[Dr Paul F. Downton. Springer and CSIRO Publishing, 2009. 608pp. $130.
Dr Paul F. Downton. Springer and CSIRO Publishing, 2009. 608pp. $130.
Ecopolis is part of Springer’s “Future City” series, which draws on all the disciplines that contribute to thinking about contemporary urban development.
Dr Paul Downton is a past academic and practising architect. Although based in Adelaide, South Australia, his practice extends beyond individual projects to “city making” scale commissions elsewhere in Australia and overseas.
The book records his own evolution in thinking about ecological theory as applied to urban development and includes summaries of a number of implementation prototypes from his practice. However, it also extends beyond his own practice – a succession of chapters bring together crisp summaries of the attempts from the past to codify good urban development, from early Western civilization onward. The emphasis is on mid-twentieth-century commentators, who provide the foundations for current thinking.
The sources extend beyond urban development professionals to encompass social, political and economic sources. This demonstrates the connectedness of built artefacts, the processes of their creation and the results they achieve in terms of human experience. This approach makes biological processes integral to urban development thinking, which traditionally is “bricks and mortar” focused.
The beginnings of “ecopolis” as a term in the 1980s for ecological urban development is credited to a number of centres in the East and West at about the same time, and they continue to influence one another.
The text also teases out practitioners at local and regional levels in disparate places, and brings us exemplars of such thinking being made manifest. Some will be known “heroes” of the professions (Frank Lloyd Wright), some “villains” (Biosphere2) and others not widely recognized.
Among the process precedents, pattern language, permaculture, Gaia and community architecture are all brought under the ecopolis umbrella.
The book’s reviews of these precedents are not euphoric – projects are credited where appropriate, and admonished where additional scope or rigour would, in the author’s view, make them more complete.
The book Ecopolis should itself be seen in this light. It is a statement, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, on where along the continuum of exploration and evolution the art at present is positioned. It is about the human propensity to make deliberate living spaces, and how well they serve us. The book includes both a bibliography and an index to help the reader dip into this text and to go onward to other sources when pursuing a particular thought.