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Studying in the Red Buttes Wilderness, Oregon
The Nature of Design reconnects designers with their animal natures, taking the pedagogy of design beyond its rectangular classrooms, and out into the living, breathing, photosynthesizing world. We track projects and ideas in deep ecological design at natureofdesign.org and our courses research how backcountry immersion and experiential study of ecology influence creativity and the design/build process. 

Walpi is a Hopi pueblo in what is now called Arizona. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited sites in the Americas.

The Tewa village of Walpi, here photographed by Edward Curtis, melds seamlessly with its landscape and is one of the older continuously inhabited sites in America. It  has been continuously inhabited for 1100 years.

Modern humans are terribly good at transforming raw earth, at a massive scale, into toxic “waste” products that ecosystems cannot reassimilate. We do this when we make products, develop energy, and when we house ourselves. By all measures, we are doing this too well, and too fast, re-making our planet into one that is less and less conducive to life.

We need to change how our species makes and creates. But simply exchanging “green” materials for “conventional” ones won’t cut it. What’s required is a revolutionary re-wiring of how we design and build our habitat, derive our energy, and make our things. The mainstream of design needs a new worldview, and quick!

Luckily, the instructions for this “new” design philosophy are intrinsic in our own biology and the ecosystems we live within. The field of biomimicry is rolling out nature’s blueprints, and the concept of biophilia is helping us to see that this is good news for our stressed out, isolated, and medicated modern selves. Indeed ecological designers and permaculturalists are re-envisioning a world in which humans regenerate their own landscapes, creating thriving ecosystems whose biodiversity feeds our souls just as it does our bellies.

This strong, beautiful, and biodegradable Amazonian urodid moth cocoon suggests it might be time to take a few cues from our nonhuman friends when it comes to ecological architecture. Photo by Jeff Cremer, perunature.com

An Amazonian urodid moth cocoon. Photo by Jeff Cremer, perunature.com

But we can take ecological design even deeper if we acknowledge that how we learn so often trumps what we learn. Sitting in front of the glowing tsunami of electronic information can introduce our brains to important abstract concepts, but it will not address the fact that in order to design like we are part of nature, we need to authentically experience ourselves as natural. Ecological literacy may be taught in the classroom, but ecological fluency must be earned outdoors, through observation and physical inquiry.

Our counter-evolutionary cultural insistence on living physically and emotionally separate from our support (eco)systems has created a dangerous negative feedback loop. We interrupt this loop whenever we spend real time experiencing what is wild and nonhuman. It’s our imperative as designers to consciously translate that experience back into our habitat, so that we can create space that awakens because it is alive.

Nature of Design creator Malena Marvin

Always exploring the dance and pattern between human and nature.

{about malena marvin}

Though I’ve been a wilderness kayaking and backpacking guide, sustainable design/build business owner, and longtime environmental advocate, I’m most inspired by writing about and creating places where art, nature, and design overlap. A hardcore ecotopian, I believe we have the power to transform our built environments into ones that buzz and blossom with the patterns of our natural environments.

I’ve logged hundreds of days as a backcountry educator, pioneered field-based ecological design instruction in Vermont and taught ecology and political science to college students on extended sea kayaking expeditions in Alaska. I’ve performed field biology for public agencies, as well as watershed conservation and advocacy in the nonprofit sector. I have a Certificate in Sustainable Building and Design from Yestermorrow Design/Build School, an MS in Environmental Education from Southern Oregon University, where I focused on aquatic ecology, and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Reed College, where I studied environmental history.

Contact me by sending an email malena (dot) marvin (at) gmail !

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