Our Ecological Future and the Meaning of Sustainability

It’s strange that we are reading “Ecology and the Architectural Imagination” since it is written by Brook Muller, a University of Oregon professor in the Architecture and Environmental Studies programs.  I recently graduated from UO with an B.S. in Environmental Studies and never took a class from Muller, but his arguments are familiar in content.

In the first few pages of this book Muller presents an argument misleadingly coined “The destabilizing influence of ecology” which can be basically summed up by saying that architectural design will have to become more open-ended. He says that openness isn’t vagueness but doesn’t spend enough time explaining the concept to really make it clear.  Hopefully it will be further addressed later in the book, but I think for now we can work to further refine the statement. We need to first recognize and assess the risks and possibilities that each region and unique site poses. This index makes it possible to assess whether we need to design for more resilient or more temporary structures. This knowledge and understanding allows us to create a built environment that is more responsive, flexible, and inherently more environmentally friendly.

In “The Post Carbon Reader” I found a variety of readings that seem like they introduce modern ecological issues accurately and fairly.  I like that it starts with sustainability since this is a term that is often used, but frequently not fully understood. There are many stories and metaphors that are often used to describe it, such as seven generations, but those are generally only useful for discussion after a proper definition has been reached. Since it is determined by the continued high functioning of the biological systems that we live within, there are many factors at play. Perhaps the most basic definition of sustainability then, is the undertaking of any action that allows or encourages the continued high functioning of our ecosystem. The axioms outlined cover all the bases of sustainability fairly well and include the effective management and use of resources, the release of pollutants at levels low enough to be filtered and removed, the proper disposal of waste, and manufacturing and consumption of goods at levels that meet these needs.

Although this requires a variety of specific observations and actions, all are encompassed in the process of building and maintaining resilience within the systems that sustain life on earth. This is the most sensible way to define and begin to address these complicated issues and is addressed in the next chapter (Awesome!), so there will be more to come on that next week.


  1. It seems to me Ryan like you have a clear understanding of the subject and the ideas that the authors are trying to get across. Like you I found a lot of reading on the ” The Post Carbon Reader” to be fair and accurately reported however my biggest issues is the lack of solution. Often I find my self shock and depressed after reading certain articles on the PCR but I believe the tipping point hasn’t arrived yet, but we have to do more as designers and architects to find solutions. Great comments on the subjects


  2. Like Erion, I find myself mildly depressed after reading about the state of our planet. I think it will be our generations duty to be innovative and find solutions for the damage that has been caused. Part of me thinks that architecture school should be geared more towards that specific point. Even as an independent study, how will we re-generate what has been lost?


  3. Right now Oregon is a leader in sustainable urban planning and policy in the US and it seems like they are also very strong in sustainability education and research too, which is also a reason for their success.


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