Planetary Architecture
SYSTEM by Matt Taylor - 1987
superimposed over NASA shot of Earth and Moon in half eclipse
The Case
SCAN: part one of three

An Introduction:

With global mapping software it is possible to see Earth as a single system and to relate its parts to the whole.

We are entering a period of explosive human growth and weather change. What ARCHITECTURE now has to deal with is radically different from the focus of previous centuries. “Green” is wonderful and necessary - it is not, in itself, good enough.

In the future, we will require close feedback between the structures of climate cycles and weather patterns, the advancement and use of human technology, population growth and migration, geopolitics, social-economic-political trends, human evolution and augmentation, and architectural theory and practice. There is nowhere, that I can see, a response by ARCHITECTURE, as an institution, that is requisite with this challenge.

We are designing a planet - by default.

The typical human pattern is to not pay attention to long range trends until we run smack into the consequences.Then, to react. Both the denial phase and the subsequent over-reaction is justified by the misapplication of the concept practical. This is utilitarianism at its worst where the short view and “we cannot afford it” is used to justify drifting into trouble and, then, working out of it in a way that ensures the cycle will be repeated again and again generating even greater problems in the future.

This seems to serve the purpose of those presently in power - be it political, economic or persuasive - but not the requirements of humanity nor life on this planet.

Thus, the profession of Architecture is acting in a way that is morally bankrupt and ethically derelict. ARCHITECTURE is a slave of unreal-estate. The (false) ego gratification and economic rewards of doing buildings - as the focus of architecture - is making a tragedy of the commons on a global scale.

This is not to impugn all individual architects. It is the SYSTEM that I address. This system is in transformation. We are in the midst of a paradigm shift. It is not the past which concerns me - it is the future. It is the system of architecture - from its theory, to its schools, to the profession, to how architecture is practiced - that has to be rethought and recreated.

This condition has to be broadly pointed out. Its THESIS demonstrated not to be flawed; then, and only then, will it be appropriate to hold both the profession and its members accountable for the consequences of their daily practice.

I believe, however, that the PROFESSION of Architecture is derelict because it is the role of its academic theorists and professional societies to advance the philosophy and practice models of the art and to perform Weak Signal Research relevant to the profession, its future, and the interest of those ARCHITECTURE serves. In today’s world - and even more so in the world to come - “those served” must be individual clients, business, government, all humanity, all life forms and GAIA. To serve less, is to destroy all.

I do not believe that codes and regulations will facilitate a worthy outcome. Nor do I believe a “market” compromised by politically protected inside deals and composed of uniformed “consumers” will net out anything but global disaster.

I do not believe that the scale nor traditions of the nation State create the appropriate political forum to resolve the conflicts that will arise as we proceed to turn Earth into a human artifact. Bio-economic regions have to form that can act as the center piece of several recursive layers of dialog, design and action. In such an organizational architecture, properly facilitated, site specific and global interests can be aligned with harmony and art. This Paper proposes a means for accomplishing this.

There are many, many aspects of architecture worthy of concern and focused effort. If we fail to appropriately address the reality of PLANETARY ARCHITERCURE and its challenges, all the rest will go for naught. All Architecture, now, is Planetary Architecture, recognized or not - addressed or not.

At the present rate and magnitude of building, we do not have a day to lose.

link: Notebook pages that formed the basis of this introduction
This Paper makes the following argument: That humans have been altering the planet for at least ten thousand years. The pace and scale of this increased exponentially with the industrial revolution. In the last few decades both rate and scope have increased, again, such that we are rapidly approaching a “tipping point” from which there is no going back. The consequence of this is, over the next generation, Planet Earth will become a human artifact. The question that remains is if the result will be a dead planet covered with asphalt or a living organism, enjoyed by all life, the result of a global effort of unprecedented scale and collaboration. I argue that it is possible to design for each individual human, animal and plant and planetary health. That Earth can be a garden enjoyed by all life and an expression of human creativity - and a practical tool to facilitate the living of a myriad of lifestyles. It is possible to install an infrastructure that supports human and other life equally without causing the system, Gaia, distress. This cannot be accomplished by the means at hand nor by the governance structures that now exist. This task must be the main focus of ARCHITECTURE, over the next couple of generations, and that it will take the participation of all Earth’s people and their institutions not only to get the job done but to get it right.
This Paper is organized in three steps: SCAN (part one), FOCUS (part two) and ACT (part three). Scan will review the evidence and build the argument for action. Focus will look at the options and consentrate on economic and organizational challenges. Act will propose a method whereby a global effort can be launched and sustained.
The Evidence and Reason to Act
It boarders on embarrassment to write this section. The evidence is all around us. Although none of us can possess all of the information that indicates it nor comprehend it in its totality, we each have access to enough information and direct experience to see that we have a serious problem in the making. It is only the short term habit of our species, and the almost religious faith that “somehow” markets sort it all out no matter how stupid and blindly we all act, that allows us to go on day-to-day as if nothing unusual is afoot. It is this prevalent human habit that may someday render us to the dust bin of history.
No, it is not for lack of information, experience or even values that the issues raised in this paper are not being actively discussed in public forums today. It is the FRAME in which we hold the relevant information and our hidden design assumptions about what what we are capable of doing - or not - and, our notion of economics that obscures the obvious. In what follows, I intend to re frame the (non) debate and to offer an alternative view point of humanity is capable of accomplishing. If i am successful the potential of Planetary Architecture will burt into the sunlight of human imagination.
Rate of Change

It is the rate in the rate of change that continues to increase. This is a compounding phenomena. With this, partly driving it and partly driven by it - yet independent of it - is the increase in complexity. We constantly adjust to the present rate thinking that this will be sufficient. The consequence is that we are continually surprised by the increase in the rate. There is little in our history nor learned thinking patterns that prepare us for compounding phenomena. The only discipline which seems to appreciate it is the investment community but then only on the extraction side of the ledger.

While it is the sum of human activity that is the principle cause of these increases, there is nothing that indicates that our perceptions, processes, organizations and what we pay attention to is requisite with this ever increasing rate of change and complexity on complexity.

I was asked at a lecture I was giving over 30 years ago “how did I measure change?” My answer was “any way you want in any dimension or field that you wish.” The questioner, who was taking the position that things were not changing so fast, was not happy with my answer - he thought that I was being glib. I was not. I meant to be taken literally. Look around you. Remember 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago. My measure, since I became aware of such things, goes back to the 1940s and WWII.

And now, it is not just human society that is changing. Our planet is changing, multiple species of plants and animals are changing, we humans are changing - all at an unprecedented (in recorded history) rate. And, this is not only a change in rate, and the rate of the rate, in many cases it is a change in the kind of change that we are experiencing.

link for reverences and examples
Kind of Change
Human augmentation is a change in kind. The implications are worth decades of study, the circumstance is that augmentation will be upon us well within a decade.
Human augmentation is not new. It is, in fact, the story of human invention and technology. The difference today is this: the scale, scope and nature of human augmentation is significantly different than in the past - even, the very recent past. In the near future, augmentation will challenge the definition of what it means to be human, or an animal, or a plant - and, in time, a machine. As “intellegence” becomes imbedded in everything, the distinction between life and non-life begins to blur. This one issue changes the game.
link for reverences and examples
Scope of Change
Change has been taking place around the globe since day one. Not, however, at this present rate, not at the variety of the kinds of change we are experiencing, and not all over the globe all at once. Taken together, this is an unprecedented condition. Even in sophisticated economies, the reporting cycles lag sufficiently behind the reality as to make the information on marginally useful. Anticipatory design is necessary but the majority of the world’s leadership is not even functioning in real time.
link for reverences and examples
Implications of a Global Consumer Society
The consumer society as we now experience it emerged in the United States in the period 1945 to 1955. It has been building up steam ever since. It is now going global. As a ubiquitous phenomena, there has never been anything remotely like this in the known history of the world. And, CONSUMING is what this economy is about. Wghat is being consumed? Wrong question. What is not?
link for reverences and examples
The Abuse of Capitalism
When I speak of Capitalism I mean FREE ENTERPRISE. And in the knowledge-based, free-agent hunter-gather economy which is emerging, an economy which places a premium on the ability to design, it is human capital that is important. What we have today is a mixed economy which is a mixture of crony-capitalism and State Capitalism. In the US, the trend to combine, political power with religious, financial and military power puts us on the edge of falling into the abyss of a theocratic state. The creative power of capitalism chained to a growing pre-Enlightenment society is a dangerous combination. It is like putting a 500 horsepower engine into a go cart. Consumption whipped up by sensational media, laced with fear messages and built on a collapsing school system is producing a society of variety-seeking drug addicts. Reality (!?) TV, celebrity news and super-hyped “professional” sports becomes the new Roman Circus. Not a good time, place and environment to deeply contemplate the complexities of the future. Not the political context to take the kind of actions necessary to ensure our future as we secure our present.
link for reverences and examples
What Is Architecture and its Scope
My definition of Architecture is both narrower and broader than the prevailing idea of it. It is my definition that I use in this treatise. My definition is narrower in the sense that I do not consider anything that is built to automatically qualify as architecture. There has to exit three attributes, shelter, arrangement of space and utilities and expression - and, these attributes have to be tightly integrated - in order for a work to be considered, in my definition of it, as Architecture. On the other hand, I consider the true scope of Architecture to be much greater than the production of buildings, cityscapes and monuments. I consider the entire human infrastructure and built environment to be a candidate for architectural thought and practice.
link for reverences and examples
The Challenge of Planetary Architecture
The basic challenge is that there exists no existing means to take worthy action in regards the reality of a planet being designed by default. And, the existing mechanisms for planning, zoning and regulation are certain, if applied to this challenge, to produce a cure worst than the disease. It is necessary to create an entirely new process if we are to successfully meet this challenge.
link for reverences and examples
The Shape of Things to Come
The period that we are entering is like no other in the recorded history of humankind.
link for reverences and examples
In the Absence of Action
I think that the result, in the absence of action, is fairly predictable. Take the trends of the post WWII period to the present, multiple them by some factor (two or three, if you are conservative, ten to 15 if you are bold), add that to what has happened in the last 50 years and think about the result. If you like what you “see,” then there is no problem in your mind. If you do not, the question becomes “what actions can I take that can materially improve this situation?”
This is the question I asked myself three decades ago. I have answered it with both thought and an action plan. You may - or not - agree. You may find cause with me or feel it necessary to forge a path of your own. You may oppose my agenda. All this is fine. I hope, however, that you do not remain indifferent to the subject. Part two explores the economic and organizational challenges to the concept and outlines the kind of thinking and action is necessary for the practice of Planetary Architecture.
link for reverences and examples
GoTo FOCUS - part two of three
Return to INDEX
GoTo FOCUS - part two of three
GoTo ACT - part three of three
GoTo: Master Planning Process
GoTo: SFIA THESIS - Making Authentic Architecture
GoTo: Worthy Problems
GoTo: ValueWeb Architecture
GoTo: Weak Signals
GoTo: The Gaia Project
GoTo: PatchWorks Designs
GoTo: NavCenters - What, Why, How
GoTo: New Business Paradigm
GoTo: Bootstrap Into Space
Matt Taylor
July 10, 2005


SolutionBox voice of this document:



posted: July 10, 2005

revised: July 16, 2005
• • •
• • 20050716.233212/mt •

(note: this document is about 30% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 1987, 2005

Search For:
Match:  Any word All words Exact phrase
Sound-alike matching
From: ,
To: ,
Show:   results   summaries
Sort by: