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Example: Giant Wind Turbines on the Danish Coast

Example of structure destroying windmills at Smøla, Western Norway.

– Harmony-Seeking Computations: a Science of Non-Classical Dynamics based on the Progressive Evolution of the Larger Whole

5.2. Example: giant wind turbines on the Danish coast


By Christopher Alexander.

In order to accentuate the harmony that was consciously generated in the Romanian field, let us compare it with the much cruder results typical of 20th- and 21st-century thinking about engineering and design. The 20thcentury thinking was, usually, more or less algorithmic. When the computations about subtle and delicate wholes are rationalized according to crude dollar-based ways of thinking, they usually go badly wrong, especially as far as respect for the background global structure of the landscape is concerned. The subtlety and depth of the existing global structure is not easily recognized by technological thinking.

For example, in figure 6, the land has a global wholeness that is made of layered, nested flat plates, a two dimensional system of plates. The ecologist who placed the two giant turbines was evidently unconcerned about creating harmony with this structure. Cover up the two towers on this photograph, so that you can see the global structure of the land as it was before the towers were placed there. It is hard to see it, because the towers are now so obtrusive, and so alien to the kind of structure that is there.

When an ecologist becomes too concerned with one aspect of sustainability (the importance of wind energy, as in this case), and plants 300 foot high windmills on an ocean front, it destroys the landscape. This is no longer a wholeness-extending transformation, but rather a well-meaning but ill-judged algorithmic computation of some inappropriate kind about cost benefit. In this case, the wholeness and the structure of the place have been severely damaged. Sometimes, the place, its landscape and its internal adaptations – often the result of centuries of patient work – are irredeemably destroyed.

In the coastal landscape where the Danish turbines have been placed, the structure that was there before (figure 7a) is flat like a disc, a great flat disc, the size of the bay, flatted at the edge where the waves meet the sand and the grassland just beyond it. This enormous gentle discus-shape, perhaps half a mile across, is suddenly violated by the two vertical structures, sprouting turbine blades dumped on it (figure 7b). The two massive vertical things have no relation to the structure of the subtle disc that lay in the land before. The slash of the new straight road is at odds with the curves of the land. And, in the foreground there are two teeny little sheds that look lost and forlorn, too. The building site is not even harmonious with itself. Altogether, the structure has been violated.

Compare what is happening in the hayrick example, and in the turbine example. In the case of the hayricks, the process of placing them has left the previously existing structure alone, indeed the process enhances it, strengthens it, increase its harmony. But in the case of the turbines, their shape and placement are at odds with the previously existing structure, they damage it, they destroy it.

What is the “it” that is being left alone in the first case and is being destroyed in the second case? It is the wholeness, that system of centers existing in the geometry of each place that gives it its character, shape, organization, rhythm, feeling, and global configuration and relation to the land around it. One may describe the relation of the action to the wholeness like this. In the first case, the injection is friendly, helpful: what is there is enhanced, complemented, and continued. In the second case, the injection is violent, disrespectful, and structurally at war with the land that was there before.

My judgment about these two injections is not a romantic yearning for an idyllic past, but a structural judgment about something that is objectively present in one case, and missing in the other. It is also true that wholenessenhancing processes allow growth and extension to continue while wholeness-destroying processes freeze things and inhibit improvement. One injection respects what is there, the other does not.

These structural judgments are about phenomena that are essentially mathematical in character. It is not just a question of feeling, but also a question of structural congruence, or the lack of it, that exists between an existing structure and an injected structure which has been brought into it. We need to understand more about this kind of structural respect.

In order to widen our understanding of the idea of harmony-seeking or wholeness-extending computations, we now examine a further series of examples of such computations, many of them occurring in the natural world.

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