Monday, August 12, 2013

Simple Structure:Complex Function

Today I will have my BAC graduate students work on a problem that is at the heart of sustainable design: how do we make simple designs that fulfill complex functions?

As a botanist I am well acquainted with plant form and function. It's no secret that plants have evolved very simple forms that accommodate very complex functions. The amazing thing about plants (and other organisms as well) is that the more they have evolved, the simpler, more compact, and more streamlined their designs. 

So here's the challenge. After a short warm-up walk through a great urban design, the Boston Fens--a few steps from the BAC, we'll return to the lab to do some work. 

I will set the students to work with the new Zometool building modules we bought specially for this project. There are many amazing things about Zometool. One of them is, that as you start building a structure you begin to establish "rules" for how things fit together. What you wish to accomplish is dependent upon the rules you set up. So first, I will ask my students to be cognizant of, and jot down the "rules" they establish. 

Second, Zometool is great for individual or group work. I will ask students to work in their small groups of five, the same groups that they will work in to present projects at the end of the week. I want this to be a kind of warm up group experience because the rest of this week's intensive becomes well, more intense in a group sense. 

Finally, I will ask the groups to build me simple structures that can perform complex functions. The functions can be imaginary. Students can build landscapes, transportation systems, urban agglomerations, even abstract shapes. But they have to be prepared to present on 1) their "rules" and 2) their structure--how it is simple and how it will work in complex ways. 

I will have a couple of microscopes around with plant specimens available. People can refer to these as they wish, or just space out at the microscope to take a break from all the "making." In a broad sense they can use plants as a design model but I'm hoping to apply plant design in its broadest framework--a simple structure with complex functions. 

My goals for this project are many. Group collaboration, tactile work, relaxation. But an unspoken goal is in the embryonic development of this week's project. Keep it simple. Look closely at the site. Feel it and work from within it, rather than imposing your ideas. Don't rush to slap on green roofs and green walls. Sustainable things aren't fads. Sustainability means sticking around. And plants have done that for about 350 million years. 

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