Humans in A Sustainable Bioshpere, A Sustainable Earth

The Earth is a living ecosystem, all of its parts working together to maintain a stable environment – a sustainable biosphere.  In the modern world, many humans live under the misconception that the Earth revolves around them, the truth is far from this and if this self centered world view continues, the stability of the earth’s ecosystem and climate will not be able to maintain itself.  To reverse this trend, humans need to immediately and drastically rearrange priorities; instead of aiming to be the wealthiest, as a whole people should think of the best option for the whole (within reason).


This chart shows the drastic increase in Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide, three of the prominent gases changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere.  These gases have a huge role in the greenhouse effect, which is increasing the Earth’s average temperature and in the near future could lead to enormous climate change related issues.

One interesting simulation of a community and region working together not only to improve the personal quality of life, but the well-being of the greater ecosystem is a simulation called the “UVA Bay Game.”  The Bay Game is a complex network system that connects a large group of players and places them in a number of jobs ranging from farmers, to land developers, to policy makers on the east coast of the United States near Virginia.  These players then make a series of decisions over 10 rounds (20 years) that will affect the their players well-being as well as the state of the region as a whole.  When our SSB 2013 Class (A group of environmentally conscious, un-biased college students) played the game, we increased the overall health of the Bay and most players came out ahead in the end.  We achieved this by making unselfish choices that would be best in the long run and making sustainable policy choices that promoted environmentally conscious practices.

In the real world however, the Bay Game does not play out like this.  “Players” often only look out for their best interest and policies get made that do not promote sustainability.  One such example the enormous amount of subsidies paid toward unsustainable farming practices.  A bill passed this past summer will give 195 billion taxpayer dollars over the next 10 years to large scale farms, farming hundreds of acres of a single crop in the cheapest way possible.  An organization promoting sustainable farming is the Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heirloom seed varieties.  Through the careful breeding and care of their farms, the Seed Savers Exchange “offers an alternative model to big agriculture” (Seed Savers Exchange) that focus on small scale farms that are able to maintain a high crop yield without using the destructive large scale farming techniques or egregious amount of pesticides.  Organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange understand the value the environment and then importance of conserving the biosphere.  An extensive study done by Robert Costanza and partners puts the gross national product of the world’s biosphere at a minimum of US$ 33 trillion per year, compared to the global human gross national product of US$ 18 trillion (Costanza).  This puts the importance of maintaining the stability of the environment we live in perspective.

EPCOT Sustainable Tomato Farming

EPCOT Re-imagined Tomato Farming

Tomato Farming re-imagined in EPCOT at the Walt Disney World Resort

To change the way we think about the human’s role in the Earth’s ecosystem we need to re-imagine the way preform standard tasks and how we can minimize the impact our daily lives have on the billions of other, equally important organisms on the planet.  When thinking about sustainability and resilience, Brian Walker reminds us that we need to ” constantly reflect on what [we’re] doing and why [we’re] doing it.” (Walker 1)  Over the course of Systems, Sites, and Building, we looked at a multitude of ways that the buildings we live and work in can minimize the impact they have on the rest of the ecosystem.  However, even if we build the most efficient, environmentally sustainable building we still have to reflect on our work and take into account the entire biosphere and the way our actions affect the planet itself.

References Cited:

The UVA Bay Game baygame/

Costanza, Robert, et al. “The Value of the World’s Ecosysetem Services and Natural Capital”. Nature. 1997.

EPA. Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.

Plumer, Brad. “The U.S. Has Few Farmers. So Why Does Congress Love Farm Subsidies?” The 

      Washington Post. 12 July 2013. Web.



Seed Savers Exchange.

Walker, Brain and Salt, David. Resilience Practice


Architectural Sunlight

“The sun never knew how great it was until it struck the side of a building.” – Louis Kahn

Just like everything in our solar system, buildings revolve around the sun.  However, buildings also revolve around the sun in more than just the literal sense.  They also rely on the sun and its sunlight to either be successful or fail.  A building that is designed well with the sunlight in mind will be more readily received and used.  Humans evolved outdoors, and need natural sunlight to be healthy and produce Vitamin D.  During the winter, in some northern countries such as Scandinavia, “approximately 5% of the population suffers from depression” due to the lack of natural sunlight (Mathiasen 115).  This shows the importance of sunlight in a humans daily life.  Recently , the newly designed San Francisco General Hospitalwas a LEED gold building designed with the intention of allowing the most possible natural light to enter the building; aiding in the speedy recovery of the patients.  The front facade is a curtain wall of glass, which lets the sun enter easily into the atrium and into the rooms beyond.


Design for the San Francisco General Hospital

The average american spends almost all of their day indoors, around 12 hours, not including the average 7 and a half hours of sleep.  If people need the sun in their life, and they can not spend enough time outside, then it is even more important that the buildings they spend their time are open to the outdoors or at least open to outdoor sunlight.  To do this designers need to focus on how the sun moves around the site and how it would enter the proposed building.  As Mathiasen says “Light is an important part of the internal climate and a prerequisite for many functions in the building” (Mathiasen 117).  The most important part about designing with light however is, how the light enters and brightens a room.  A designer can’t just fill a wall with windows and be done with it.  It is important to be able to control the amount and kind of light that enters buildings at different times of day for different purposes.  Adjustable louvers, like the ones on the UVA School of Architecture, are good ways to regulated the entering sunlight, and have different opacity glass depending on what they are covering.


Louvered Glass Window

The LIGHT part of sunlight is not the only part of that is important and valuable to architects.  The shadows that the sun casts when entering a building can be just as powerful and even more beautiful then the sunlight.  As Tanizaki outlines in his novel on Japanese Architecture, it is the simplicity of it that makes it so beautiful.  While I do agree that simplicity is good, and often beautiful, I also think there are many time when modern “western” architecture as Tanizaki calls it can be just as beautiful and use the sun and its shadows just as well.


This image form the University of Caracas in Venezuela is a wonderful example if how a porous structure can light a space, but can also create a field of light and shadow that is almost a work of art.

Designers are always thinking of new ways to allow sunlight to enter buildings and in some cases, even change lives.  A Liter of Light is an organization that is focused on providing natural light to poor areas and slums of third world countries.  The idea is that a used liter plastic  bottle is filled with filtered water and bleach to keep it clean and then poked through a piece of corrugated metal that is inserted on the roof.  This allows light to hit the top of the bottle that sticks out through the top of the roof and be reflected through the water into the the small dark home.  The effect is astounding and even life-changing.  The first hand accounts of these lights being installed in homes is warming and shows how far a ray of sunlight can shine.



Bureau of Labor Statistics. American Time Use Survey.

Liter of Light.

Mathiasen, Nanet; Voltenlen, Nina. Light and Shadow.

Tanizaki, Jun’ichirō. In Praise of Shadows. 1933.