Sketches by Azby Brown
Azby Brown has lived in Japan for 25 years, and writes a wonderful long article in Design Observer about how traditional Japanese culture was sustainable by design. He writes:
During the Edo period, from the early 17th to the mid 19th centuries, Japan faced environmental problems similar to ours: large population, fuel scarcity, limited arable land, deforestation, a damaged watershed. Through well-thought-out policies that reinforced existing cultural values, and through technical and economic innovation, the nation brought itself back from the brink, and did it in beautiful ways.
Brown tells of the lessons he has learned about preindustrial Japanese material culture, and the constraints of living on a small, crowded island with limited natural resources:
One of the most important lessons is that the primary design response to material and energy shortages of the era was to seek multiform solutions, designs that solved many problems at once. We see this in the easy convertibility of the traditional Japanese interior, which allows rooms to be used for a variety of purposes.
He explains how they used gravity for water, avoided meat and draft animals to preserve agricultural land, never wasted anything and built their buildings to be demountable so that everything could be reused. Fascinating reading.
Read it all in the Design Observer
See Justin's review of Brown's book Very Small Homes