Life Following Life: The Built Tries to Follow the Natural.

I have no doubt posted the transcript of the speech, You are Brilliant and the Earth is Hiring. But if you haven’t had a chance to read it or if you just need a pick me up, go ahead and take 10 minutes and read it. In it, Paul Hawken essentially evokes Buckminster Fuller’s ideas on spaceship earth; that it is “so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seat belts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.”  He reminds us that our call to arms is to make sure that we keep sailing through space, relatively unshaken, even if we are on a totally different planet.  That is the purpose of our generation’s existence: to protect, preserve and re-invent.

I thought of this speech today while watching this month’s installment of Currents, in the New Yorker. In it, Paul Goldberger, the magazine’s architecture critic sat with Richard Cook, a partner at Cook+Fox Architects. These are the guys that brought us the Bank of America Leed Platinum building. At one point, while Cook is discussing the variety of nature that he watched blossom outside his window atop a green roof, he says nature is complex but it is simply “life following life,” and that this is a guiding force in the new architecture that they are thinking about. An architecture where the distinctions between the built and natural are blurring.

It is a 25 minute video, which seems like hours in our rapid media world, but it covers logistical issues: LEED standards have been criticized, are they enough? And more conceptual ideas: How do we start to build things, en masse, that are as beautiful as natural things? Cook alludes to a project they are working on in Syracuse called Live | Work | Home, a house that mimics the light that penetrates the floor of a rainforest through its canopy.  He discusses biophilia, E.O. Wilson’s idea that, simply put, humans are intrinsically drawn to other living systems. And this is precisely what made me think of the Paul Hawken speech that I initially alluded to. In it, he reminds us that we are all here because one cell, said yes, to another. “Life creates conditions that are conducive to more life.” Now, its time to get the built “life” of the planet, our cities, on board in this exercise in reciprocity and resilience.

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