Bent by the Sun: Change Observer: Design Observer
An interesting meditation on patterns of pre-industrial production and sustainability in Japan. Here is a snippet:
…The final conversation was about microclimates. Master Nishioka was describing to me how important it was to match a tree to its structural use in the building, based on where on the hillside it grew. “Valley trees are too wet for most uses, trees at the top of the hill sprout a lot of branches because they don’t have to compete and are very knotty, but trees from the middle slopes compete with others and have long trunks with branches clustered toward their crowns. Those make the best beams, because they’re straight and fairly free of knots.” He went on to describe how trees from the north face differ from those found on the south, and so on.
From the first conversation I understood that Nishioka and his peers had inherited a cultural tradition that considered centuries and millennia. From the second I understood that the carpenters were accustomed to letting nature do the work; the sun’s power was enough to transform a material simply by adding a moderate amount of heat. From the third, I understood that these craftsmen had a deep grasp of the effect of small environmental variations on the nature of growing things. While now, after two decades, these three lessons stick out as particularly valuable ones to me, time and again what I learned about the practice of Japanese traditional crafts called attention to their fundamental environmental soundness. And this is what ultimately led me to learn as much as I could about the relationship between preindustrial Japanese material culture, its design, and the constraints imposed by life on an isolated archipelago that had limited resources….