Nature of Design

Ecology, Culture,
Human Intention

March 12th, 2004
“The quality of design is measured by the elegance with which we join means with worthy ends.”

Dr. David
Oberlin College

Dr. David Orr is Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics and Chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College. Prior to 1990 he was the co-founder of the Meadowcreek Project, an environmental education center. He is the author of Earth in Mind: Essays on Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect( 1994),and Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World (1992). He has also written over seventy articles for professional and popular publications.
Professor Orr is perhaps best known for his pioneering work on environmental literacy in higher education and his recent work in ecological design. He raised funds for and spearheaded the effort to design and build a $7.2 million Environmental Studies Center at Oberlin College.

Environmental Studies Center at Oberlin College was described by the New York Times as “the most remarkable” of a new generation of college buildings and selected as one of 30 “milestone buildings in the 20th century” by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Security, environment, equity, prosperity, stopping climate change, and protecting species are not separate issues, but different facets of one big issue: the conduct of the nation’s business. But making connections requires a systems view of the world and a design strategy that begins with ecological realities rooted in specific places and circumstances.

Ecological design is an emerging practice that aims to connect people, places, ecologies, and future generations in ways that are fair, resilient, secure, and beautiful. Designing with nature harkens back to older themes from George Perkins Marsh, the National Environmental Policy Act, Wendell Berry, to the design professions and politics.

This paradigm shift in the scope of design is comparable to the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Educational institutions are crucial in fostering an expanded design intelligence and what Dr. Orr calls a “higher order of heroism” – touching on themes of charity, wildness, and the rights of children.