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Earth's Habitat Change

Pouchulu architect




1 - Introduction

"Lo! Death has reared himself a throne

In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently —
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free —
Up domes — up spires — up kingly halls —
Up fanes — up Babylon-like walls —
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers —
Up many and many a marvelous shrine
Whose wreathéd friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in the air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol's diamond eye —
Not the gaily-jeweled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass —
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea —
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave — there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide —
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow —
The hours are breathing faint and low —
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence."

City in the Sea,
Edgar Allan Poe, 1845.

We face a catastrophic Habitat event produced by 10.000 years of constant deforestation and 200 years of intensive pollution. Industries and human habitat did not change direction when they had to, triggering devastating positive feedback effects: unstable and rising global temperatures, ocean acidification and deoxygenation, land and water contamination, and other fifty factors that will not allow the survival of our civilization, because of habitat loss. The greenhouse effect is devastating: our atmosphere is thin and fragile. The non-linear solar cycles of warming and hibernation that occur every 11, 70, 206 and 2.300 years (according to different scientists) only explain climate events but not the rise of baseline average temperatures. We must stop burning fossil fuels and start to consider the logic of passive energy sources, economical structures, local materials and minimum transportation. Marshall McLuhan anticipated that the speed of electronic information was catapulting perception, conscience and knowledge, while Jacques-Yves Cousteau alerted about the agony of the sea. Virtual reality is entertaining people, while deactivating children's writing and interpreting capabilities. We got trapped in mimic information. Habitat has a fragile "psyche". By 2030 three billion people would not have food nor shelter because of our presence as invasive species, over-population, over-exploitation, contamination and vulnerable infrastructure against extreme hot climate. Most vertebrate and invertebrate species started the process of extinction and will not survive the next few decades. This is the real world already visible on TV and the Internet. However, people are not reacting. The Internet became an extraordinary tool but for the majority, search engines and social networks are dangerous: ultimately, they are used to subtly monitor and dictate people's life. Overwhelming evidence anticipates an incoming hostile Habitat: we have to learn how to inhabit deserts, regions under torrential rain or floating structures. Consumerists habits will perish. A new generation of sailing ships will be back. We will create re-balanced bike cities that will exploit sustainable resilient forests and intensive agriculture, where feasible. Technology and resources will be used to monitor and sustain life form systems, including ours. For how long, I do not know. Unlike Nature, we can anticipate scenarios and react, somehow we must adapt to a new dramatic environment. The game of creative reasoning is my guide, to reinterpret architectural principles, my challenge; deciphering the nature of things and pursuing methodical thinking, my path for understanding.


About the Author

Patricio Pouchulu (Buenos Aires, 1965) is an architect and educator graduated at the Bartlett School, UCL London, and FADU-UBA. He was recognized by the British Council; his architecture develops a wide range of themes: from utopian cities to organic architecture and eco-pods. An expert in habitat, he eventually became known after his 2002 Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, Egypt. He worked as a consultant of the Buenos Aires City Mayor in environmental issues. He taught in Germany, UK and Argentina. Involved in Habitat Change research for twenty years. Founder of Cyclotel, the Netherlands.

The Gibsons of Scilly (Scilly Isles, England, UK) watching a shipwreck, Granite State, 1895. A good representation of how scientists acknowledge Earth's habitat loss. Architects are on board, enjoying theoretical discussions.


Find below the first lines of each chapter, or directly start reading the essay here.

2 - Mimic-Reality

We face a non-returning catastrophic ecological event produced by 10.000 years of constant deforestation and 200 years of intensive pollution. Industries and habitat need to change direction to allow our civilization to survive. 19th century science developed into 20th century technique, producing a self-destroying scenario where architects (which for centuries created beautiful universes) are not leading in the environment anymore. We have been replaced by technocrats, who ignore the nature of things. For three decades theoretical discussions showed a detachment from habitat. Architects became designers in giant urban proportions, often building anti-sustainable contraptions. Glass towers in deserts like Dubai are seen as a success, wasting energy, resources, becoming a sad example of what not to do. (...) Read this chapter, here.

3 - Habitat's Psyche

Meanwhile, architects became hypnotized with digital images, often ignoring tectonic and structural concepts, taking no notice of architectural principles, proportions, deprecating local materials (imperative to avoid transport pollution) and disregarding passive energy (an issue solved in the mid sixties). Absurd discussions organised in the Internet and for the Internet produce the illusion of a green attitude: the use of greenish pixels in clean digital renderings gives the impression of ecological preoccupation. It is not enough to have a scientific knowledge of materials and production processes, what is needed first is a wider conceptualisation and understanding of our habitat in order to find a general path, wide enough to draw living spaces, energy, infrastructure and mobility into the same direction, and only then to use full resources and software to develop architecture. (...) Read this chapter, here.

4 - Survival Cities

We will create small, autonomous, self-re-balanced cities that will harvest crops and produce meat, exploiting and protecting sustainable forests. These cities will create minimum clean energy using not only solar and wind power, but water and gravity. Pollution by transportation will be reduced to the minimum. A smaller number of industrial goods produced abroad will cross the world on wind powered trans-oceanic cargo boats: sailing vessels will be back. On land, only light electric trains will be allowed, and 100% green small lorries for inner-city transportation. In places where temperature will raise beyond bearable, underground facilities will be needed. (...) Read this chapter, here.

5 - Migrations

World population, soon reaching 10 billion, would face a reduction in the next decades. Coastal settlements will be relocated to higher lands. By 2040 about 3 billion people could be starving and unprotected. These projections are conservative and from reliable non-profit private organizations. This is the real world that you already watch on TV and the Internet. It seems that those initially not affected will not react. Our ingenuous believe that the Earth had endless resources -and ample capacity to compensate pollution- has destroyed the environment and its biodiversity to a non-returning point, breaking ecological and food chains. We became not just the dominant species, but the one that precipitate life extinction. (...) Read this chapter, here.

6 - New slavery

First, to abandon car-based urbanizations: walking, bikes and trains will save what's left of the landscape. Second, to avoid all plastic packaging and plastics in habitat, clothing, tools, toys and furniture, except in specialized instrumentality applied to scientific research and exploration. Third, to keep producing analog machines and techniques, they are recyclable and more ecological, they produce better products and employ more people: prints, images and sounds are full of harmonics, not mere sterilised flat pixels; pieces of real material art. Fourth, to get food from areas close to where we live. Fifth, refers to a factor that has transformed society in such a electrifying way, so violently that we are not conscious about how dramatically the life of most people has changed. I refer to the Internet in relation with mobile communication technology. I suggest to keep away as much as possible from what we know as social networks. (...) Read this chapter, here.

7 - Architectural Actions: Imminent Catastrophe

We face a non-returning catastrophic Habitat event produced by 10.000 years of constant deforestation and 200 years of intensive pollution. Unlike what everyone thought during the Cold War (US-URSS), the main danger was not -and it is not- global nuclear war, the main danger is our own habitat. Even if the Earth's temperature is mostly regulated by the Sun and its cycles of warm and hybernation (11, 70, 206 and 2.300 years, according to different scientists), the greenhouse effect produced by contamination of the upper atmosphere is causing positive feedback events, visible in several fronts: Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland melting because of rising global temperatures, receding glaciers and mountain snow, stronger hurricanes and storms, oceans acidification (by chemicals and rubish), desertification of agricultural areas and the dramatic extinction of vertebrate and invertebrate species by the dominant species. (...) Read this chapter, here.

8 - Architectural Actions: Re-Balance

Our mission should be to create innovative architectural projects anticipating the change of environmental paradigms. What we used to consider as 'desirable environment', made of disconnected guidelines, is turning now into what we define as 're-balanced Eco-habitat'. This involves not only the application of a full circular economy, but a radical change of industrial production parameters, by stopping the use of current fossil energy sources, still developing obsolete twentieth century electric networks. During its transportation, 40% of all high voltage electricity in the world is lost, and another 10% by using transformers to plug our low voltage home appliances in 220 or 110 Volts (energy dissipated as heat). The whole infrastructure fed by oil and plastic-related industries must be dismounted and re-developed. (...) Read this chapter, here.

9 - Architectural Actions: Survival

The pre-human natural scenario is long finished. We have to adapt to what is left. The inertia of the environmental damage produced cannot be stopped. Two actions must be taken: first, we have to live with the consequences of our industrial civilisation, eliminating all highly contaminant industrial production, optimising the rest; second, we must change our precarious habitat conscience to avoid further damage in the future. Oceans, land and atmosphere have been modified beyond turning-back possibilities. According to the majority of scientists, Geo-engineering (intervening climate in global magnitude) does not seem a good option. Agricultural lands, coastal and river populated areas will not remain the same, which is irrelevant considering the life-span of the Earth's evolution, but quite severe when framed in human's life-span. To re-balance what will be left must be our objective, and stop pollution forever, a command. (...) Read this chapter, here.

10 - Architectural Actions: Energy

Future habitat will navigate in three channels: first, each building will generate its own green energy. By doing so, 40% of all the energy produced in the world could be saved; second, current social energy needs -absurdly exaggerated- will be reduced; third, energy sources must be not only green but multiple. New low voltage artefacts will include different type of batteries or none at all, because the current ones are 100% non-recyclable. Irons and microwaves cannot be allowed. Plastic furniture is not ecological. Wood-based industries must be explored till its limit, optimising the process of growing and producing, because trees are the only renewable source of building material. To plant three trees, to exploit one. Part of the world forests can be recovered in about 100 years. (...) Read this chapter, here.

11 - Architectural Actions: 1 to 10 Billion in 200 years?

In order to face both the existing and incoming habitat crisis is imperative to consider how to re-balance the environment, rather than 'sustain' it; the verb sustain means to 'support, carry, stand, underpin' which in many ways defines an incomplete or unfinished situation; on the contrary, we must repair and rebalance in order to achieve a new ecological equilibrium. Even if we face the dramatic extinction of a large number or even most of the species, our species can adapt. Unfriendly decisions are required which, if applied, will not change the destruction path initiated, anyway, because the pre-human 'natural' scenario is long finished. We have to adapt to what is left. The inertia of the environmental damage produced cannot be stopped. Two actions should be taken: first, we have to eliminate all highly contaminant industrial production processes, optimising those who are less contaminant; second, we must change our precarious habitat conscience to avoid further damage in the future. (...) Read this chapter, here.

12 - Architectural Actions: Bikes

By 2040 about one third of the world population would struggle due to lack of food and drinking water. At the moment (this text was revised in 2018) it is one fourth. Many will migrate to safer areas, far from coasts or rivers. If Global Warming continues, by 2040 we would face a (minimum) 3 degrees temperature rise, where crops start to fail, and not far from the dangerous 6 degrees massive extinction limit. We are about to enter the second degree rise, and after the ice-free Arctic one more degree will be added, and this is happening right now. There are three scenarios. The first one: if the warming continues, migrations in all continents and particularly in some latitudes will be unavoidable due to famine because of crops failure and non-adequate shelter. The second: if it stops, it will confirm the temperature is regulated mostly by the Sun; I follow this principle, it is strange that the Sun is almost never mentioned in Climate Change researches from the last 30 years... but it was mentioned before. (...) Continue reading this chapter, here.

13 - Architectural Actions: Whose Side Are You On?

Architects will have to lead private movements to re-invent our civilisation (Latin "civitas" = city) but in a new balanced habitat. Initially because of rain and severe storms, rather than sea level rise, we will have to relocate coastal and river cities and towns in safer and higher lands; if those are at a sea level and people have marine traditions, the logical approach would be to create floating cities or parts of them able to float, rather than forcing millions to migrate. Because of unstable and extremely high temperatures in summer, some regions will have to adopt extreme measures. This is already happening since 2010 in Europe, in capitals like Paris or London, not used to heat waves: in the last summers they had more than thirty thousand deaths within a week, mostly elderly people. The same is observed in countries where hot summers are considered normal. The lack of statistics does not help. It will be not possible to modify reality at once. (...) Read this chapter, here.

14 - Bibliography

Read Pouchulu's recommendation, here.

15 - Online Resources

Find an essential list of resources here.

16 - Pouchulu's educational programme

Explore publications and Survival Architecture Programme, here.

17 - Statement: Adapting to Habitat Chaos

The following are six essential commands to stop destroying our planet and adapting to what is left: First, to abandon car-based urbanizations: walking, bikes and trains can save what's left of the landscape. Since 1896 more than 30 million people were killed in car accidents and 900 million suffered injuries. Still, cars have provided the biggest fun for humans (...) Read more, here.

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Background photo: planet Mars, dust storm, PIA15959, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), courtesy of NASA

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