The Story: Wholes versus Parts
Wholes versus Parts
In many ancient designs, where patterns pursued natural architecture, there is a distinct lack of symmetry or straight lines. While shapes such as circles, squares, rectangles and triangles are recognizable; they are not drawn with straight lines or in symmetry. They are free flowing as if observed only in the shapes derived from nature. It would seem that the wall murals of the Ndebele people in southern Africa would argue against this notion. Ndebele homes are brightly colored with abstract constructivist patterns.
But as Powell notes in his book "Ndebele - A people and their art", "Ndebele mural art, geometric patterns on traditional houses have their beginnings in the 1940ís. The first 'Ndebele-style' wall paintings that we know of were photographed by Pretoria architect and university academic Al Meiring at a single settlement in the Hartebeestfontein area during the late 1940s - and there is every indication that it was in fact here that the practice of decorative and geometric wall paintings, at least as we think of it today, had its origins among the Ndebele." [Powell, 1995]
This may indicate that natural architecture is in some way less superior to modern architecture in thinking. But this is not so. In the first paragraph of Peter Senge's book, "The Fifth Discipline - the art and practice of the learning organization", the author writes,
"From a very early age, we are taught to break apart problems, to fragment the world. This apparently makes complex tasks and subjects more manageable, but we pay a hidden, enormous price. We can no longer see the consequences of our actions; we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to a larger whole. When we then try to 'see the big picture,' we try to reassemble the fragments in our minds, to list and organize all the pieces. But, as physicist David Bohm says, the task is futile - similar to trying to reassemble the fragments of a broken mirror to see a true reflection. Thus, after a while we give up trying to see the whole altogether." [Senge, 1990, p.3] This aptly describes the modernist thinking of abstracting, structured methods and artefact gathering.
The thought is also conveyed by Charles Jencks. "Modern sciences have triumphed through specializing on limited parts of reality: extremely few of them, like ecology and ethnology, have been holistic. Modern knowledge has progressed by analyzing problems into their parts, dividing to conquer, hence the multiple branching of university departments and investigative disciplines over the last two hundred years. Only a few fields, such as philosophy, ethnology and sociology have made their purview the whole of knowledge, or the interconnection of disciplines, and on these rare occasions only imperfectly so. Perhaps in the future with the environmental crises and the increasing globalization of the economy, communications and virtually every specialization, we will be encouraged - even forced - to emphasize the things which interact, the connections between growing economy, an ideology of constant change and waste. Those who don't realize the world is a whole are doomed to pollute it". [Jencks, 1989]
Senge later uses the story that astronaut Rusty Schweikert recounts of floating above the earth and noticing earth without the geographical boundaries and lines that divide nations, to illustrate the principles of systems thinking. Of this "direct experience" he writes, "The earth is an indivisible whole, just as each of us is an indivisible whole. Nature (and that includes us) is not made up of parts within wholes. It is made up of wholes within wholes. All boundaries, national boundaries included, are fundamentally arbitrary. We invent them and then, ironically, we find ourselves trapped within them." [Senge, 1990, p.371]
Natural architecture and thinking is as much about seeing wholes as opposed to parts and understanding the interconnectivity of life. It is a liberating view that helps us to express ourselves more closely with nature than the arbitrary and man-made constraints of classical, modernist and postmodernist thought. Natural Architecture is not simply an aspect of the postmodernist movement but, as Senge noted, is associated with the pre-industrial cultures whose beliefs were akin to the theory of "Gaia" - the belief that the biosphere, all life on earth, is itself a living organism.