Monday, November 24, 2008

Alvan Blanch Development Co. - Sustainable Agriculture Solutions

I'm working on improving the sugarcane harvesting process at Earth (balancing production levels, energy requirements, emissions, and labor considerations), and I found this.

Alvan Blanch is a British manufacturing and project
engineering company with a global outlook, specialising
in the design, production and supply of quality machines
and completely integrated systems for the primary and
secondary processing of agricultural produce and waste

Friday, November 21, 2008

Before today I thought we're going to make a conference center.

Now I am thinking much more specifically about what the criteria for a green conference center should be.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The greatest insight that I uncovered throughout our meetings is that Earth must remain a unified, integrated campus should they expand their past position as an agricultural university. As a reaction to this problem, three important things came up regularly in conversation: Inspiration, Innovation, and Active teaching. I would like us to move forward with the project by using these three things to define a developmental framework for all aspects of Earth. All participants at La Flor (be they businesses, students, teachers, etc), should find inspiration in the agricultural practices and environment specific to Costa Rica to foster creative innovation, and they should then share what they have uncovered as both entrepreneurs and advocates.

Conservation through symbiosis can also serve as a commonality on campus. Earth’s resources, such as waste by-products, water, and knowledge must circulate continually from one place to another and become adapted to new uses. The surrounding community, too, must be viewed as an important part of this symbiosis. We must collaborate with the community to find an appropriate application of our knowledge as it applies to the culture of Guanacaste.

Our conversations also left me wondering how these commonalities might influence Earth’s development, both short term and long term. If the institution is going to develop as a money maker, potentially through tourism or product development, they should use Inspiration, Innovation and Active Teaching as the vehicles to get there. These short term goals should not prevent Earth’s long term development as an integrated campus for sustainable innovation.

As The Hollies once said, "The road is long..."

The main insight that I came away with is that Earth La Flor is going through an identity crisis. They know loosely what they want but are unsure of how to get there. I think each of our projects rang true on some levels of what they wanted (curriculum, innovation, advocacy, etc.) but how the pieces fit in were fuzzy. Community engagement and advocacy seemed to be a large part of their commitment but they seemed to shy away from political and controversial issues (perhaps because they are still building enough political capital to approach these issues). This strengthens my belief for the need of innovation research and ethical advocacy should to be a part of that. I believe that through the development of research based solutions, they are capable of approaching these issues in an influential way.

EARTH University at La Flor could be realized as the integration of living and learning. They could be an example to the local community by providing a threshold where sensory impulses are slightly unique. With awareness of this shift visitors could see, hear, and taste with new appreciation. The local community can be reached, their access made welcoming and their need for jobs, waste management, land and water planning can be addressed. A projection of La Flor is a place where you may live and learn in connection with the land, waking up with the monkeys at 5:30 in the morning, drinking juice from the fruit you work to harvest and gathering as a community which will learn how to embark in a process of lifelong learning.

The industrial park to the south will be an established, integrated entity of living, working and transportation. One remaining challenge is the integration of that independent entity with the academic and social components of EARTH’s program. Because education is about the people we may receive them through their cultural sensibilities. Our decisions could be inspired by the local historical architectural methods of sun doors, ventilation windows and floor boards, Boreque walls, compact calcium dirt roads and a community meeting under Guanacaste trees.

earth / trip reflections

EARTH inherited a neglected property that will always be seen as the former President's jewel. In its neglected state, and without a guide or transfer of previous knowledge, this incredible responsibility/opportunity fell into their hands. The enormity of the site and the lack of an overall understanding are both disheartening and inspirational on a scale I never imagined. The challenge of regenerating the site, creating a viable income source, and maintaining the holistic balance between EARTH's mission and operations becomes apparent as soon as the biogas is ignited and the 'odorless' byproduct of concentrated sheep and pig waste penetrates the depths of your nostrils.

EARTH's willingness to apply their innovative practices and knowledge to existing systems and structures is laudable. They have begun a process of regeneration at La Flor. The vision we proposed to EARTH was a large scale integration and stewardship of the bordering riverine ecology. With the experience I gained, and the exercises carried out, I would begin designing from within by focusing on a strategy for roads and bridges, as well as water treatment and energy production from existing agricultural facilities.

Reflections from La Flor

From our very brief time at La Flor, I have found myself reconsidering, adjusting, and expanding on a few of our ideas and preconceptions. One aspect that I had been interested in pursuing, though we had not yet had the opportunity or the resources, was the local community. The health and success of a university is dependant upon numerous issues, however, the relationship with the local community is one that can sometimes go unnoticed.
Through discussions, I have come to understand that the demands from Guanacaste which would be attainable by Earth, would include jobs, the establishment of a main transportation corridor to increase land value as well as provide further opportunities for employment, and further educational facilities, whether it be technical training schools or local elementary and high schools. There are also further issues that the surrounding community will look to Earth for leadership with Land planning, waste management and resource management. These are three issues that are more complicated and potentially too political or too costly for the campus to take on independently, but it is something to be remembered and considered.
The easiest way for Earth to impact these more difficult demands would be to lead by example. In this way, they are removed from the political implications of a more active role as advocate or guardian, but are still working to improve the local conditions. If the focus continues to be an aim at replicable practices, then as Earth shows success of these practices and maintains an open door policy in terms of sharing that knowledge, it will become the people that are empowered. Therefore, as we move forward in our designs, we should continue to push and question every step and every facet of designs under the criteria of financial feasibility, material accessibility, local demand and application, educational benefit, and sustainability over both the long and the short term.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Looking back on our visit

After viewing the community that surrounds Earth on the outside, in comparison with Earths campus inside, I realize how important it is for there to a be a connection between the two. Earths land and resources is so vast with space and vegetation that visualizing areas of the built environment must be chosen with good reason and with some constraint to preserve as much of Earths natural habitat. Driving along the main road at Earth, and viewing Adastra in relation to everything else, despite its unappealing design, doesn't make any relation to its surroundings at Earth or even Earths landscape. The area of land that was cleared on the way to the river gave me a similar feeling that whatever gets constructed there must not lay on the surface but must interact and try to become one with the land and surroundings that it is disrupting. I almost wish I could visualize earth from a ariel view, which could give a different understanding of the land and  its surroundings. 
After visiting earth, I realize how the campus is at the point where it could go in many different directions. This could mean that what we produce as RISD students could actually give important insight to how they go about planning in the future. I find there is so much free room for ideas of what could be thought of or what could be implemented at Earth. I find that my final project can be very open and explore a broad range of ideas. Although I personally didn't find a lot of answers to my questions to what I am specifically interested in, I did find contacts that will be very useful in my research. As hard as it was to come up with ideas away from Earth during the first half of the semester, and although we visited Earth, I find it will be just as hard to complete final projects away from the campus. Being at Earth and being an on-sight researcher would be much more ideal to come up with a final idea that works. Overall, I would like to contribute to Earths new campus plans by producing a material that could be produced on campus and using natural materials. 

Insights from EARTH

A series of insights remain with me after visiting La Flor. One important notion is that a two-year curriculum is more applicable in the developing world in order to address the urgency of conditions. Specific local needs in Guanacaste include jobs, waste management, land planning, security and water. As designers we should be thinking in terms of rainy seasons in addition to quarterly seasons as cycles of importance to sustainable agriculture curriculum, and to all local systems.

Ultimately people must come first as our impetus for design. Local citizens should act as stewards of the land and buildings should be designed as vessels or tools to support people through active education. The campus in this regard becomes a demonstration ground for a paradigm shift to establish a new way of life, leading to innovation for passers-by. Global issues will be addressed through local application. The land, its people, and the University as a sustainable cultural institution should all be inextricably linked. Integration should be sought through a variety of systems, including curriculum (with a goal of disseminating knowledge), transportation (in terms of the proposed road and on-site public transportation), water (to address and manage wet and dry seasons), and materials (that are culturally and locally applicable).

In sum, the idea of replication comes to the forefront of how the Innovation Studio should approach the components of the master plan. Our proposals should be simple, work sufficiently, use appropriate technology, and ultimately have the ability to be replicated by the local community. We can achieve this by creatively responding to the local culture and conditions.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008


(recycled wine barrel houses at Findhorn Ecovillage, Scotland)

Ecovillages are intended to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable intentional communities. Some aim for a population of 50-150 individuals because this size is considered to be the maximum social network according to findings from sociology and anthropology. Larger ecovillages of up to 2,000 individuals exist as networks of smaller subcommunities to create an ecovillage model that allows for social networks within a broader foundation of support.
(Living Routes - info on ecovillages)