We can Still Learn from Traditional Approaches to the Built Environment

Forest

In a new book about how humans build and shape the environment around us, Julia Watson, argues that traditional indigenous techniques are the most efficient. Forget techno-carbon capture, smart cities, and other buzzwords; the best approaches already exist and we just need to use them. In her book, The Power of Lo-TEK, she looks at communities from Peru to Iran and how their indigenous approaches to building homes, farms, or other places has been honed over hundreds of years to find the best way to build.

Lo-TEK explores 18 indigenous communities, organizing them by the type of landscape each inhabits: mountains, forests, deserts, or wetlands. Case studies include the living root bridges created by the Khasi in Northern India; the waffle gardens of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico; aquaculture around the floating villages of the Tofinu people of Benin; the qanat underground aquifers in Iran; and the mudhif reed architecture of Iraq. Watson approaches each of these case studies like a cultural anthropologist and an architect, laying out the different spiritual relationships each community has with its environment, the history of how they created their engineering techniques, and detailed diagrams that explain how the techniques work. 

Watson sees her book as today’s version of the Museum of Modern Art’s influential Architecture without Architects exhibition of 1964, which discussed the merits and sophistication of vernacular design from the past—design that architects at the time had dismissed in favor of modernism.

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