Mark DeKay – Integrated Sustainable Design

Hamilton, M. (2011). Integral Sustainable Design: Transformative Perspectives, by Mark DeKay [book review]. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, 6(3), 137-148.

Readers of Integral Sustainable Design are invited through a series of gates into an atrium of design studios each purposefully framed by integrally reflective questions. We wonder about the meaning of the structures we glimpse, and we re-evaluate our sense of the sloping levels of natural formations. We ponder the complexities of collective space, and we query the landscapes inside our minds as well as around the studios. Mark DeKay’s book works on the body, mind, heart, and soul as it serves three audiences—each captured in one word of its title. First, it guides scholars of Integral Theory through the principles of design. Second, the book helps students of sustainability appreciate the fundamentals of wholism, living systems, systems thinking, and ecology. Third, designers and students of design and architecture (the book’s primary audience) are introduced to the emerging field of Integral Design.

As one who is called in service to each element of the title through integral research and writing, teaching the principles of sustainable community development and designing projects, proposals, and curricula for the well-being of cities, I have been waiting for DeKay’s book with considerable anticipation. In fact, as author of Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive (2008), I wish that this book had been published before my own was written.

The Preface introduces the basics of Integral Theory. DeKay reveals his intention as a teacher of design and architecture with an integral view. His perspective reveals his prejudice that architecture entails and calls forth progressively more complex and more inclusive ways of practice. While the Preface might lead some readers to conclude that DeKay is elitist, the confession in the conclusion of Part 1 reveals his humility and vulnerability most ingenuously:

For me, the value of looking at design through an Integral lens has been that it has allowed me to glimpse areas of expertise that others have developed more than I have and to finally be able to honor them and include their valuable perspectives in my own work. As a result, it has also opened my eyes to the fact that the perspective that I have been steeped in for the past 25 years is also only partially true! Telling the whole story involves listening to and from others’ perspectives: cultural, individual, ecological as well as technical. Then each viewpoint takes its valuable and appropriate place in a wider perspective where nothing is missing—rich human experiences, significant cultural meaning, high technological performance and true ecological sense merge into something much richer, truer and ultimately more aesthetically pleasing. Welcome to the future of design! (p. 129)

I appreciated that each of the book’s four parts is consistently structured with an introduction and conclusion, so that I was provided a simple roadmap that allowed for exploration on multiple levels. Moreover, DeKay provides considerable substance for granular/high resolution reflection because of an abundance of well-annotated photographs, figures, and tables. In fact, it is such a beautiful book I couldn’t bear to mark it and it is now profusely marked with sticky notes to annotate its insights.

read the full review here