thenextwave

DOTT’s top design/sustainability books

Posted in books, design, emerging issues, environment, sustainability, technology by thenextwavefutures on 4 October, 2007

The north-east’s DOTT ’07 project is probably the most innovative thing happening in the UK at the moment in terms of thinking about how design for sustainability works at a regional and local level. It culminates in a festival in Gateshead which opens in about ten days. Ahead of time, they’ve produced a booklist for the festival site.

The list is on the doors of perception blog (with some late additions, including one from me) but it’s a good list and I thought it was worth annotating/linking.

1 Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Jared Diamond

I think this is now a classic – Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article about it is here – with its ‘five factors’ which lead to the collapse of societies (environmental degradation, climate change, hostile neighbours, decreased support from friendly neighbours, and social response to emerging problems). An important conclusion: collapse (or not) is a result of our choices.

2 Heat – George Monbiot

From a futures perspective, this is an extended – and virtuoso – experiment in ‘What If…’. What if the UK government was serious in reducing our carbon emissions by the 90% science now suggests is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change? And then it works through the consequences. There’s a fine extended summary by Dave Pollard in Energy Bulletin.

3 An Inconvenient Truth – Al Gore

The book, not the film (which has just made a celebrated appearance in the High Court…)

4 A Demon of Our Own Design – Richard Bookstaber

A financial insider (blog here) on the ways in which the design of the financial system, and the ‘innovation’ it encourages, creates its own instability. There’s a deeper point here, made by others; that because most of the money in our financial system is created by banks providing credit, the system has to be geared to growth (to repay the debts) – and therefore encourages consumption and not sustainability. But after the credit crunch and Northern Rock, we all get this now.

5 Six memos for the next millennium – Italo Calvino

His last work, a set of (uncompleted) lectures for Harvard University on themes such as ‘Lightness’, ‘Quickness’, ‘Exactitude’. One of the great pleasures; there’s online a review by the writer Robert Coover.

6 Relational Aesthetics – Nicolas Bourriaud

New to me, I have to admit, but about aesthetic judgments of art based on the social relationships they engender. Pretty important piece of theory for design for social and ecological sustainability. I need to investigate further. Extract here, opens in pdf.

7 Smart Mobs – Howard Rheingold

Influential book on the world of pervasive computing, ubiquitous networks, and the internet of things, and the radical (and sometimes positive) changes that could emerge. More here.

8 Worldchanging – Alex Steffen

The book of the influential sustainable solutions website.

9 Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes – Viljoen & Bohn

About urban agriculture, a book which has generated its own acronym (CPUL). I’ve written about futures in which there is far more urban agriculture (it seems a pretty certain outcome in a coming world of 8-9 billion people and less productiver land), but hadn’t realised the literature was as developed. More here.

10 In The Bubble – John Thackara

I think this is the best single book on industrial and social design and sustainability (if you only read one book from this list, make it this one). It starts with a wonderful image, of the sheer weight of goods travelling by truck north along the motorway from Barcelona into the rest of Europe, which immediately challenges much of the tech-futures (and other globalists) assertions of the so-called ‘weightless world’. How do we move from a world of ‘stuff’ to one of social exchange?

11 A Geography of Time – Robert V. Levine

12 Fire and Memory: On Architecture and Energy – Luis Fernandez-Galiano

One of the pleasures of book lists by people with broad knowledge is that you make new connections, and both of these are new to me, but obviously interesting. Robert Levine is a psychology professor. His book is about the ways in which different cultures interpret time (review here, Levine’s website here). Fernandez-Galiano’s book is an inter-disciplinary study of the earlier importance of warmth (and fire) in building design – and then its disappearance when the ‘dictatorship of the eye’ overtook that of the skin (see The Upside of Down. below).

13 Powerdown – Richard Heinberg

Heinberg has been one of the main popularisers of the notion of Peak Oil - and of the likely – and unpleasant – social consequences that are likely to follow.

14 Cradle to Cradle – William McDonough and Michael Braungart (Tammow Trantow)

Path-breaking: “The materials go back to soils safely, or they go back to industry. That’s it. That’s the new paradigm.” (McDonough quoted in a 2002 Wired profile)

15 The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization – Thomas Homer-Dixon (Andrew Curry)

I suggested The Upside of Down because it makes us think about the importance of energy – and the extent to which we can create energy without expending nearly as much – as a central factor in the maintenance and development of societies. It also develops some of the ideas about resilience and renewal contained in the ‘panarchy‘ theory into a social context. (There’s an engaging and detailed review at O’Reilly). A first cousin of Collapse.

If I had one more recommendation, it would probably be Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality, from 1975, partly because he was so far ahead of his time, and so influential in shaping different ways of thinking about social issues. This book, in particular is a whole model – and philosophy – of low impact social organisation. The text is online here.

There’s also a longer-list on DOTT 07’s Amazon ‘wish list‘.

Other posts on DOTT ’07: DOTT ’07 – sustainable design for communities.

Update: For a related but very different list of books on the philosophy of nature and environmental systems, it’s worth going to this post at Dave Pollard’s How to Save The World blog.

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