Design for human ecosystems: Landscape, land use and natural resources

Design for human ecosystems: Landscape, land use and natural resources

291 HUMAN ECOSYSTEMS Design for Human Ecosystems: Landscape. Land Use and Natural Resources by John Tillman Lyle. Van Nostrand Reinhold. New York, 1...

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291

HUMAN ECOSYSTEMS

Design for Human Ecosystems: Landscape. Land Use and Natural Resources by John Tillman Lyle. Van Nostrand Reinhold. New York, 1985, price E37.50, ISBN 0-44225943-3. In Design for Human Ecosystems, the overall intent of the book is to describe a methodology and techniques for shaping the landscape, developing land use policies/decisions and managing natural resources in ways which are compatible (sustainable) in the same context as natural ecosystems. A major premise to Lyle’s thesis is the acceptance of Eugene Odurn’s division of the total landscape into a series of basic ecological roles. Odum’s four categories are as follows: the production areas; the protective or natural areas; the compromise areas; the urban industrial areas. If we accept these categories, as Lyle does, the most pressing and challenging planning/design issues are therefore found in those “compromise zones”. To the author, the term “human ecosystems” is much more appropriate for those areas where humans and natural processes interact. The author points out that we must recognize that “when we make a plan for a piece of land. or even alter it in a seemingly minor way, we are designing an ecosystem”. Therefore any design decision will generate a cause and effect relationship that must be understood even if only in a very general way. It is through these predictive techniques that one can monitor a landscape ecological process and ultimately determine the best management philosophy or direction. It seems that the importance of ecological principles and their role in the planning/design process might offer a new direction or era for the profession. Ecological issues and their relationship to planning and design have been an important component of the design pro-

cess, and no doubt will aid in the nurturing of landscape architecture as a discipline. In 1986, Design for Human Ecosystems received a Merit Award for Communication from the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Awards Jury (refer to Landscape Architecture, September-October, 1986, Vol. 76, No. 5, pp. 106 and 111). Comments by the jury included: “ . ..a wonderfully timely analysis for working ecosystems created by chance or by design” and “... it will serve a real role in the classroom”. The book is well written in a format that is easy to read, with excellent hand-drawn black and white illustrations, computer maps, graphs, charts and tables to illustrate specific processes. Eighteen case studies, located primarily in the western region of the United States, are used to illustrate specific points on how ecological processes, energy and nutrient flows are incorporated into the design process; from policy decisions to site selection and management decisions. The case studies are an outgrowth of two experimental design groups: the Laboratory of Experimental Design and the 606 Graduate Design Studio at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California, U.S.A. The book is divided into three major sections: “Scales of Concern”, “Design Processes and Methods”; “Modes of Ecological Order”. An excellent sense of continuity exists between each section and chapter as well as on the jacket cover (designed by John Odam) which is highly appropriate to the content. In Part One, entitled “Scales of Concern” (Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 ), the primary focus is on the relationship of scales in the design process. Lyle briefly discusses James Feiblemen’s “Theory of Integrative Laws” which includes twelve “laws” and six “rules” as a basis for defining hierarchical relationships between various planning and design scales. Feiblemen’s

theory, in turn, has been transformed by the author into a multi-layered pyramidal concept of integrative levels. At the top is the whole earth going down in scale to the “subcontinent”, the “region”, the “plan unit”, the “project”. the “site” and ultimately concluding with the “construction scale” to form the broad base of the pyramid. Each level of integration is discussed and explained in detail using the case studies as a means to focus on specific issues or problems. The second part, entitled. “Design Process and Methods” (Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9). focuses primarily on a series of stages and themes of design. One key point the author makes is that the “design process’ is a relatively new. mid-twentieth century phenomenon in landscape planning and design. The author is concerned that while the design processes of research, analysis, synthesis and evaluation are reasonable scientific methods, the complexity of ecosystem design and its linear nature results in a lack of precision and predictability. An integral part of the design process must take into consideration the “working ofthe human mind”. which implies that if complex and creative solutions are to emerge, both left and right brain activity are necessary. This idea of left-side, right-side brain activity goes hand in hand with the proposed design concept of proposing and disposing of solutions. A similar context occurs in nature through the creation of adaptive processes. This process will hopefully lead to more diverse possibilities and. in turn, towards greater sustainability. As a rational design approach to human ecosystems, seven themes are proposed: incepinformation, tion. modeling, possibilities. predictions, plan and finally. management. It is in the management phase where the unpredictability aspect of ecosystem design plays a major role in the balancing of man’s destructive tendencies with the natural environment. Each theme is elaborated upon and explored

using several of the case studies. Part Three, entitled “Modes of Ecological Order” (Chapters 10, 1 1. 12, 13, 14, I5 and I6 ), focusses on three modes of order: structure, which is the composition of plant and animal species and the abiotic element of the landscape: function, which refers to energy and material flows; locational factors, which refers to horizontal and vertical spatial distribution. The author points out that in order to act in a responsible manner, we should understand the consequences of our policy decisions and/or developmental actions upon the landscape. It is through these modes that the dynamic changes in the landscape are considered in the development of alternatives and ultimately, in the understanding of the role that probability plays in our design and management. Thus, the real emphasis of ecosystematic design lies in its ability to predict what will happen and the use of management practices to strive in a direction that is beneficial to both man and nature’s substantial requirements. In conclusion, Design for Human Ecosystems is an excellent attempt to fill the void in utilizing ecological information in an application format to the traditional design process. As a classroom resource it will provide an cxcellent starting point for the neophyte as well as for professionals to become exposed to and familiar with the integration of highly technical ecological principles in the design process. The sections on energy and material flows will require interested individuals to pursue additional readings on basic ecological principles authored by Eugene Odum. The references supplied will provide an excellent starting point.