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Primal Architecture

by Jo Petroni 2 months ago in humanity
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Or Your Search for a Good Place to Nap, Dear Trivian

Dear Trivian,

Do you remember the warm sunny day when we played hide and seek in the upper field? Then we took a nap in the tall grass..

Searching for the best place to sleep is a primordial activity. Shelter is one of the fundamentals of civilization and the placement of a good shelter is at the core of our survival. Right?

Neuroscience and sociology have both sort of reached the conclusion that humans seek places where they can feel what they call "prospect and refuge". Prospect is the tendency to look out for opportunities - obviously, in the savanna, not in H&M's, though there's probably a good argument they're related. We like knowing what lies ahead so that we can strategize around it. We also like to know what might come towards us before it actually does. The feeling of safety that a well-placed refuge gives us.

Thousands of years ago, people saw open nature with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the attack. Any moment they weren't careful, they could end up being dinner. The strategies they have developed in response to that constant threat have stuck with us until today, hardwired into our systems. We have also always seen nature as the source of all things good, such as water, food and sunshine. So there’s an ambivalence here worth thinking about.

The most significant adaptation to the lurking threat of open nature is the dwelling, the cave, the shelter. And this shelter had to have some very specific features. Firstly, it had to protect your back. We only have eyes in front so being sure we're not possibly getting attacked from behind is key. The lookout can be focused on the front of the dwelling. There, you'd need to see as much and as far as possible, so being a bit high up is useful. But not too high up or you'll get your back out in the open again, vulnerable to the elements!

Now the geography of this land you look out to is composed of some very specific things as well. Studies reveal that we are happiest when our landscape has certain features, and those features are incredibly similar to what you find in the savanna: a bit of open flat land to be sure you spot opportunities, a bit of wooded, because it's a guarantee of food abundance, and the winding line of a river, primary element of our survival. Here again, higher ground adds protection.

Beyond the basic needs for prospect and refuge there are all the other, more nuanced elements, like how the view from the morning room will make you feel about your day? or Will the sound of the wind blowing from behind the house let you sleep at night? Will that wind cool your house so that you would need to crank up the heating? When you’ll work in your office-to-be-built, will the sun hit your face enough that you can't read your screen? (I'll get back to this problem, I find it to be extremely annoying)

All of these are being theorized into biophilic design. I could have called it differently, and have my own brand, say Primal Architecture. In the sense that we should develop a design that takes into account our innate relationship with nature. Only one aspect of this is the prospect-refuge idea. There are myriad others yet to be explored.

Up until a point, I am sure that we all have the instinct of finding proper placement for our dwellings. After all, it's just our innate relationship with nature right? We just need to relearn how to listen.



P.S. This is why I have written Listen to Your Land, which you can buy for free right here. You can also buy it for however much you like, if you feel generous. But it's really not necessary. As long as you get the book on your tablet and swipe through it at some point in time, then look out the window and sigh or something, I'm happy.

P.P.S. Here, a couple of people seem to have decided they don't like the placement of their house after all:)) Amish communities get together and literally move a whole shed to a new location. It's just mind boggling. Though I will have you note the tiny bit of rot on the wooden boards where the shed sits on the ground. I imagine it's just a price to pay for the fabulous flexibility of this system.

Thanks for reading! This post was originally published on Substack.


About the author

Jo Petroni

I help Ecovillages Listen to Their Land before they build on it. I'm an architect who specializes in bioclimatics, biophilia, permaculture, low-tech and off-grid.

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