Joshua Alexander

Designer of healthy spaces

Endings and Beginnings

The way we live will drastically rescale in the not so distant future. It's difficult to comprehend the extents to which cheap energy has infiltrated our culture. After all, it's been going on just long enough for nearly all of us to have grown up in it. We can't possibly know what it was truly like to not have electricity in our homes, extremely fast modes of travel the world over, and more recently access to almost any information we could ever want. Once this notion hit me, I found myself desperately searching for a single event that does not depend almost entirely on the inexpensive and abundant supply of energy. I challenge everyone to find an activity, however mundane it might seem, that, in the face of energy scarcity, would not drastically change or disappear all together. My immediate disappointment centers on travel. It is not only long distance travel that will be affected, but also local travel, say from Portland to the coast, or simply from the suburbs to the city. Almost all travel will become an increasingly difficult proposition. These unfortunate side effects, a "coming down from cheap energy", will only worsen as the reality sinks in and the signs become more consistent and clear.

But! This is all to a more positive end. As I work toward licensure in architecture, I am trying to make sense of a rapidly changing world and profession. It suddenly seems I, and some around me, have been asking the right questions. (Designers pride themselves on asking the right questions. It's a thing. Just go with it.) I feel the whole industry struggling everyday with the pace of change. Change doesn't happen swiftly in the building industry. As Hunter Lovins from the non-profit Natural Capitalism Solutions once said, the building industry is "dynamically conservative—it works hard to stay in the same place."

So many exciting questions for my profession are now raised. What is the future of building, of cities, of suburbia? Is it as all the design and tech blogs say; robots and drones will build it all? Or are we going back to the basics that are largely forgotten; sun, wind, light, local resources, and community involvement? Will it be about the new buzz word, "resiliency"? What about the old one, "sustainability"? How should we be preparing for this messy decline of abundant energy and resources? What does my profession look like in a world that ramped up so quickly we've barely kept up, only to scale back to our roots? And most importantly, where does all this leave someone like me? I'm merely an aspiring young designer. I'm just beginning to put these thoughts together. Personally my faith in technological advancement as savior in the 11th hour is somewhat stayed as of late, but I remain hopeful the capacity of human nature can prevail. I'll be the first to admit that I feel very late to the game, but I'm curious who else wants to join?

A call to action: To unravel any of this, we need more than a person typing away at a keyboard. We need to converse, passionately, openly. We need to form friendships and hypotheses, test those friendships and those hypotheses, and share what we've learned with friends of friends. That is why on the second Friday of each month, beginning this March, I am offering my place as a venue for those who would like to talk about what we can do as friends, as professionals, and as members of our communities, to suss out and prepare for the decidedly difficult obstacles we face in the near future. Please get in touch. Let's challenge each other, encourage each other, and share some collective knowledge that everyone else seems to be hoping to stumble upon from their couch, via their phones. I look forward to seeing you all soon!