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Thoughts on Engineering Design

Imre von Soos

        I wonder how many of my colleagues – architects and engineers – live and feel the heartbeat of the earth when projecting and building a town, a tunnel, a road, a bridge, a dam. How many create forms, structures and functions in harmony with, and as organic-integral parts of Nature? How many Frank Lloyd Wrights, Candellas, Gaudis, Nervis, Buckminster Fullers, Paulo Soleris are there? How many do understand that structures – once brought into existence – become living elements – healthy or sick, health-promoting or sickness-causing – and not backdrops in and of the ecosystem, there to serve human interests? Healthy or sick: depending if they are created as parts of the cosmic processes in the spirit of unity, or reflect only the sterile, commercial, dehumanised smallness of their producers, users, and inhabitants.

        How great is the abyss that separates those who understand the natural forms and relations of organismic equilibrium and harmony that are manifested in the Cosmos, and strive to compose within their harmonics, from those, who, lacking imagination, are weighed down by the limitation of the cube in form, in structure, in function and in spirit? That’s why this kind adores the Bauhaus. Little square rooms beside each other, behind a square frontage studded with little square windows anybody can draw up as an unimaginative mass-product of an unimaginative mass-architect, produced for an unimaginative mass-public.

        How commercial can a process become – that should be creative – if it is in the hands of business, instead of in the hands of the arts? Business: that degrades everything that it touches to the level of economic viability and profits, and to the lack of aesthetics of the second-handler spreading nothing but pathogenic ugliness.

        And finally, how gravely are the creative ones incapacitated to express in their fields their transcendental knowledge, by the hostile jealousies of the shadowless second-grade, the ignorant, the sloth?!

        Building a dam, a power-plant, a scheme, I do not "dominate the mountains", "tame the wild rivers", or "put Nature and the Elements in the service of man".

        The implantation of a new organ can be advantageous or disadvantageous to an organism. As the rate of evolution of a system can be defined by its rate of change that increases its complexity and organization (increasing syntropy), this criterion should be used when defining the value of an implantation relative to that entity. The organization has to be adjusted in its structure, function and behaviour to that system, and has to be at the level of survival for its own members, by being self-sustaining and self-regulating, the criterion of evolution applying to all.

        It is obvious that the prerequisite for any healthy functioning is the harmonious interplay on every level of an organism or system. It is (or should be) just as obvious, that no alteration can be carried out on any part of that system, while ignoring the dynamic equilibrium and interdependence, without adversely effecting all. If the alteration is insignificant, the regeneration will follow rapidly. If the alteration or interference is improportionally big, while the operation might be successful, the patient will die.

        The implantation of a hydro-electric scheme (and I have chosen this example for being sufficiently demonstrative both by its dimensions and its action exercised upon the surrounding ambient, beside being an important part of my work) can influence an area of hundreds or even thousands of square kilometres, incorporating a few or many ecological communities, or even major ecological communities. The member of the major community who effects the implantation is man.

        A reservoir – artificial lake – has the potential of becoming an aquatic community – natural lake – with a relatively self-contained existence, but, not being able to draw its flora and fauna from the existing terrestrial communities, will rely on man’s co-operation to help it in this respect, and implant a proper aquatic community. The surrounding communities will also have to adapt themselves to the much altered ground water levels and their, not necessarily seasonal, alterations; to the absence of seasonal flooding, which can be beneficial by neither flora nor fauna being disturbed, or harmful by no fertile layer being deposited on the previous areas of inundation (e.g. Assuan Dam on the Nile); to the uneven, sometimes hourly variation of downstream flow as a function of turbine or spillway discharge; to the alteration of transported organic and inorganic material; to the possible micro-climatic alteration including humidity, temperature, air-movement, insolaration and precipitation; and, of course, to a probable intense concentration of humans with their general environmental pollution.

        Both the originally planned alteration and the subsequent variations in the conditions are man-made and man-dependent, and can be good or bad, according to the relationship to Nature and the competence of the particular men who thought and carried it out, and who carry the responsibility for their work. Many of the results can be exactly precalculated and foreseen; some others – like micro-climatic variations – not. This puts a certain chance into the undertaking: a chance that is characteristic to any evolutionary process. If the men who undertook the project were consciously instrumental in Creation, live in symbiotic union with all they do, and identify themselves with their activity and its results, they will produce a new, living ecological community – with themselves as integral parts – all rooted in Nature. Increasing the complexity and organization of the region, they actuate a forward evolutionary step on the level of the major communities.

        Consciously instrumental in Creation means "to hold the mountain’s heartbeat in one's hand"; to contemplate the river and the life of the region and every part of it; to reflect on the course that will demand the least damage and result in the greatest general ecological development; to make every effort towards harmony and aesthetic perfection in every detail; and to be conscious of bearing the responsibility for every decision, not before men, but before the living entity that is being interfered with; even more than that: to be conscious that whatever one is doing to that living entity, one is doing it to oneself. All this applies, naturally, to any other project, down to the smallest handiwork, in the appropriate proportion.

        Remember well the essential Truth that presents itself out of the above exposed: in the whole action described there was no conquering, dominating, subduing, taming, mastering, ruling, or whatever analogous appears in the vocabulary of the dwarfed minds in this regard. It is the manifestation of "not men but God in them", parts of a tremendous complex, who, giving meaning to their existence, simply participate as subjects, instruments and originators in the eternal Creation, their aim directed towards the whole complex, and not towards any part of it, not even – or especially not – towards themselves.

        This simple participation is harmony. It contains neither service, nor sacrifice.

        This is the spirit in which a stonemason builds a cathedral; the spirit that is witnessed by all true poetry, art and music.

        This is the practical action, reflecting the reality of integral universal existence, in which the inner harmony expresses itself in universal harmony, and inner growth causes the growth of the Universe.

        This is where the Creator and the Created are one.

        And as the Creator and the Created – the whole and its parts – the Infinite I and His fractions – the Universe and its elements – the originators, instruments and subjects – substance accident and mode – are One, no oppressor-oppressed and possessor-possessed relationship can exist – nor fear, nor worship –, for these concepts of the dichotomised thinking hold no meaning within an infinite unity. Only harmony and love prevails, that "holds bound the leaves of the Universe", and "moves the sun and all the stars", as expressed in Dante's vision.

        As the manifestation and the meaning, and the power by which they exist are indivisible; as the fingers do not serve the writing hand but are the writing; as the musical notes do not serve, but are the symphony; as the colours are the painting and the words the poem and the prose; so is the Infinite I. And nothing else is that is not the Infinite I.

        And so stands the bridge of my creation.

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