November 07, 2020

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Lo-TEK Design by Radical Indigenism by Julia Watson

Lo-TEK Design by Radical Indigenism by Julia Watson. I had mixed feelings reading this, but I think that's because I'm not really the target audience. I grew up in the countryside, with plenty of exposure to farms. It was really interesting to read about these alternate systems from round the world, and plenty seem under threat from Western ideas about how to "do farming/conservation right" or just the endless appetite of capitalism. If it helps protect any of it, then that's more than enough good for the book. I'm less convinced that there's lots for the UK, for example, to take from it specifically, as our environment is very different—it felt a bit like it was fetishizing the indigenous technologies a bit, and I think we should also be looking to similar traditional, in-touch-with-the-land, long-term tacit knowledge from our own cultures too.

Page 70

The living root bridges are built along the natural routes connecting two villages. In the absence of any means to lift and carry heavy stone slabs to suspend them across river and streams, they are left with no option but to turn to mother nature in their endeavour to cross to the other side. The rubber tree (Ficus Elastica) growing in the region beyond Cherrapunjee (Sohra) provided the natural solution. Timber would not have been able to withstand the ravages of the harse monsoons and the scourge of termites and pests.

Page 93

The Balinese term subak refers to both the rice terrace systems unique to this region and the self-governing associations of farmers who share water and planting schedules that are coordinated by calendrical rites in water temples. There are approximately twelve-hundred of these associations across Bali, each made up of fifty to four hundred farmers who continue the tradition of the subak. Traditional subak rice paddies are the most biodiverse and productive agrarian systems known to man. Using local cycles of nutrient dispersal and seasonal rainfall, the same subak terraces have produced rice for thousands of years at the scale of watersheds.

Page 102

In the 1970s the Bali government led a Green Revolution, forcing the introduction of massive quantities of fertilizers and pesticides to the subak, wreaking havoc on the ecology of the rice paddies. Within several seasons, growing cycles failed, soil structure degraded, insect biodiversity diminished, and the subak water temples were forgotten. The Green Revolution replaced native rice varieties with hybrid seeds that were genetically engineered for fast growth, high grain production, and commercial fertilizer application. This led to an ecological catastrophe which, when multiplied by the expansion of the tourist industry, triggered uncontrolled commercial development, aquifer privatization, water shortages, and pollution increase from illegal dumping of sewerage and solid waste. In response, World Heritage status was granted in June 2012 in an effort to save the subaks and water temples.

Page 181

Damming today is environmentally destructive, with impacts that range from altering river hydrology to stopping sediment transportation downstream and species migration upstream. In contrast, the dams of the Enawenê-nawê are porous, multi-functional, productive, responsive, seasonal, and temporary, supporting a unique forest fishing life.


The emerging trend of microgrids for localized energy generation and the design of microdamming infrastructures may lead to designs that respond to more adaptable, sustainable, and temporal conditions. This would allow the world's largest watersheds, river systems, and the human and non-human species which these mighty hydrological systems support, to thrive.

Page 277

An island is simultaneously a floating village, an aquaculture farm, and an artificial wetland synthesized into a single living infrastructure. Designed for mobility, islands are secured to the lakebed with anchors of rock and rope, but are able to migrate to deeper water locations. Today, two thousand six hundred and twenty-nine people live in a group of ninety-one reed islands. Each island hosts several thatched houses that belong to an extended family. Smaller islands measuring ten meters hold one to three families in twelve to fifteen huts. The huts are positioned to face a central clearing, occupied by a watchtower, while one side of the island is left open to dock boats. Interspersed between huts are fishponds, vegetable gardens, and living totora reed beds planted for privacy.

Page 311

For the past fifty years, architects have been imagining futuristic, floating cities that offset environmental problems like rising seas and increasing floods. In the remotest places on earth, a handful of isolated island communities, like the Ma'dan of Iraq exist having evolved technology that enabled aquatic living. The Ma'dan have survived for thousands of years in the cradle of civilization on simple, habitable, adaptable, and biodegradable buoyant infrastructures that rival contemporary, non-biodegradable floating island technology. Commonly used in water treatment or wetland construction, floating islands improve water quality, while also offering a diversity of habitat. Local building technologies are so versatile that a single reed species is used to construct islands, houses, boats, furniture, and meals, literally using biodiversity as a building block upon which these cultures float.

Page 323

The bheri wastewater aquaculture system in the East Kolkata Wetlands is a living and incredibly resilient urban circulatory system. The system is synonymously a fishery, waste management system, agricultural field, rice paddy network, community hub, grazing land, and heritage site. For the community who live around the wetlands, the filtration of water is an act of giving back to the gods. Spiritual connection to the Mother Ganga, whose river water flows through the wetlands, plays its own role in this ecosystem, with Ganges water believed to cleanse the body and mind. At twelve thousand, five hundred hectares of land, the East Kolkata Wetlands is the largest wastewater-fed aquaculture system in the world.

Page 336

Not only are the wetlands environmentally and socially beneficial, they offer enormous financial incentives to the city. With wetland fish being fed by the city's sewage, the city saves approximately twenty-two million USD on the running expenses of a waste treatment plant annually, while water from the bheris being used for irrigation additionally saves approximately five hundred thousand USD in water and fertilizer costs. Wetland activities lead to the production of thirteen thousand tons of fish per year, sixteen thousand tons of rice per year, and about one hundred and fifty-six tons of vegetables per day, all of which are sourced locally and save the city millions in transportation costs.

Passed down verbally through generations, the traditions of the wetland system have been kept alive through careful stewardship of the land. Not only are these processes a way of life and means for survival, they also maintain historical richness, ingenuity, cultural pride, and a spiritual connection to this place. Many fishermen are members of fishing cooperatives, an equitable model of management and profit distribution.

Page 354

Ganvie, meaning 'we survived', is a lake city made of bamboo and teak stilted houses of Tofinu fishing families. The city is a collection of eleven villages organized around a canal system and navigated by dugout canoes. Surrounding the village is an artificial reef of twelve thousand enclosed fish paddocks that sustain waters teeming with fish and wildlife. A healthy relationship between a growing city and a lake is rare, making this an extraordinary civilization that has evolved an aquaculture that embodies advanced ecological design thinking. They use symbiotic species relationships to feed an entire city, while making a healthier ecosystem for its native flora and fauna. Made from mangroves, the 'acadja brush park' is an indigenous reef aquaculture system and technology that has spread from the waters of Lake Nokoue to many other aquatic Beninese communities.

Page 398

Climate change has shown us that our survival is not dependent upon superiority, but upon symbiosis. In the shift towards designing resilient cities, Lo-TEK and indigenous technologies are critical in the conversation for designers addressing climate change, as they are living examples that embody resilience thinking. We need to expand our definition of sustainable technology to encompass the Lo-TEK movement, and in this effort alter the course of collapse. Acknowledging the mistakes of modernity and the failure of conservation, we can shift our position of authority to one of collaboration with Nature.

Posted by Adrian at November 7, 2020 10:13 PM | TrackBack

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