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Lecture 1 of the Notre Dame open courseware materials for Architecture 50611: Architecture and the Built Environment. Part One.

Do you see yourself as a part of nature, or as separate from it?

I see myself as being artificially separated from it.

Compare, for instance, our globalized sense of nature and the world today with what it must have been to early Neolithic peoples: Picture small villages huddled within their encircling walls, isolated in the utter vastness of nature.

While people must have feared the consequenced of unfettered interaction with nature, I take exception to the idea that they felt a sense of isolation in a vastness. Only when one has experience of the antithesis, namely vast areas in which the entire environment has a sense of the created-by-man, can one feel a contrast. One might feel lonleliness or fear at being without other people, especially in an untamed nature where large carnivores roamed, but nature itself would be (in my opinion) simply “what is” and the Natural order of things.

A small slice of firsthand experience in this: growing up in a rural environment consisting of neither extensive farmland nor managed timber, but simply woods and fields and pastures, one simply accepts that this is the natural world and moves through it. The most grevious culture shock one finds, coming from such an environment, is a landscape in which everything is owned as personal space. One did not generally cut through the backyard areas of other homes without a good reason, nor their driveways and front yards. However there were, quite literally, acres and acres of intervening spaces through which one might freely travel. Fenced pastures had wide, wide borders; forested land had trails, and low, crumbling stone walls marking property lines, easy to step over or spend the afternoon rebuilding. Other than frightening chasms between cityscape buildings, or alleyways that are essentially public streets (and may not be loitered upon or otherwise trespassed), there is no public space. There are parks, certainly– little chunks of space kept boringly manicured for the purpose of DOING things in them, such as playing sports, but no inviting and diverse ramblings to be had.

Why do we seek order in our world?

I’m reluctant to even approach this without defining ‘order’, as neither of the two proffered ‘customary’ viewpoints seem plausible to me, namely Locke’s tabula rasa, and Aristotle/Kant/Arendt’s innate humanness. The latter I expect will come even more severely under fire when I finish watching the TED Susan Savage-Rumbaugh lecture and video.

I don’t claim to know the answer, but other possibilities seem more plausible. Boundaries tend to be areas of immense productivity and opportunity. The intertidal zone, the forest edge onto meadow or grazing, and so on. Perhaps as little monkeys, we created productivity zones with early agriculture, and merely kept doing it, recursing over mimicry and incorporating elements of the natural world’s boundaries into our created ones.

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