Category Archives: Proposals
At the risk of being called a nerd (and I screwed the pooch on that one 25 years ago) here’s some sideways sharing that comes as the result of the proposal I’m making on Vertecology LLC’s (yes, it’s an LLC!) first large scale permaculture design for an eight acre community to be, just south of Ashland Oregon.
In the act of preparing the bid for the client, which ostensibly would price out a site plan and a relatively fixed final landscape design which would then be carved into an unwilling earth, not because the client demands it but because we don’t even have the language or the software for doing otherwise, I realized said Standard Way of Going About It that I learned in Architecture School is entirely insufficient.
Permaculture after all is about working with living systems, adapting flows midstream, integrating far more than the topography of dirt and the arrangement of neat rows of pretty flowers and pretty houses. We are guiding living systems with an intelligence all their own and being guided in kind by endless feedback loops that yield vision as much as they yield blackberries and soils and unpredictable opportunities and muscles as you roll that wheelbarrow out one more time. Yes, sometimes this tree just gets moved over there. But sometimes you introduce chickens to control the flies. Sometimes you replace the septic with composting toilets and the resultant soil changes the pH where you drop it, sometimes the recommendations are tiny but with huge impacts, and at the end of the day, discovering an opportunity here and taking advantage of it changes the balance over there.
How can a simple, complicated as $!*& CAD drawing, which I can do quite easily and well with my years of training reflect all of that, reflect human, plant, animal, mechanical and invisible factors? CAD is after all, as static as it is precise and it makes our heads more static as we layer our drawings with ever deeper precision and detail. How can CAD bend to reflect seasons and systems theory, succession of evolution and changes that come about on the land as we interlope and guide our systems to optimum? How can we describe the relevant opportunities on the land without involving and locking ourselves into a thousand layers and a thousand hours of ever expanding irrelevant detail? How can CAD describe a river, an unfolding?
Thus in the process I have come to realize that a wider view must be taken. CAD is a part of the solution, but so is an elegant and interactive display where client and designer alike can track ideas, visions and observations. So are books, whiteboards, a growing capacity in the client to read the land, mission statements and meditation in the various microclimates of the place. Perhaps the site map can begin and end with construction paper and crayons… Observing, visioning and implementing blend and blur and cycle back into one another with ever increasing resolution and clarity and ecosystems and income systems take and change shape. Ah, The Brain shall live in the Barn and work while I’m away.
Here’s version 1.0 of the design process diagram… one that may just live on Vertecology for quite some time.
Hello beautiful world,
Wow it’s been quiet on the blog scene for a bit… I’ve been gearing up with Vertecology for some time, laying the foundation for what looks to be an expansion. There’s talk of a Kickstarter fundraise, hints from peeps around town that orders for Hanging Gardens may be on the wings, some money for R&D to come from other work I will be doing in Oregon over May and June, an ad for a marketing intern soon to go live. And yet in the process of gearing up, of expansion, sometimes there is quiet gestation.
I’ve been thinking about this blog entry in some dark room of my mind for some time. What to say? Well, am I going to bring out the horns and declare with 10 white horses coming down the cobbled path that (wah, wah, wah!) I have a provisional patent on the Hanging Garden? Yes that is true as of about 48 hours ago, and I am thankful to all those who believed in me and helped me with emotional and even a bit of financial support to get the vision of what Vertecology can be to this milestone.
But there is a deeper story, and to that I wish to speak. Because in the permaculture sensibility, its not about the straight line to the destination, but about the system, the garden, that was built over time that allows the destination to be at last grasped and quietly reached and owned, that allows the bounty found at the destination to be both harvested and sustained.
That is the deeper story. I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front because even though I’ve been spending long hours at work on building Vertecology, R&D, developing proposals, as well as on building my financial resources by other means for the long road ahead and putting a little time on some very interesting projects by other people in this field, I’ve also been looking closely at the spiritual underpinnings to why I started this venture at all.
Knowing this is not my first attempt at entrepreneurship, and knowing that I have always in the past gotten results I didn’t expect with no idea why with all my dogged effort, I have learned at my wise young age that the quality of the fruit and flowers in your garden are just a reflection of the quality of the soil.
So it’s not about the flowers as much as it is about the soil. I care too much about this garden… about what Vertecology can become and what I can offer through it to ignore the soil this time, and though the payoff is making itself known slowly and steadily, I am beginning to recognize what it means with a faith I have never experienced before.
The slow building of soil is why I’ve gotten to the point of having something to patent at all. Building soil can’t be rushed, it can’t be forced. Try and force it and you get half the Midwest ripe for the next dust bowl. Let it run at its proper pace and you may get a bit impatient yes, but you also have a shot at a million years of bounty so vast it’s impossible to keep secret.
Confronting the need to build at the soil’s pace and not at that of my frantic and ever twirling mind has not been easy. My ever twirling mind fantasizes that Vertecology will “explode” at the first signpost and has promised to remain the irrational taskmaster it has been in the past. I’ve been down that road before and it wasn’t pretty, for me or for what I was trying to create. But attending to the spiritual soil of late has meant that the taskmaster has begun to let go his whip, and to let be. To allow things to grow at their proper pace and grow well. As a result of my inner work of late I no longer have to justify my existence to anyone, and that is the kind of soil to begin expansion with.
And once I noticed that it was never really about “exploding” I began to recognize that I have already, despite myself, been attempting to execute a real business plan with a little higher resolution than simply exploding. Though it has yet to be written on paper, just knowing that that business plan is being spoken by that quiet voice that comes when you are very still has given me enough pause to stop and listen, and on more and more frequent occasion, to act upon its recommendations.
I don’t “need” Vertecology to be anything. And in the silence, I begin to hear the music of its promise, calling me to joyous action, day by day. I begin to see the real road and how to drive upon it, when to floor it, and when to brake. It’s not that I’m stopping; it’s that for what seems like the first time, I am starting.
So in anticipation and yet in keeping with the true timing of things, I will leave you all with this: part of the business plan behind Vertecology, part of the functioning ecosystem it will become is a continuum of raw ideas being prototyped to fruition. I am truly happiest when I am creating with reckless abandon, without a care in the world and sharing the creating through my writing and media. Sort of like a 10 year old… “look ma, what I just made!” Except I’m now 38, have an idea of what it means to be a “crewman on Spaceship Earth” and know my way around design science, the permaculture principles, CNC milling machines, timelapse photography, dramatic prose, videography, social networking and some of the baddest creative software around. I know I’m in the flow when I’m so excited I just cut my finger and don’t care, “First blood!” and just keep on going.
The rest of it is support. So for now I have to play the entrepreneur, to handle the numbers, to make the calls, work out the marketing strategy, meet with potential investors, get the site organized for taking orders. But that’s all just the support, a setup so that ideally, I can keep creating, prototyping and testing ideas, enjoying the enjoying of those who just got served, make a lasting difference for the planet and feed myself in the process.
And so yesterday, in the midst of preparing for Oregon, writing a posting for a student intern, looking at the finances and getting the provisional patent filed, I rolled out to the Westside and met up with Norma Bonilla at the Venice Community Garden to harvest some bamboo poles. And I realized as I broke out the Japanese pull-saw, what I was actually building.
I realized halfway through harvesting, what I’m building with these poles and why against all logic and with all the sobriety and sanity of an Old Testament prophet I’ll be packing them all the way to Oregon.
Long before ever dreaming up the word Vertecology and doing the dot-com search, long before SCI-Arc was an intriguing name I heard on the lips of an old girlfriend years ago, I read somewhere about the floating islands built by the Aztecs which became the ground upon which Tenochtitlan and later Mexico City were built. The vision has stayed with me, and as I learned about permaculture, I realized that such madness might be worth pursuing. Realized that one could build floating islands on bamboo skeletons and local materials to reclaim wetlands from sea level rise and build edible coastlines, geometric wildlands and engines of turbocharged biodiversity and oxygen production. The process would be entirely organic (except maybe a few well placed LEDs, hint, hint), naturally paced and the artistry of it all could be truly stunning. And the bamboo for the skeletons of course could be grown right there on site, harvested, over and over and over, forever while it makes great shade for birds and cleans the tidal waters too.
In that twirling mind, it all seemed so far away, but as I harvested the bamboo, which will probably have grown back by the time I get back from Oregon, I realized a test could set up in a matter of days, in fact, in about 3 hours, I had a lot to show.
Then I went back to the pad and started prepping to write the budget for the Hanging Garden Kickstarter fundraise, but with a new twinkle in my eye. This is going to explode! Shhhh… don’t tell anyone.
Thank you for walking with me, in patience. Let us build together.
About a year ago this month, just before I headed off to Haiti, friend and fellow designer/builder Robert Redecker of Earthworks Natural Building Group invited me to do a few renderings to help flush out a circular cob and superadobe bench concept to be installed between three big shade trees at what was to become the Emerson Avenue Community Garden at Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester. At the time the “garden” was just a stretch of patchy lawn sandwiched between a soccer field and a few grand ideas. The 26-foot diameter seating area was going to become a teaching hub within the garden, a place where the school kids could gather around and learn about permaculture from a potential litany of travelers and luminaries in the know.
I punched out the renderings you see above, then got caught up with the journey to Haiti, then with dropping the Geo at clubs and the water harvesting system at Sugar and the Hanging Garden, and well… you get the idea. Then Robert called me about two weeks ago: “They’re starting the project this weekend and want our guidance.” So with camera and shovel in hand as Saturday morning dawned, I made my way out there for the groundbreaking, got introduced to something like 40 volunteers and found that a good part of the lawn had become, indeed, a community garden. We got busy on the building fast, and here’s a time lapse to tell the tale.
As you can probably tell, we just got to laying out the urbanite floor and setting up the trench for the foundation pour and there’s still more work to be done. Two more workdays are scheduled April 15 and May 5 and more volunteers certainly welcome. (Here or here for more details).
Robert himself has become a devotee of cob and superadobe building, both methods of building using almost entirely earth from the locale where the build takes place, meaning cheap, sculptable and simple construction that’s labor intensive but beautiful, deeply soothing, health- and ecology-enhancing and virtually indestructible when built by competent hands. Check out The Hand-Sculpted House: A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage by Ianto Evans and Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks and Techniques by Nader Khaili if you’re interested in learning more; these two books are sort of the earth-building “bibles” and are full of methods, design philosophy and examples of some pretty amazing projects around the world.
And I must add that once lots of people get to work on grand ideas, they have a way of happening. Patchy lawns become hubs and hubs spawn more hubs. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s something afoot with gardens in the schools and it’s only a matter of time before their unused spaces become bona fide food forests cum education and activation centers. Then the food forests start to expand, partly because of people, but also because of birds and pollen and bees and it’s exciting to be here at the beginning of the evil plan for world liberation. Enjoy!
Blowing Through the Bottleneck & Occupying Opportunity: A Hanging Garden for the Venice Community Garden
Well some of you might have perused the blog here and seen some cool design projects emerging into some sort of business and then a few rants on new economic models. “Make up your mind,” you might have found yourself thinking, or you might have just wondered how the threads were eventually going to merge, sort of like Cirque and Soleil… is it a Barnum & Bailey circus or risqué theater… which is it…? Well, I’m happy to tell you that the threads do merge into one, and it will become a bit more obvious how here. Opportunities to rise to the occasion and to step into one’s vision often come in strange packages.
This particular opportunity came a few weeks ago as the second client, the Venice Community Garden, lined up for a Vertecology Hanging Garden. Our discussions were filled with excitement. Their existing grant could cover it and they had a spot already picked out.
We all saw that a Hanging Garden, eventually perhaps several, would be great for the Community Garden. A three-level unit could turn one square foot of blossoming, mulching, carbon-sinking, food-making garden space into three with trellising to boot. It would bring beauty and novelty that would make people curious, draw them in and peak their interest in gardening, community, food forestry and permaculture. It could even inspire more creativity, yield potential new gardening students, and bring more income to the community garden’s capable users and teachers.
We saw as well that it would be good for the earth. It is said that an organically-sourced 1.6% increase in soil in currently farmed lands throughout the earth would be the death knell for global warming. Enter the Hanging Garden as soil multiplier. It could create new “edge” and microclimate conditions where biodiversity thrives. It could bring more life into the area, helping to make the whole neighborhood more fertile: think new varieties of plants in each of the boxes attracting the birds and the bees. Meanwhile it would be pulling reclaimed wood out of the waste stream, or at the very least putting income into the hands of sustainable wood suppliers and intrepid CNC Do-it-yourselfers.
And it would be great for me. I’d earn an honest keep, would reinvest the surplus funds to refine the product, design a cool stand to create a freestanding option, develop a manufacturing process, and get lots of footage for outreach and for the Kickstarter campaign I’ve been contemplating. It would bring more exposure for the concept and for Vertecology and new clients to my doorstep.
Great for the community, good for the client, good for the earth, good for the creator; everybody wins. Why then wouldn’t it happen?
Well then last week, the deflated message landed in my voicemail while I worked away at my new full-time “day job” that’s quietly morphing into a part-time job… “The grant is almost gone. We can’t afford the Hanging Garden.” No new blossoming, mulching, carbon-sinking, food-making garden space. No curious visitors. No new inspiration, no new potential students, no new soil, no new biodiversity, no more fertility in the neighborhood, the wood ends up in the garbage after all and the FSC suppliers are a little more broke, no design innovations, no footage and I’m sitting on my hands worried once again about making rent.
We have all been taught that this is the way of things, that there is no other way the world could work. Well-meaning peers remind me of what I already know: that this sort of thing happens all the time. It is to be expected. The best thing is to just plan on it happening some big percentage of the time and move on to the next sale.
But as I said before, opportunities to rise to the occasion often come in strange packages.
Perhaps a year or so ago, newly armed with a Permaculture Design Certificate and ready to kick some ass, I spent the $3 I had in my pocket and a good solid day at a coffee shop exploring how I could launch what is now emerging as Vertecology. It was just an idea then, and in there somewhere was the beginning of a notion of how to break through the bottleneck inherent in the economic monoculture. The point was to be able to do the “good” kind of work, the “work to be done” as Starhawk once called it, the kind of work that liberates the 100% forever, not just the 1% for a little while, that restores the earth’s plenty, the work that continues to yield real ecological, social and technical and artistic “profit” generations after our hands have stopped moving and creates time… The point was to liberate myself and others to be able to do this work and yet share the in the bounty our current economy at least appears to promise.
So here’s the idea, now being called into the game. I was already planning a Kickstarter campaign as I mentioned earlier. A little one, maybe a thousand dollars or so, to work out the refinements, manufacturing and delivery of the Hanging Garden enough to say I can deliver to expectant buyers in a timely fashion. The plan was to start it after the Venice Community Garden install. I have begun already to compose letters to a couple of very green and like-minded companies for sponsorship. Maybe you’ve heard of the LifeBox? Think receiving your Hanging Garden in a LifeBox, then cutting up the box, throwing the shreds in the hanging planters, water and voila!
Then it struck me like a lightning bolt; roll the Venice Community Garden design/build into the Kickstarter! We’re brought together by our common vision and desire and now a wider community can decide if the project is worth it. The amount of money to be raised wouldn’t need to change and the prototypes would get a home right away. The outreach can be to thousands instead of hundreds of people, and all those stakeholders in the success of the Community Garden, Vertecology, Venice, Los Angeles, even in the ideas of permaculture, regenerative economics and community gardening themselves, can vote with their dollars. To the extent they have the dollars… Well, the idea in this first stage of implementation isn’t completely bottleneck-proof, more on how to solve that in a minute. Just saying that for now the Kickstarter idea is enough to get this ball rolling.
And so what about the second stage of the idea, the second stage which could make our unfolding un-bottleneck-able? Truthfully, it makes sense to test the first stage first, but here goes a little preview, inspired by the new openness and willingness of all you Occupiers to hear. I just can’t help myself. The future, say the day after next Tuesday…
Take out the word “Kickstarter campaign” and replace it with “IOU.” As in: the Community Garden issues an IOU, interest-free, backed by its ability and willingness to redeem the IOU for equivalent value to anyone who hands it back to them. To the degree that the community trusts the Garden to redeem the IOU on request, we accept it as money. I can use it at restaurants, in parking meters, at the car wash, to pay rent (which is a lot lower with the loan interest off the landlord’s back). I can issue IOU’s too but of course the same terms apply. Maybe I’ll call mine Buckys after Bucky Fuller. You can issue too. What would you call yours? Einsteins maybe? After all, the power to issue and the power to choose what you accept or decline is a fundamental human right, just like air, and there wasn’t even anything that says it was illegal, even in long ago 2008 (I’m just sayin’). But little Jedis, with great freedom comes great responsibility. If I’m trustworthy with my IOUs and you charge interest for “loans” and play games like cooking the books while trying to force everybody to accept only your IOUs, karma’s going to getcha, just like our bankster friends. My Buckys will soon be worth four of your Einsteins and good luck dear sir!
Anyway back to the present with the caveat that this future is already being worked on, read about it in Thomas Greco’s Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender, and ‘nuff said. Once I have enough experience, partnership and clout with Vertecology, I’ll be investing Vertecology’s resources into helping to make that last paragraph a living reality. Then there won’t be any trouble getting Hanging Gardens out there till something truly better for everyone makes itself known. For now, forget I said anything. Scratch it from memory.
Norma at the VCG is already excited about the Kickstarter idea and I’ll be launching in the next month or two, as we get the materials organized. The Venice Community Garden will get its Hanging Garden after all. Stay tuned & thanks for your continued interest!
Ever the iconoclast, or at least ever the wannabe, I spent a good number of my teen years insisting on an all-black wardrobe, and to this day I still have my happy black days. Leaving for school in September, Mom would always ask “Aren’t you hot?”
“Nah…” (yes, but it was about looking good. Sweat, what sweat?)
So everyone knows a black outfit on a hot day is very different than a white one, even when they’re otherwise identical. Black absorbs heat and white reflects it.
But just how useful might this principle prove in ecological design? What opportunities does it provide? Could we generate flow in still ponds with patterns of black and white stone? Create temperate and tropical microclimates right next to each other? How about artificial winds where the air gets purified as it flows? Could we reduce the need for powered heating and cooling with color? If so, painting the house isn’t just about pretty; it’s functional… and more profoundly beautiful.
So to grow as a designer and see what’s possible, I pulled together an experiment. It isn’t rocket science, and I know I’m not the first to do it, but it was great to engage.
With one of my wooden octahedron prototypes, about 3 feet to a side already painted black for the LooptWorks show, I painted the other one white. On each I put a triangular “table top” made of half-inch ply, one painted black, the other white. Then I lined them up about two feet apart along the sun-arc so that both got full sun all day and so that neither sat on a hotter or colder spot than the other.
With a laser temperature gun, I took the temperature at the center and corner of each table top, and for comparison, took the temperature of the tar-panel rooftop itself. I should also mention that I did this experiment on a hot LA August day, with not a cloud in the sky after the initial coastal burnoff by probably 10 am.
I found several relationships. When the sun is directly overhead, there was as much as 65 degrees F difference between the tabletops. The black might close in on 150 degrees F while the white hovered around 80 or 90. The difference fell quickly once the sun dropped to the horizon, and disappeared entirely once it was gone, so with sunlight out of the equation, factors other than color determine temperature.
The temperature of the black octahedron swung wildly in daylight with even a slight breeze, more in the corner than the center. While I scanned with the temp gun for 20 seconds, the temperature at the corner might vary 10 degrees with a breeze. The thin plywood, with little thermal mass, would dissipate and regain its heat quickly. The white also fluctuated but not nearly so wildly. And the white sometimes even hung out in the 60 degree range while the hot sun roiled above, setting the roof ablaze to the tune of 120-140 degrees F. The temperature difference between the black center and black corner also varied as much as 20 degrees F while the sun was high up, showing again how the slight thermal mass and poor heat retention of the plywood gives it up to the air quickly.
So can we we generate flow in still ponds with patterns of black and white stone? Create temperate and tropical microclimates right next to each other? Artificial winds where the air gets purified as it flows? Reduce the need for powered heating and cooling with color? Yes, but exactly how and how much is a matter of more experimentation, as well as learning from people who have done these sorts of things, in some cases thousands of years ago, and in some cases learning from the most recent science available. A half-cup innovation plus a half-cup of remembering.
Thinking about the 2012 festival circuit, experimental structures in the “developing world” and some planned DIY offerings, this new awareness is definitely clarifying and helping to define some Vertecology build proposals already in the works.
Some design opportunities now apparent: Using a material other than wood will effect the temperature differences. Using steel or some kinds stone of could produce differences in the hundreds of degrees, maybe enough to turn electrical turbines or “magically” pull water out of “thin air,” though steel heat would probably dissipate a lot faster than stone heat.
Greater thermal mass would also take much longer to heat but also to cool, making it possible to radiate warmth well into the night and keep a house cool well into the day. And materials can be played against one another – low retention, low conductivity wood painted white, vs high retention and moderately conductive stone, vs highly conductive and low retention steel, to create truly designer passive solar effects.
Taking this into consideration, here’s one application of passive solar in a “permaculture structure” with multiple functions in the diagram below. This is based on solar updraft tower technology, and this specific set of diagrams takes the fuel-free energy-generation Botswana Solar Updraft test facility, which ran in 2007, as the starting point. (Their experiment documentation here).
While their small test tower would probably not generate much power, with the right combination and density of materials, its performance might improve dramatically without an increase in size. This at the very least would make a great project for the 2012 festival circuit, and it could become a model for community-scale free energy generation, desert-greening and even seed spreading and vertical habitat building… all at once. (I actually have less interest in really huge industrial versions of this structure 800 meters tall, which require industrial-scale funding, a corporate building approach, and which could have adverse effects on the earth’s atmosphere – think jets of our precious air superheated and streaming into space)
On a more immediate note I also now know why the Sugar Shack roof garden is frying, and we can do something about it. The first of the new tire planters has already been painted white, as of about 4 pm today.