John Durant, in his book The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health, follows (primarily) nutrition through the major eras of human society: The paleolithic, the agricultural, the industrial, and the information ages. If these were plotted on a bar, it would look like reverse exponential growth (each period is drastically shorter than the last), and each accompanies certain health problems.
Take a minute and think about the same periods, but instead of nutrition, think about how the breakthroughs of each age affected design. Not only did what we put into our bodies change from one age to the next, but the environments we built to surround our bodies changed drastically as well.
The current age, in Durant’s eyes, is best defined by the biohacker movement. Ordinary people who have decided to educate themselves on their own biology in order to conduct n=1 experiments and see what pattern of eating and exercise works best for them. As a revolt against the mass-market foods (and obesity) of the industrial age, they are turning to local farms and ranches to take back their health.
I would argue that the newest generation of landscape architects and architects have this mentality in their work. For a very long time subdivision developers, city officials, and big businesses have made far-reaching decisions on what buildings, landscapes, bridges, and so on must look like. Just see the state DOT’s set of standard details (which is then pushed by Accessibility specialists who don’t want the liability of having passed an unorthodox detail). If there is a way to translate oatmeal into design, oversight agencies have found it.
Maybe it’s time to get away from the Standard American
Diet Aesthetic and back to more regional approaches that have worked in an area for thousands of years. It won’t look the same as something across the country, and it shouldn’t.
We are living in a time when you can go to the airport and no matter where you go, you will see suburbs that look exactly the same populated by people who look exactly the same. The grocery stores carry the same food.
But, that time is coming to an end. As the information age matures, regional differences will once again take hold (the same powers that enabled the industrialization of everything will probably be responsible for the de-industrialization of everything), and cities will forge new identities or re-discover their original ones.
We are, as a majority, living in houses and apartments that all look the same. We drive along roads to parks that all look the same. As we find ways to specialize and differentiate ourselves in our careers and our personal/social lives, let’s find ways to create uniqueness in the places we live. The information is there, it just needs to get To Scale.