Ecological design

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ecological design is defined by Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan as "any form of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with living processes."[1] Ecological design is an integrative ecologically responsible design discipline.

It helps connect scattered efforts in green architecture, sustainable agriculture, ecological engineering, ecological restoration and other fields. The “eco” prefix was used to ninety sciences including eco-city, eco-management, eco-technique, eco-tecture. It was first used by John Button in 1998. The inchoate developing nature of ecological design was referred to the “adding in “of environmental factor to the design process, but later it was focused on the details of eco-design practice such as product system or individual product or industry as a whole.[2] By including life cycle models through energy and materials flow, ecological design was related to the new interdisciplinary subject of industrial ecology. Industrial ecology meant a conceptual tool emulating models derived from natural ecosystem and a frame work for conceptualizing environmental and technical issues.

Living organisms exist in various systems of balanced symbiotic relationships. The ecological movement of the late twentieth-century is based on understanding that disruptions in these relationships has led to serious breakdown of natural ecosystems. In human history, technological means have resulted in growth of human populations through fire, implements and weapons. This dramatic increase in explosive population contributed the introduction of mechanical energies in machine production and there have been improvements in mechanized agriculture, manufactured chemical fertilizers and general health measures. Although the earlier invention inclined energy adjusting the ecological balance, population growth following the industrial revolution led to abnormal ecological change.[3]

Ecological design issues and the role of designers[edit]

Since the Industrial Revolution, many propositions in the design field were raised with unsustainable design principles. The architect-designer Victor Papanek suggested that industrial design has murdered by creating new species of permanent garbage and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air.[4] For these issues, R. Buckminster Fuller, who was invited as University Professor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 1960s, demonstrated how design could play a central role in identifying major world problems between 1965 and 1975. That included following contents:[5]

  • Review and analysis of world energy resources
  • Defining more efficient uses of natural resources such as metals
  • Integrating machine tools into efficient systems of industrial production

In the 1992 conference, ‘The Agenda 21: The Earth Summit Strategy to Save Our Planet”, a proposition was put forward that our world is on a path of energy production and consumption that cannot be sustained. The report drew attention to Individuals and groups around the world who have a set of principles to develop strategies for change that might be effective in world economics and trade policies, and the design professions will play a role in it. Namely, those meant that design profession becomes not what new products to make, but how to reinvent design culture likely to be realized. He noted designers firstly have to realize that design has historically been a dependent, contingent practice rather than one based on necessity. The design theorist, Clive Dilnot noted design becomes once again a means of ordering the world rather than merely of shaping products.[6] As a broader approach, the conference of ‘Agenda 21: The Earth Summit Strategy to Save Our Planet’ 1992, emphasized that designers should challenge for facing human problems. These problems were mentioned to six themes: quality of life, efficient use of natural resources, protecting the global commons, managing human settlements, the use of chemicals and the management of human industrial waste, and fostering sustainable economic growth on a global scale.[7]


  • 1971 Ian McHarg, in his book "Design with Nature", popularized a system of analyzing the layers of a site in order to compile a complete understanding of the qualitative attributes of a place. McHarg gave every qualitative aspect of the site a layer, such as the history, hydrology, topography, vegetation, etc. This system became the foundation of today's Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a ubiquitous tool used in the practice of ecological landscape design.
  • 1978 Permaculture. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren coin the phrase for a system of designing regenerative human ecosystems. (Founded in the work of Fukuoka, Yeoman, Smith, etc..
  • 1994 David Orr, in his book "Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect", compiled a series of essays on "ecolgocial design intelligence" and its power to create healthy, durable, resilient, just, and prosperous communities.
  • 1994 Canadian biologists John Todd and Nancy Jack Todd, in their book "From Eco-Cities to Living Machines" describe the precepts of ecological design.
  • 2000 Ecosa Institute begins offering an Ecological Design Certificate, teaching designers to design with nature.
  • 2004 Fritjof Capra, in his book "The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living", wrote this primer on the science of living systems and considers the application of new thinking by life scientists to our understanding of social organization.
  • 2004 K. Ausebel compiled compelling personal stories of the world's most innovative ecological designers in "Nature's Operating Instructions."


There are some clothing companies that are using several ecological design methods to change the future of the textile industry into a more environmentally friendly one. Recycling used clothing to minimize the use of resources, using biodegradable textile materials to reduce the impact on the environment, and using plant dyes instead of poisonous chemicals to improve the appearance of fabric.[8]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Van der Ryn S, Cowan S(1996). “Ecological Design”. Island Press, p.18
  2. ^ Anne-Marie Willis (1991), “An international Eco Design” conference
  3. ^ John McHale (1969), “An Ecological Overview”, in The Future of the Future, New York; George Braziller, pp.66-74
  4. ^ Victor Papanek (1972), “Design for the Real World: Human Ecological and social change”, Chicago: Academy Edition, ix.
  5. ^ Victor Margolin (1997), “Design for a Sustainable World”, Design Issues, vol14, 2. pp. 85
  6. ^ Clive Dilnot (1982), “Design as a Society Significant Activity: An Introduction”, Design studies 3:2. pp.144
  7. ^ Victor Margolin (1988), “Design for a Sustainable World”, Design Issues, vol14,2. pp. 91
  8. ^ Taieb, Amine Hadj et al. (2010). "Sensitising Children to Ecological Issues through Textile Eco-Design". International Journal of Art & Design Education, vol. 29, 3. p313-320

Further reading[edit]

  • From Bauhaus to Ecohouse: A History of Ecological Design. By Peder Anker, Published by Louisiana State University Press, 2010. ISBN 0-8071-3551-8.
  • Ecological Design. By Sim Van der Ryn, Stuart Cowan, Published by Island Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-59726-141-8 (2nd ed., 1st, 1996)
  • Ignorance and Surprise: Science, Society, and Ecological Design. By Matthias Gross, Published by MIT Press, 2010. ISBN 0-262-01348-7

External links[edit]