribution of man, but its tough not to see the similarities.

True a house in the woods may not be for everyone, but I do think we can definitely afford to at least take a second look at what's truly important as our personal footprints and consumption is concerned. All the items we need to make us happy, healthy, and wise are relatively inexpensive, and do not require much from the earth.

Thanks for you comment,

May 7, 2009 | Registered CommenterAdam E. Anderson
A great thought provoking article. It is obvious that at some point we will be out of room for "progress" I never liked that term because it implies we are making progress toward some unified human goal and the reality couldn't be more contrary. I think a total capitalist society breeds the "I want disease" mentality. Awareness, is the antidote. If people realized that progress is truly a metastasizing an unsustainable way of life, and societal value was placed on using less than more, society would change. Until a great catastrophe occurs, I don't think we'll learn the lesson in time. Many wish for more sustainable choices and while those choices are surfacing as a result of the economic downturn, I fear they will be short-lived. Let's hope that's not true.

I like your blog. It's fresh and interesting. I'll visit again! Thanks.
September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterN. Alton, RLA
You make some great points Nanette. I think it's interesting that 300 years ago many people considered "savages" were living very sustainably. Perhaps it is in our nature to continuously challenge, and expand the norms, whether its the right thing to do or not. We are trying to get back to sustainable living now, but unfortunately we've made it a lot more complicated because of our "progress."

Thanks for reading and the kind words, please do come back.

September 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterAdam E. Anderson

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