Towards Creating a Community of Eko-Kollectives - A Focus


An illustration of what a decentralized, ecologically-aware, and politically-savvy approach to technology would be like. Written in Norway. Original is in the Brodey archives in Vienna.

The purpose of the work is:

1) To gain practice in learning to select from the mountains of information and experiences available to those interested in ecology the mix of high and low technology, centralized and decentralized methods relevant to the particular tasks.

2) To develop our own theoretical positions out of investigating ecological theory already available to test these in practice so that knowledge, values, and practice find their proper relations.

The project areas selected:

1) Conceptual: The people already working in the area of ecology would require support from the architecture school and its people. Such support could also be a part of an architectural school course or sequence of courses. The courses would have as a project focus the building of a community of eko kollectives - integrated structural/agricultural/learning/working areas. The availability, context of information accessible would as always determine the real level of involvement there are many steps. How to go from conceptual drawings to detailed drawings, from building models to actual construction would be decided by who are to do the work.

Work of this sort should be placed in an overall plan and divided into tactical tasks, the tactics changing as experience grows. The principles of energy conservation management, conservation and information conservation (the ecology of maintaining meaning) must be considered in each step. This is strategic.

Each step will be designed to continually communicate to those who use the previous steps in building the building. If the design itself is ecologically right - The design of the project work that is - is the next group of students will find a way to enrich the productivity of the previous work - naturally - without always pretending to be starting a fresh beginning.

2) Practice: In an area of land for eg. owned by the university and readily accessible by L.O. etc. we shall take steps to design and ultimately build 6 collectives each capable of cycling with 20 people (women, men and children). Those using the collective area would be people from the community and students. The length of stay would be 2 weeks to 3 months (average). But some space should lend itself to school instructors meetings and special concentrated projects - a large number of people several hundred doing work together to create new agricultural land etc. The design should be so community groups not used to different styles of living would not be overwhelmed but instead would feel their own need to invent, improve and to mentally and physically work at helping those among them who are already free to test out in practice ideas that seem practical but would otherwise have to wait for financially often non existent developmental support.

As much as possible the land use/structural areas - the collectives area to be created so that they will ultimately fit the prevailing zoning and codes, or be right for proper conformations with these. They must be designed so they can be actually built and best by large groups of students and friends - as collective projects - e.g. laten camp of workers using a holiday week to do a large share of the work. Trial and error and purity of purpose are necessary for this kind of project to succeed. The structures need not be created “as if” they were the first of their kind. It should be possible to use some easily available components but the atmosphere of hard work disciplines trial and error and playfulness needs to be built into the architecture. This will be the art.

Who controls the area, who decides on the community to use it; how the area develops its own community would be included in the on-going description and the decisions to be made in growing the system.

Among the social, structural, agricultural, systems questions are those that will not arise out of what is ordinarily considered problems of good ecological design. Rather these questions and contradictions will arise out of the special purpose of the community and its place: to provide real experience in deciding ecological issues. The place itself must teach! For example a particular interior/exterior microclimate display system in one structure would show to the hand and the eye the heat permeability of the materials used (cinder block vs brick vs wood vs earth). We would show how structuring uses the variability of heat penetration in summer and winter. We do not need fancy instruments to get beyond the ecological illiteracy now prevalent - our purpose is not to do research for the use of other researchers. If the display were right the possibility of heat recirculation rather than waste would be apparent to anyone who sees the everyday problem displayed.

Perhaps it would be best that each structure/land use area illustrate one or two aspects of the total system with models of alternative systems as well as showing the more practical system chosen. But here we are getting too specific for the purpose of this proposal.

Energy flow, wind mills, waste recycling, composting, green houses of various kinds, water turbines, energy storage systems and the like would be chosen for use. But our purpose is teaching and learning and contrasting. Thus the structure might simply show in detail the ecological picture of an average home, by being as much as possible an ordinary place but with ordinary and hidden costs plainly exposed!

Each of the collectives should illustrate the potential and direct and hidden costs of a different sort of material, land use, site integration. One structure might be a plastic or wood chip, dry grass, glue bubble, another an old Norwegian preindustrial farm house, another a structure of stone and so forth. An important structure might be an ordinary house now skillfully modified for ecological soundness.

The problem of choosing in terms of ecological and communal values and traditional values rather than banking values (mortgages etc.) would be confronted.

In Summary:

1. Our purpose is to allow those who choose to participate directly or indirectly, initially or later to increase their practical ecological awareness. And to have a place where it is easy to confront the ecological questions and to quickly reach the contradiction. Why is ecological practice being denied though its value is so widely accepted?

2. We wish the project to organize in many small tactical steps these making possible the larger lessplayfull steps, such as organizing the actual building of the area described.

3. We wish that the project provide a meaningful experience in: 1) locating a site, 2) choosing proper structures, 3) designing structure/landuse areas for the purpose of communicating a message as well as for shelter and doing this explicitly, 4) gathering into a welldefined purpose architectural procedures such as information assembling, investigating, conceptual and structural drawings models experiments and displays always of sufficient detail that properly defined decisions can be made on every step of the way.

4. It is most important that students and faculty who now or later decide to work in the territory described choose what piece of movement towards realization they feel capable and willing to tackle. Great learning comes from choosing which spadeful will be next when our task is digging a mountain.

First draft

Warren Brodey, May 7/74.

States suggested for use in dynamic modelling of "Quality of Life"

Requirements (1) Moral: The model being a control model must use as its utgangspunkt (a) The modeller and his context (b) the user and his context (c) the capability of the persons, groups etc. being modelled to become the modellers, and to improve the model from the standpoint of their values. If the model is but another description by the experts - gods peeping through heavens' keyholes and writing notes back and forth about the public, while man's struggle continues to be manipulated by the priests (technocrats bureaucrats - the leading few) then such an attempt to rationalize merely adds to priestly myths.

(2) Contextual: A model that realizes its context has boundaries that are themselves actively dynamic. The state descriptors in such an active system had best apply to a range of time/size/rhythmic and relative organizations. In dynamic modelling this is possible because there are more well-described relational possibilities (functions) that we are used to managing. Generality in the State descriptors, reduces their number while making use of the variety of functions in all their depth, helping us to gain a new competence in social mapping, and by trial and error to find better state descriptors. It is easy to get bogged down initially with low generality state descriptors out of line with simply finding the social shapes we wish to explore further.

(3) Communicative: The organizations that initiate and follow from the initial modelling must be grossly intuitive and easily communicable to the many. This will have occurred if when the symbols are taken from their abstracted code form (mathematical form) back to the phenomena again - the mapping made will be intuitively correct and yet will provide new information. "Yes I see that now, I knew it before, but I never could have figured out how I came to that conclusion or what to do about it."

(4) The user must be able to participate in the modelling - in fact the model must be itself finally evaluated in term of its own state descriptors, and then remodelled!

The States Suggested for Use Initially:

1. Challenge

2. Participation

3. Variety

4. Discontinuous control

5. Emanative Capacity

6. Insulation

Some notes describing what is meant for each state using metaphors coming from factory relations - the relations of production. From each state others can be easily derived; they are not interchangeable.

(1) Challenge (as an illustration of generality). A worker, a group, a society is challenged over an industrial season, a pay period, a time of simple management, a resources crisis, a fascist political period. Each of these size groups and time period identifiers has rhythmic subsets that interact among themselves - each is context to the others. This way of formulating is true for each of the states to be enumerated.

Challenge has to do with e.g. the relation of a production group's actual production as a function of their history of production both past and future (expectation). Challenge is high, meeting the expectation requires increasing skills to the degree that this is rhythmically related to the history of previous acceleration of skill and to a multiply determined direction of thrust that crosses the boundary of expectation leading the group to face unknown and unexpected experience - to a degree that refreshes the total system.

(2) Participation has to do with engaging recursively in the control system that creates the consequences of the group's own behavior, and being able to interrupt its cycling in order to explore the means of achieving a set of purposes. Are the workers in control of the means of production that turns their work into products? Or are they like a horse drawing a plough for hours at the end of the day. The horse may work hard but has no participation in the control that gives consequence to his work is low. The state of participation is lower if the driver of the team (the foreman) is merely following directions from a central superior having no knowledge of the consequences of his efforts, or from a more centrally located IBM machine (knobs). Thus the degree of participation for any size/units is the degree to which that unit can freely choose the size/time/rhythm location for its response and also choose to respond or interrupt that allows it to interact with the return of consequences reflected from its previous behaviour - thereby learning skill at maintaining optimal quality of life - discussed in these 6 steps for example.

(3) Variety has to do with not only the degree of unexpectedness but also the degree to which this unexpectedness has a spread of consequences which on return to the controller creates critically relevant unexpectedness which changes the list of purposes which has served to organize the system. Optimal variety leads to highly flexible self organization.

For example, a social system or group may use an organization that fosters low variety. Bureaucratic centralism for example requires low variety, e.g. reduction of unexpected happenings in order to maintain linear planning. Linear planning is necessary so that the center is only dealing with highly repetitive similar events (mass production) and is not being forced beyond this limited command capability. A series of outpost (branch) factories or government agencies, or local branch banks may be centrally or peripherally controlled. If it is peripherally self controlled it is difficult to maintain central accountability through book keeping, taxes, common-laws-of-great-detail. With more ease a peripherally self controlled factory may be after-the-fact co-ordinated. Goals may be set for next years production in relation to last years, and needs of which would be locally unknown. But the accountability is of low detail. With more ease the autonomous peripheries can form themselves into networks where shared but discontinuous interests illuminate the same geographic territory providing potentially a high variety and purposeful organizations, and a low vulnerability from the failure of any single organization. Accountability is of a different quality.

It is important to note that we are not speaking of variety in simple information theory terms, in our use of the term as reflecting a state - high variety is not achieved by randomness. Its degree rests within the contradiction between randomness and the need for harmonic spread before variety in the message sense becomes variety in the meaning sense - changing the behavior of the system of participants in a manner that allows a wider spectrum of consequences to behaviour than could have been anticipated, yet not beyond the information metabolizing capacity - knowledge making capacity - of the group.

(4) Discontinuous control has to do with the need for a multiplicity of separate but rhythmically communicating control systems if high quality of life is to be maintained. The periodic communication may simply be changes that each control system produces in relation to a common context.

This need for separation and communication is an apparent contradiction. Let us examine an example. If in a factory what is defined - in a particular time period - as 'high quality of production' becomes primary organizer of the production of that factory, and if this organizer is successfully prevented from being interfered with by other unrelated interests, (e.g. the workers interest in quality of life is kept inactive whether by more pay for better quality of goods) then the pursuit of this ideal quality of production will be altered in a significant way by its very primacy. It will by its very disrupt, rather than climbing smoothly to a higher peak. This is intuitively evident, as a confirmation of its importance. More theoretically we are, when we speak of this state, differentiating complicated from complex systems.

Any form of maximizing one element of a complex system is self defeating - it is growth without development.

Degree of discontinuous control is not commonly appreciated as a descriptor of "quality of life". Bureaucratic centralization for example attempts to reduce such discontinuity or to render the discontinuities into a condition of non-rhythmic subordination centrally controlled.

There is a correct size (time/rhythmic) needed for achieving the level of discontinuous control that organizes the required possibility for participation for example the possibility of using agriculture/fishing or wage job cycles allowed natural resource areas to optimize the resources they had into a good way of life. When automation changed the cycles in these activities so they no longer matched, urbanization occurred.

(5) Emanative Capacity. The emanative capacity of an industry or a factory or a person has to do with the systems capacity to transform itself in part or entirely into something it was not previously. Emanation does not refer to slowly building up in an additive way a new capacity as planned. But rather to being so organized that there is skill in realizing in itself a potential previously unknown and leaping into a territory that may not have existed before. This becomes important when the complex reality that contexts a factory is realized and the worker functions to gain control and maintain it even as his context changes - so as to optimize quality of life. Emanation in its early stages requires playfulness - the opportunity to experiment without serious consequences.

(6) Insulative Capacity. The need for insulation and capacity to choose the degree of insulation the person group, society, area needs over a particular kind of time period (reason, rhythm, event etc.) as a quality often forgotten during our epoch when centralization idealizes open communication (actually passive information up the centralizing hierarchy and active control down). But if for example everyone in a town knows about everyone else and must respond, the response system soon becomes tired. Thus a production unit search for better quality of life can be blocked by not being able to choose or use channels and codes that are relatively exclusive.

The interplay of relatively insulated systems that periodically resonate by means of a common context (still other systems) is necessary to self organization. And self organization in turn maintains complexity, though aspects of the complex system of which man is a part tend continuously to degrade into irrelevant meaninglessness.