Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I ran across this comment related to an earlier essay and thought it deserved a response. 

“We do continue to struggle to understand each other. Patrick's discomfort with Walter's misuse of symbiosis is exactly why this discussion is happening. If we don't know the meaning, can't be sure that we have a shared understanding, of "excellence in architecture", well, where are we?” 

I’ll try to explain my use of the word “symbiotic” by beginning with the definition. I should mention at the outset, however, that I haven’t been trying to provide an improved method of evaluating the final aesthetic appearance of architectural design. I’ve been trying to present a method of measurement, comparison, prediction and evaluation of the shelter capacity, intensity, intrusion and dominance created. Defensible arguments based on quantitative evaluation will produce public understanding of its motives, benefit, value and contribution.  


n. pl. sym·bi·o·ses  

1. Biology A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.

2. A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence. 

When I use the terms “symbiotic” or “Symbiotic Period” they refer to the goal of mutual benefit between The Natural Domain and an artificial domain we call the built environment. Energy efficient buildings, for instance, are not symbiotic when they continue to consume resources without replacement or benefit to The Natural Domain. The goal is an ideal, but The Natural Domain insists on balance and architecture has a role to play.  

Architecture is shelter that accumulates to form one of four divisions in a built environment I’ll refer to as The Built Domain. It is growing without restraint because we consider the land a speculative commodity. It has been considered a resource and has been overlooked as a source of life. We call its parasitic growth “sprawl”. Sprawl can be contained within geographic limits, but we are not prepared to undertake the effort with the physical, social and economic design tools available. I think many will agree, however, that the built environment must expand within a limited Built Domain that does not threaten the life of its natural host. In other words a mutually beneficial, or symbiotic, relationship must be established or it will be imposed by the Natural Domain. 

Shelter is a prerequisite for survival but is capable of suffocating the planet with sprawl. Increasing shelter intensity within geographic limits is an antidote for sprawl, but it is capable of suffocating our quality of life with building mass, pavement, and social activity. If population growth continues, our ability to protect our quality and source of life will depend on our ability to design shelter intensity options that protect our quality of life within geographic limits.  

Mutual benefit is the goal of symbiotic design. Architecture can play an important part when it sees that City Design includes a strategic massing plan for shelter, space and survival within sustainable limits. Traditional architecture is employed to achieve a tactical shelter objective in the strategic plan. 

In the past, survival has depended on the random construction of shelter wherever the need occurred. Architecture responded with form, function and engineering improvements that were symbolized with artistic style. In the future, architecture can respond with buildings that continue to sprawl and consume the land, or it can adjust the concept of shelter for survival to reflect a mutually beneficial relationship with the planet.  


Design with intensity means learning to design with space. The relationship of building height, mass and pavement to unpaved project open space indicates the level of shelter intensity present. Intensity itself is a broad spectrum of design options that can be measured, predicted, evaluated, and defined with design specification values.  

The Built Domain includes four divisions: Shelter, Movement, Open Space, and Life Support. Intensity is a function of the relationship between Open Space and the combined impact of Shelter, Movement, and Life Support.
There are four categories of open space that reduce intensity. The first is a Natural Domain that must be protected from the Built Domain to preserve our source of life. The second is agriculture, which is one of two phyla within the Built Domain (rural and urban). The third is public open space within the rural and urban phyla of the Built Domain. The fourth is private project open space within the urban phyla of the Built Domain.
The allocation of shelter, space and intensity within the Built Domain will require the city design of urban and rural phyla to balance the conflicting demands involved. This raises two fundamental questions: (1) Do we have the authority to lead the design of the Built Domain, and (2) Can we design symbiotic shelter solutions for growing populations within a limited Built Domain that protects our quality and source of life?
The relationship of architecture to city design is similar to the relationship between medicine and public health. One is a profession focused on the individual. The other is an institution focused on the population. We have learned through centuries of plague and conflict that an individual is threatened when he or she cannot be protected by the scope of his or her institutions. We are now learning that both individuals and populations can be threatened when the health of a planet cannot be protected by the scope of our combined institutions.  

What Is The Point? 

Leadership must have a goal and there is one above all others: to survive in an uncertain world. Professions and institutions have evolved to contribute, but architectural contributions have focused on individual projects. Unfortunately, inadequate land use plans, zoning law and legal precedent have led to both excessive project intensity and sprawl. Sprawl consumes our source of life one project at a time and excessive intensity imposes stress within and beyond the immediate area. The point is that a growing population is at risk when it cannot be protected from excessive intensity, and our planet is at risk when it cannot be protected from the shelter sprawl produced by population growth 

What Is The Goal? 

The goal is to shelter the activities of growing populations within a geographically limited Built Domain that protects their quality and source of life – The Natural Domain. Progress will begin with the measurement and evaluation of existing shelter capacity, intensity, intrusion, dominance and appearance using the tools and science of city design.[1] At this point architecture will expand its knowledge and ability to assess the implications of future forecasted options. At this point, it will be able to address the issue of survival once again. 

We haven’t been master builders since the Renaissance. We gather intelligence, correlate information, and create strategic plans that are executed by tactical field commanders. We are not in control of the strategic decisions represented by these plans, however. They are directed by investors, construction managers and government officials because our emphasis has been on fine art. This has compromised our leadership potential because design is not fine art. Art does not need to explain its decisions while architecture is expected to defend its proposals with logic. The priorities of art and architecture diverge at this point of responsibility. Design seeks to define a problem and solution based on a question. Emphasis on the appearance of the solution over-simplifies the process, and has led to the designation of architecture as fine art. Appearance may be considered a symbol of the search for an architectural solution; and the solution may be considered fine art, but the word that represents architectural leadership is “correlation”. 

We cannot moderate sprawl and intensity or protect our source of life when design is governed by the decisions of others with conflicting motivation. I have suggested a goal for architecture that emphasizes public benefit and natural preservation. This does not exclude any of its previous objectives. It simply prioritizes them. 

Opinion fills a knowledge vacuum. Government and law moderate debate and bail the boat until other institutions repair the damage with knowledge-based credibility. This is where medical research, medical practice and public health have been. It is where architecture must go, and why it must learn to speak in a language of city design that can correlate the work of many previously isolated disciplines. 

Design matters because it is the only way to reconcile the artificial Built Domain with the land and life support of the Natural Domain. The lack of a symbiotic solution will permit a parasite to dominate with sprawl based on a Ponzi concept of growth that is not sustainable and always leads to extinction. You may recoil from the analogy, but give it some thought. We have been given the power to dominate and the responsibility to coexist. It is a struggle among instincts that will succeed when intelligence is linked to emotion with knowledge and wisdom. 

The next level of adaptation will require symbiotic awareness. If you agree, it is an opportunity for architecture to contribute. Shelter is an essential part of the solution and sprawl is a threat to survival. We must structure architectural education to address the challenge. This includes the ability to measure, evaluate and predict shelter capacity, intensity, intrusion and dominance. It is the key to informed land use decisions within limited geographic areas. 

At the present time symbiotic survival is a goal without a definition of excessive sprawl and intensity. Eventually, sprawl may be defined as development that exceeds the geographic limits of a defined Built Domain. The Built Domain will be established to protect our source of life. Shelter intensity will be defined as a range of gross building area, pavement and open space options for a given activity and project land area. The ends of the intensity spectrum will represent extremes, but the spectrum itself has eluded precise mathematical definition until publication of The Science of City Design. This definition is needed to make consistent progress toward a goal that can prevent sprawl without sacrificing our quality of life. The imprecise and incomplete zoning definitions presently in use have not produced consistent success. They have led to random results and legal precedent based on crude, misguided and uncorrelated stipulations. 

Shelter capacity, activity, intensity and sprawl consume resources, pollute the environment, and threaten survival; but this is a claim that is only based on growing intuitive awareness at this point in time. We are again attempting to stand up in the grasslands trying to identify threat and risk. When architecture can help us stand, the demand for advice will multiply; the connection to public benefit will be apparent; and the appearance of solutions will begin to symbolize a new period of symbiotic awareness. 


Medicine and law occupy positions of authority because their research institutions serve the public interest while their practices serve the private sector. Architecture has no comparable relationship to the public interest. It is isolated from city planning and both suffer from the separation.  

The public suffers from plans for movement, open space, and life support that are poorly correlated with the shelter capacity, intensity, and condition they are meant to serve. The result is inadequate attention to our quality and source of life. This promotes sprawl when the community is not surrounded by others; and decline within fixed boundaries. In other words, the combination of shelter capacity, intensity, activity, and condition is served by movement, open space and life support systems. The combination affects our quality of life, but improvement will require new cooperating relationships and new computer applications capable of calculating the correlation required with the new mathematical language of city design.  

The land development process is based on a concept of growth that is out of control, in my opinion; because the freedom to own and convert the Natural Domain ignores the difference between a resource and a source of life. 

Finally, the measurement, forecasting, and evaluation of shelter capacity, intensity, intrusion and domination does not require artistic talent. The effort, however, can link all related city design disciplines such as, but not limited to: architecture, city planning, geography, engineering, landscape architecture, real estate investment, appraisal, environmental science, sociology, psychology, and urban economics. In other words, a consistent measurement system can be used to link the conclusions of all shelter-related disciplines. 


City design is a recognition that architecture is shelter; that shelter is an essential component of survival; that survival will depend on symbiotic shelter and space within sustainable geographic limits; that growing populations will increase the need to understand shelter intensity options; that excessive shelter intensity within geographic limits can prolong survival without protecting our quality of life; that sprawl beyond geographic limits is a threat to our source of life; that limiting sprawl and intensity is essential to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare; that “welfare” includes our physical, social, psychological, environmental and economic quality of life; that land use allocation, architecture, and city design are inseparable elements of shelter and survival within sustainable geographic limits; and that shelter capacity and intensity measurement, forecasting and evaluation can build knowledge capable of supporting a city design effort with persuasive quantitative arguments capable of repeating success and avoiding failure. 

We have been wandering since the Renaissance spinning off technical specialties and pursuing fine art, but art does not need to explain its decisions while architecture is expected to defend its proposals with knowledge and logic. Their priorities diverge at this point of responsibility. The confusion over priorities may have begun with the patronage of fine art and architecture. Patronage implies that a special interest has priority. This may be true in fine art, but I’ve argued that a greater public interest is affected by architectural design decisions. It will be chained to the priorities of patronage, however, until political systems and architectural institutions realize that growing populations will be increasingly concerned with shelter and survival on a planet that does not compromise with ignorance.  

Architecture correlates information and knowledge with logic. It visualizes results with intuition and experience. We call it creativity and talent, but it has a mathematical foundation. The shelter capacity of land and the intensity present or implied have had to be visualized. There has been no measurement and forecasting system that would permit us to explore the implications of shelter decisions within sustainable geographic limits on a quantitative basis. This has changed with The Science of City Design and my two earlier books.[2] I hope they will bring recognition that land use allocation, shelter capacity, architectural intensity, city planning, and city design are inseparable elements of symbiotic shelter, space, and survival within sustainable geographic limits. 


The leadership correlation needed to produce symbiotic shelter requires a new vocabulary for the measurement, prediction and evaluation of shelter capacity, intensity, intrusion, and dominance. The language required will not replace architectural practice. It will expand its value by expanding its ability to correlate decisions and consistently lead private projects toward the public objectives of city planning and design. Correlation has been the hallmark of architecture for millennia. We can put this leadership ability to better use when we expand its focus to include the broad array of disciplines concerned with the public need for a symbiotic future. 


Architects have always responded to the need for shelter, but the need has a new dimension as population growth tests our ability to survive within symbiotic limits. This is a challenge worthy of a new period in architecture, but you must be willing to create the tools, research, knowledge, education and applications required. This will be excellence in architecture. Excellence in fine art will symbolize the next level of awareness achieved, and this excellence will continue to be a source of debate in the language of fine art. 

A symbiotic parasite has a relationship of mutual benefit that ensures continued survival. Our relationship to the planet must become symbiotic or perish from ignorance.  

We need to shelter growing populations within a limited Built Domain that does not threaten its source of life – The Natural Domain. I have written the three books noted in the footnotes in response to this belief. The books introduce ability to measure, predict, and lead shelter capacity, intensity, intrusion and dominance on every lot and parcel within The Built Domain based on the design specification values entered in one of their forecast model options. This work will be in vain, however, if intensity is permitted to compromise our quality of life, or if The Built Domain expands to compromise its source of life – The Natural Domain. 

We now have the power to destroy without the wisdom to protect the planet. A world without end now demands life within limits, and adaptation is expected in response to the level of awareness granted. Responsibility, however, is a decision to prevent excess. It involves choice after a consideration of options. Risk is inversely proportional to an awareness of implications, and negligence ignores the topic.

Shelter has become a benchmark of responsibility. Its provision will indicate the choices we have made in the continuing struggle to survive with growing populations. These choices will be expressed with the architecture that emerges from a language of city design that defines our symbiotic aspirations.

[1] Hosack, Walter M., The Science of City Design, and CreateSpace, 317 pages, 2016.
[2] Hosack, Walter M., Land Development Calculations, editions 1 and 2 and their attached forecasting software entitled, Development Capacity Evaluation, The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2001 and 2010. Also available from

No comments:

Post a Comment