Worldchanging ally Andrew Zolli has some really smart things to say about the Eastgate Building in Harare, Zimbabwe, the ways in which it was biomimetically modelled on a termite mound, and the interplay of investment cultures and sustainability:
"[M]uch of the sustainability movement seems stuck in a local minima of 'now-ist' free market capitalism: a tight focus on the short term prevents companies from investing in longer-term sustainable (and cost reducing) measures, which in turn leads to a dearth of both implementations and case studies, which in turn fuels the mistaken perception that sustainable initiatives don't have big payoffs, or have at most cosmetic ones, which in turn fuels an even greater focus on the the short-term. Another byproduct of this cycle is that customers don't see the benefits of sustainability, and therefore don't know to demand them; companies can't afford them and therefore have no incentive to educate the market to demand higher standards. (There is a faint whiff of the prisoner's dilemma here.)
"The building uses less than 10 percent of the energy of a conventional building its size. These efficiencies translated directly to the bottom line: The Eastgate's owners saved $3.5 million on a $36 million building because an air-conditioning plant didn't have to be imported. These savings were also realized by tennants: rents are 20 percent lower than in a new building next door. ...This is a terrific example of sustainable architecture that is biomimetic, indigenous, and economically viable on its face. Yet the Eastgate story also demonstrates an important aspect of the sustainability/biomimicry trend - that incrementally greater value may be found by studying solutions from those niches (ecological and economic) where resources are more constrained than the ones you inhabit. Don't study the oasis - study the desert."
sounds like something right out book 2 of christopher alexander's nauture of order:
"Alexander examines the kinds of process that are capable of generating living structure. The unfolding of living structure in natural systems is first compared to the unfolding of buildings and town plans in traditional society, and then contrasted with present day processes. The comparison reveals deep and shocking problems which pervade the present day planning and construction of buildings. He describes the detailed character of living process needed to generate, design, plan, and build buildings with living structure. The character of living process is contrasted, repeatedly, with the character of present-day professional process, which departs, again and again, from present process, in order to meet the necessities inherent in any truly life-creating process. Pervasive changes needed to create a world in which living process - and hence living structure - are attainable only through a transformation of society."