Visiting the Ecosa Institute Studio in Prescott AZ


EcosaLogoEarlier this week on Tuesday Paul Hansen Mitev and I met with the current Ecosa Institute Coordinator Levi Mason.

In 2000 when I was a resident at Arcosanti, I enrolled in the first Ecosa Institute, Total Immersion Seminar on Ecological Design. This was 4 month program that gave me a deep understanding of the green movement as it pertains to creating change through marketplace driven activities that revolve around green business and architecture, rather than political or social activism (which is not to say that it is exclusive of those things either).

While I never went back to school to become an architect, or really even did very well in completing work in the class from a design perspective, the course left a long-term impact on my consciousness. The key I think of why it was a compelling experience for me is that it does try to introduce a more holistic way of sharing knowledge and that was something pretty much lacking in the rest of my academic career.

Levi updated me that in 2012, that they merged with Prescott College and are looking at the possibility of building a campus for the program and institute. Ecosa’s founder Tony Brown is asking for new leadership to guide Ecosa’s future and spread the word about Ecosa’s work

After meeting Levi, I have this desire to give something back to the process of learning and seeing the world that he shared with me for those 4 months in the year 2000. Maybe it was symbolic that I had this experience right at the turn of the millennium?

For what I recall most stuck with me, was when Tony spoke about how a good 21st century education was not learning by rote or memorizing knowledge, but learning how to solve a problem in an innovative and holistic way. To think like an ecosystem is a wording that I recall Living Machine inventor John Todd once writing about in an article. It’s about the way that we can adapt to challenges and to make them opportunities towards the achievement of our professional as well as social and spiritual goals in life. Add to that a deeply rooted ecological and social consciousness. To me, this is what Ecological Design is about.

Ecological Design has a wide scope of interdisciplinary interactions with various fields that pertain to the ecological and social sustainable design of things. So while Ecosa is mostly taking in architecture and design students, there is a broad range of people who come and participate in the seminar.

One of the students I met on Tuesday was Dominigue Pena from Costa Rica. She completed high school there and now she is looking at possibilities, and interested in engineering, possibly environmental. I mentioned that my mother got her Master’s degree in environmental engineering.

I told her some of the story of how I met George Chan, an environmental engineer educated at Imperial College in London. Despite his gold-plated Western education, the most profound story of his life was how he humbled by what the peasant farmers in China were doing with waste. These were things that they never told him was possible in school. It was this experience when he was 65, that ignited this spark within  him and created a new life and career for him. For the rest of his life he would work with another ecological designer, Zero Emission Research and Initiatives founder Gunter Pauli. They would work as a duo for many years working with many UN affiliated institutions to develop more sustainable, highly synergistic farming systems called Integrated Farming Systems and building prototypes all over the world traveling to 80 countries and working on 40 projects. I hope my retirement plans go that well. The only sad part of this story that as great of a visionary he was about farming and ecological design he was a person way ahead of his time. He did not live to see the full fruition of his visionary work.

Levi seems really interested in working with people in the Prescott community as well as alumni of the program who might be into getting involved with Ecosa in an advisory or support capacity.

One thing he mentions is a symposium he is planning for May that Prescott College has committed to do in May of next year. This he envisions is a way for people in the Ecosa Network to connect share, and present ideas and possibly collaborate on projects. I was thinking of it possibly offering opportunities for rapid prototyping collaboration charrettes where alumni and other could get together to plan out projects that if were compelling would lead to continued collaboration after the symposium.

Dovetailing with the paragraph above, Levi expressed an interest in putting together an effort to better organize alum of the program. I suggested that this might be an opportunity in forming a knowledge base. I have begun working on a Google Sites Wiki as a way to show how I think how we could use the wiki to organize Ecosa Network’s content and network resources. This is especially worthwhile because when you consider the value of the program to Prescott College or the students it is primarily the knowledge of the curriculum and the program and the network of Instructors and Guest instructors who help to convey that information about Ecological Design.

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