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ABSTRACT - W.I.R.E - The Wire

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N o 1 — 2 011

ABST RAC T

Ideas, fActs ANd Fictions


Land in Sight

The rural future

And other stories about the

quantification of culture,

cristall balls for financial bubbles

and the anti-jetlag pill

48


Content

Land IN SIGHT

12 The differences between town and country must remain

Interview with Mike Guyer

20 Grabopoly

By Michèle Wannaz

30 Of satellites and ploughshares

Interview with Jürg Minger

38 More trees!

By Guido Hager

44 The conversion: reversing the urban sprawl

By Matthias Gnehm

60 If land went public …

By Burkhard Varnholt

62 Court martial for Iseblitz

By Gerd Folkers

66 Restoring the urban-rural relationship

By Michael Pawlyn

74 Perspectives on the rural future

By Robert Huber and Alina Günter

84 Metamap

88 IdeAs

Innovation, trends and visions that form the spirit of the age

160 From Fiction to Science

166 Culture & Gadgets

180 Ag e n da


Restoring

the Urban-

Rural

Relationship

Cities have always depended on the countryside and the relationship

has been one of extraction and depletion. This reflected

a mindset that was rooted in the belief that humans

could ultimately conquer nature. New approaches such as

biomimicry offer the potential for a reconciliation with nature

and a restorative approach to the land.

By Michael Pawlyn

Cities became possible when agriculture had advanced to

produce a significant surplus and increasing numbers of

people were released from the drudgery of food production.

Urbanism therefore has always depended on the

countryside and, for most of the last two millennia, that

relationship has been based on a highly extractive model of

land use. Perhaps the most striking example can be found

in Julius Caesar who, after exhausting the fertility of the

land within the empire as it then stood, embarked on a militarised

shopping trip to North Africa. What he found was

a wooded landscape covered with cedar and cypress trees.

Over a short period the forests were cleared and farms established.

For the next 200 years North Africa supplied the


LAND in Sight

empire with half a million tonnes of grain per annum but,

gradually, deforestation, salinisation and over-exploitation

of the land took its toll. Productivity dropped, the climate

changed and the Sahara desert spread northwards.

The view that humans could tame the countryside

and ultimately dominate nature prevailed and in many

respects is still the mindset of the industrial age. Stanley

Kubrick captured this brilliantly in “The Ascent of Man”

which forms the twenty minute opening to “2001 a Space

Odyssey” and culminates in the cut from the bone thrown

into the air to the space-ship orbiting a distant planet – arguably

the most stunning time-cut in cinematic history.

The point that Kubrick appears to have been making was

that once humans had discovered fire and learnt how to

make tools and weapons, it was really just a matter of time

before we dominated nature and went beyond the limits of

our planet. Many of the advances that civilisation has produced

are indeed miraculous, like modern medicine and

the digital revolution, but we are now at a point in time

that demands an urgent rethink. At the start of the industrial

revolution people were scarce and resources were

abundant; now we have the opposite scenario.

Amory Lovins neatly captures the inadequacy of

“sustainability” when he says “If you asked one of your best

friends how their relationship was with their partner and

they said ‘Well, it’s sustainable’ you would probably say

‘I’m sorry to hear that.’” We need to move beyond sustainable

to restorative ways of existing and paradoxically one

of the most promising sources of solutions to our problematic

relationship with nature can be found in nature itself.

Biomimicry is a rapidly emerging discipline that looks

to nature as a source of inspiration for innovative solu-

68


tions. Comparing the design of man-made systems with

the way that ecosystems operate reveals some stark contrasts.

Ours tend to be simple, linear and extractive whereas

natural systems are complex, cyclical and regenerative.

Whereas mankind concentrates on the maximisation of a

single goal, life on earth has developed into zero waste systems

that run on current solar income and emit no longterm

toxins. Zooming in from systems to individual species

one can see some remarkable adaptations and highly

efficient structures that could inspire new man-made solutions

that achieve radical increases in resource efficiency.

One of the simplest justifications for biomimicry would be

to look at nature as being like a sourcebook of solutions

that have all benefited from a 3.8 billion year research and

development period and, given that level of investment, it

makes sense to use it.

It would be hard to find a better example of what

this discipline can offer than the Namibian fog-basking

beetle. This creature has evolved a way of harvesting its

own freshwater in a desert. The way it does this is that, at

night, it climbs to the top of a sand dune and, because it is

matt black, it is able to radiate heat to the night sky and become

slightly cooler than its surroundings. When the

moist breeze blows in off the sea droplets of water form on

the beetle’s back. Then just before sunrise it tips its shell

up, the water runs down to its mouth, it has a good drink

and goes off and hides for the rest of the day. The effectiveness

of beetle’s adaptation goes even further because it has

a series of bumps on its shell which are hydrophilic and between

them is a waxy finish which is hydrophobic. The effect

of this is that as the droplets form on the bumps they

stay in tight spherical form which means that they are

much more mobile than they would be if it was just a film


LAND in Sight

of water over the whole beetle’s shell. So, even when there

is only a small amount of moisture in the air, it is still able

to harvest it effectively. It’s a remarkable adaptation to a

resource-constrained environment and consequently, very

relevant to the kind of challenges we are going to be facing

over the next few decades.

We have used many of these ideas in the design of

the Sahara Forest Project which, ambitiously, proposes a restorative

model of land use – a way in which areas of desert

could be returned to vegetation. The scheme brings together

two existing technologies, the Seawater Greenhouse and

Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), for the first time. The

greenhouse uses the evaporation of seawater to create a cool,

humid growing environment for crops in arid regions and

condenses some of that humidity in a process that is effectively

identical to the beetle. CSP uses mirrors to focus the

sun’s heat to turn water to steam to drive turbines that generate

electricity and this technology offers the potential to deliver

vast quantities of energy to cities from the world’s deserts.

One of the striking things about the first Seawater

Greenhouse that was built was that it produced slightly more

water than it needed for the plants inside. This surplus was

spread on the land surrounding the greenhouse. The effect of

this, combined with the elevated humidity created around

the greenhouse, had a striking effect on the site. Prior to the

project’s construction the land was largely barren; one year

after completion the greenhouse was surrounded by new

vegetation. In this sense the scheme went beyond “sustainable”

to achieve “regenerative” design. The Sahara Forest Project,

by integrating CSP with the greenhouses, aims to push

this effect even further. Waste heat from the electricity generation

could be used to evaporate more seawater and potentially

create more fresh water while the shade created by the

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Namibian fog-basking beetle

CSP mirrors make it possible to grow crops underneath that

would not survive in the direct sunlight. The Sahara Forest

Project is a model for how we could produce food, fresh water

and clean energy in arid regions as well as restoring areas

of denuded land.

Our best chance of creating an abundant future lies

neither in vainly trying to dominate nature nor in simply

preserving small pieces of countryside, but in reaching a reconciliation

with nature in which we can retain the many brilliant

things that civilisation has developed but rethink the

things that have proved to be poorly adapted to the long

term. Biomimicry may well prove to be one of the most powerful

tools in facilitating the shift from the industrial age to

the ecological age of mankind and in brokering a deal between

the city and the country that sees both as essential

parts of the same living system.


LAND in Sight

Sahara Forest Project

72


Michael Pawlyn is the founder of Exploration Architecture

which develops transformative design solutions to contemporary

challenges. He recently delivered a talk featured on

TED. Com, is currently working on the Sahara Forest Project

and has written a book titled “Biomimicry in Architecture”

which is due for publication in September 2011.


Contact

sia@thewire.ch

Editorial staff

Simone Achermann

Editor in chief, Researcher W.I.R.E.

Dr Stephan Sigrist

Head of W.I.R.E.

Dr Burkhard Varnholt

CIO, Bank Sarasin & Cie AG

Prof. Dr Gerd Folkers

Director, Collegium Helveticum

Editorial contributors

Daniel Bütler, Michèle Wannaz, Florian Huber,

Beate Kittl, Annina Coradi, Sarah Jäggi

Design

Kristina Milkovic

Head of Graphic Design W.I .R.E.

Graphic contributors

Marcel Morach

Sub-editing and Printing

Neidhart + Schön AG

Partner

Neue Zürcher Zeitung Publishing

Disclaimer: this publication is for information purposes only. Inasmuch as reference is made

herein to Bank Sarasin & Cie AG, this constitutes neither an offer nor an inviation by

Bank Sarasin & Cie AG to purchase or sell securities. The sole aim of this publication is

communication. It should also be noted that developments occurring in the past are not

reliable indicators for developments in the future.

Picture credits:

Cover illustration: Stephan Troll (www.trollinteriors.ch)

Unless otherwise noted, the rights belong to the authors or their legal successors.

We have endeavoured to find the owners of all rights. Should we nevertheless not have

succeeded in notifying any of the owners, they are requested to contact W.I.R.E.

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