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Design for Living with Nature

Integrating Culture, Technology and Economics with Nature
By Art Ludwig

"This concise little booklet is densely packed with information immensely helpful for a life close with nature. It is possibly the best book on alternative building in my fairly extensive library; I couldn't put it down."Bob Wilson, Wild Bounty Earthstead, Mount Shasta

Topics include: The cultural imperative, context specificity, cooperative anarchy, true progress, true comfort, the natural economy, land ownership, economy of wholeness, measures of wealth, spending almost nothing, investing almost everything, right livelihood, critical socioeconomic density, the land use mosaic, natural materials, continuum of shelter.

Author: Art Ludwig, published by Oasis Design, 1989.
7 x 8.5", 45 pages, 18 figures, tables, photos.
ISBN 0-9643433-1-2, $12.95.

CURRENTLY OUT OF PRINT! Please vote for this book on our Vote for new content page if you want this to get back in print! We are considering making a downloadble scan available.

Meanwhile, an extensively updated version of the first section, Eco Design Principles-article, is available as an article or download. The other sections will follow as articles, as well.


Natural living harmoniously integrates human culture, technology and economics with nature.
Applying these patterns will generate designs well suited to meeting a need in a given context. The specific solutions which are described in the final section are especially underutilized considering their advantages. Each resolves some issue in the running of a household in a way that saves the inhabitants money and/or time, while reducing their environmental impact and bringing them more in tune with natural rhythms.
Getting our own houses together is a prerequisite to working towards ecological and social order in the world.

The cultural imperative

The obstacles to widespread adoption of the practices of living with nature are primarily cultural, not technical or economic.

What is natural?

A natural solution is a resolution of the system of forces at a place which maintains that part of the world in balance. It gives equal weight to the needs of the part and the needs of the whole. Healthy ecosystems are invaluable reminders of what natural solutions are like.

Minimum intervention

Natural living solutions operate within the ecological framework as much as possible. By limiting the scale and intensity of human activities to that which is actually necessary, the likelihood of disturbing the ecological balance is greatly reduced.

Context specificity

While there are no universally applicable solutions, there are a variety of approaches and patterns which may be applied to generate the optimum solution for any need in any context.
In all cases the greatest efficiency-and quality as well-is achieved when the power of the tool is well matched to the task at hand. Using transportation as an example, walking would be used for the tasks for which it is adequate, bicycles for distances too long to walk, busses and trains for distances too long to bike or in bad weather, planes for speed or great distances, and cars for special applications like ambulances or mobile homes.
This approach of cleverly matching the power of the tool to the task at hand is cheaper, healthier, has lower environmental impact and is more enjoyable-but ultimately more powerful than any single solution.
Though uniform solutions appeal to centralized bureaucracies, attempting to implement a single solution across the board, without regard to local conditions or the moment in time, will generate a host of new problems. Bare sufficiency produces optimal growth; deficiency is stunting, excess imbalancing.

Bare sufficiency

Bare sufficiency produces optimal growth. Deficiency is stunting, excess imbalancing.

Individual thought and action

Because natural solutions are context specific, it is ultimately up to individuals to figure out what is most appropriate for a situation. Natural solutions are generally less idiot-proof. They both demand and reward user interaction.

Cooperative anarchy

Cooperative anarchy is the order of ecosystems and the social order of people thinking and acting independently in their own highest interest.

True progress

True progress involves actually solving problems. "Progress" seems to involve solving old problems by creating new ones.

True comfort

Adaptive discomfort produces a healthy person who is more comfortable in all situations.

The natural economy

Working with nature is more economical than working against her. The way we spend our time shapes the world and each dollar we spend is a vote for the way we want others to shape the world.

Land ownership

Land ownership is the principal obstacle to be overcome in order to live and work in harmony with nature. Land can be freed from the market economy by purchasing it with a groups' pooled resources.

Economy of wholeness

Smaller businesses can more than make up through synergy between operations what they lose in scale of operations, resulting in a more socioeconomically and ecologically viable operation.

Measures of wealth

The superiority of the natural economy can be quantitatively measured in terms of economic and temporal freedom and security.

Spending almost nothing

Spending less reduces resource utilization and the need to earn. Saving increases security and economic self-determination. The best quality of life can be achieved at lowest monetary and ecological cost by investing in the highest quality execution of the inherently cheapest solutions.

Investing almost everything

Investing time and money returns a far greater yield than spending, at lower ecological cost. The best quality of life can be achieved at lowest monetary and ecological cost by investing in the highest quality execution of the inherently cheapest solutions.

Right livelihood

Believing in what one does helps make living worthwhile. When one's productivity is directed towards destroying nature in some way, one's belief system will inexorably rearrange itself as a result of the process of rationalizing this activity.

Socioeconomic density

To be viable a natural economy must be able to meet most of its basic needs with its own skilled people. To achieve this minimum socioeconomic density it is necessary to develop and market one's own talents and support those of others.

The land use mosaic

The land use mosaic is the design resolution of all the forces acting at each point in the landscape.

Microenvironment modification

The natural characteristics of the land are enhanced in the course of creating an environment more comfortable for human habitation and edible landscaping.


Structures and plants are situated in relation to the house according to how much attention they require or how often they are needed as well as other characteristics. Flows of Materials
The use of artificial materials is strictly limited to the most necessary cases. Artificial materials are cycled in closed industrial cycles of the shortest length and smallest volume possible. Natural materials used by humans are diverted locally from natural cycles and returned in a responsible fashion, in accordance with the principle of sustainable yield.

Natural materials

Natural materials are far less energy and capital intensive and they are more amenable to owner-building and repair than most industrial materials. Natural materials invite care in building which creates a feeling of satisfaction and solidity in the living space.

Continuum of shelter

To live comfortably in intimacy with nature a range of shelter is necessary.


Skylights are a wonderful way of lighting and warming interior spaces.

Food storage

Buying in bulk at harvest time is cheaper and improves farmers' incomes by enabling them to sell a larger portion of their crop directly to consumers. Buying at harvest time also maintains a valuable connection to natural rhythms for non-farmers and yields better quality food than otherwise. Also, in the event of some disaster food will already be distributed throughout the community for people to eat until supply channels are restored.

Dish washing

Dishes can be dried and stored in the same rack for efficiency. Private place settings improve sanitation in groups without extra cleaning measures.

Feces disposal

The simplest, cheapest, most water-saving and efficient nutrient recycling toilet in the world is a hole in the ground, ideally next to a fruit tree. Composting toilets and below-grade water seal toilets are also good alternatives to throne-type water seal toilets.

The household water cascade

Ideally water should cascade through the house and yard by gravity, from the highest vertical level and degree of purity to biological treatment at the lowest level.
Every house, especially in dry climates, should be surrounded with an oasis of biological productivity nourished by the flow of water and nutrients through the home.

The outdoor washroom ecosystem

The outdoor washroom ecosystem is the main fork of the flow of water through the home. Hot tub water is cascaded through four uses; hot tubbing, washing bodies with soap, doing laundry, and finally, landscape irrigation (biological land treatment).