Living in harmony with nature

More interests for sustainable planning

The principle of constant economic growth without paying attention to its consequences is on the road to ruin.

September 2011

In the increasing part of modern Slovenian architecture, which is also followed by publications (for instance, the magazine Mladina with its regular treatment of modern architecture as well as daily papers), interest in modern, sustainable architectural and urban development planning has increased considerably. This is a result of a rapidly growing environmental awareness, which can be traced since the middle of the 1980s (although it is still insufficient), and which now exercises influence over all areas of social life. Its generators are numerous civil movements and initiatives that are changing, through persistent pressures, a still dominant self-sufficient belief that little needs to be done to coordinate the exploitation of nature and the possibilities available to renew energy and other resources.

All this has been rather successfully transferred to the every day awareness so that capital is not as easily available for investments as it was only a few years ago.

Connected with the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN)

The issue of building nature-coordinated housing settlements, the so-called eco-villages, has also been placed at the forefront of public attention in Slovenia. However, it is not only about the architecture but about seeking a whole pattern of life. The civil initiative that acts within the long-range ecological movement in Slovenia has been connected with the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) since the beginning of this decade. Through the establishment of the Ecovillage Institute (Zavod Ekovas), it has established a point for exercising initiative concerning the sustainable construction of settlements and related issues. At the beginning, there was little response, but the things have changed in recent years.  Similar ideas and people have gradually associated within the Slovenian ecovillage network that has been active since 2010.  It has developed as the result of the creativity of many individuals and groups (the aforementioned Zavod Ekovas (Ecovillage Institute), Zavod Rodna zemlja (Native Soil Institute), and skupine Soustvarjanje (Co-creation groups)) in order to connect the existing and emerging ecovillage seeds throughout Slovenia, and other settlements that will try to live more ecologically.

Domen Zupan, who is in charge of organising the institute and is the website operator of www.ekovas.si , emphasises that this is much more than the construction of dwellings and/or buildings, although it is clear that the creation of homes is one of the greatest challenges in life. In ecovillages (in Slovenia, none has been established yet), it is necessary to think primarily of three main elements providing a basis for their existence: care of people in which independence, cooperation and mutual solidarity in particular have to be established; equitable proportions, where it is necessary to provide equal access to natural resources, which are to be shared with other species living in nature; and care for nature, because every planning and changing of nature must be founded on natural systems, taking into consideration their possibilities.

Wasteful civilisation

It is a fact that the Western, energy-wasteful civilisation (of which we Slovenes are a part) takes for its existence considerably more resources from nature than can be provided by the planet.  According to a relatively accurate calculation, the European way of life, i.e. the average of consumption identified in the European Union, exceeds the capacities of the planet by three times. The even more wasteful American way of life, which exceeds the capacities by five times. Taking into consideration the fact that certain big societies such as the Indian and Chinese are in the process of "awakening" towards similar levels of spending, our living conditions will considerably deteriorate in implementing the trends above. 

A valuable philosophy based on experience acquired in ecovillages is the awareness of the need for changes on the basis of which our way of life could promptly be adjusted to the realistic possibilities. In ecovillages, computers are normally used, houses are rationally heated and people feel quite comfortable and they are mobile, using in particular public means of transport. Furthermore, they use local sources of energy and construction materials and live in harmony with their needs, so that they are able to adapt to other people and especially to nature.  

Ecovillages include highly urban parts of town built on a high level of technology, simple settlements, and African villages built of clay where man and nature are true partners.  There are some exceptional examples confirming in practice that this all is possible: in Findhorn in Scotland, which in addition to ecovillage is also a spiritual community and education centre, "the environmental footprint" of this town (i.e. the negative influence on the environment) represents only a half of English average and in the area of food and buildings or used energy, only 37% and/or 21.5% of the English average, respectively. If we take into consideration that the Slovenian "environmental footprint" is one half of the English one, it becomes clear that the Slovenians could bring their life in line with natural possibilities relatively quickly.

"Ecovillage days" - regular meetings

In this context, the Slovenian GEN unit has been systematically convening meetings, the so-called "ecovillage days". This year, it has been done for the fifth time. Meetings are held in natural environments of various farms in the Gorenjska, Primorska or Štajerska regions. It is quite surprising how many architects and construction engineers of all ages have devoted their serious attention to professional questions about the construction of new buildings on the basis of natural materials that can be mainly obtained nearby. They have been using older methods of construction with straw and clay, while timber should become the main construction material. Given the fact that Slovenia is a country endowed with timber and since it has no other raw materials in abundance, the ecovillage culture is also becoming important as a possible labour and market niche, which could also be successfully realised abroad.

Text by Jože Osterman, Sinfo 9, 2011
Photo: mreža Ekovasi