Shabono Human Ecological Lab

I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of space and structure might be best for facilitating the intensive and creative interaction between students and faculty — the bread and butter of our human ecological education.  This thinking has not really been strategic, as such a structure was never really considered as part of our five year strategy.  That said, Strategic Imperative 1, Goal 1, Objective b does read: Assess our commitment to one of COA’s most critically important offerings — its field and time intensive course work that links faculty and students … and Objective c of Goal 2 reads: Create time and tools for greater collaboration, team teaching and communication among faculty and between students and Strategic Imperative 4, Goal 2 Objectives c and d both talk of the need for faculty office and lab space that advance our approach human ecology.

Killing several birds with one stone, in my eyes at least, came the shabono, the traditional Yanomami house:

 The image at left is from the wiki commons collection and is a Yanomami “home” that feels like a good model to serve us for those above needs.  The Yanomami are a cultural and linguistic group from the Venezuelan and Brazilian Amazon.  They were popularized in the anthropological literature by a guy named Napoleon Chagnon — Chagnon’s “The Fierce People” is read in almost every Cultural Anthropology 101 class and is a great, however controversial, read.  To read about the controversy, check out Patrick Tierney’s “Darkness in El Dorado” or the following link. The link will actually show a long chain of controversies from the eugenicist Jame Neel to Chagnon to Tierney to others …

But, I digress.  The shabono is actually inhabited by large extended families of Yanomami where each more-or-less nuclear family living in one segment of the donut.  The key feature is that all of those nuclear families are looking across an open ceremonial center at one another and that’s the design element that I think could be most handy.

Granted, the Yanomami have different needs than a college of human ecologists and there would indeed be some needed changes to their fantastic design.  For one, we would need more covered space and less open space.  Two, we don’t need as much space.  And three, I imagine the individual segments within the donut to be fewer and slightly more separate from each other and from the interior common space.  With those three considerations, this is what I was thinking:

  O, and of course, we would likely stick with something of a cedar shake style for roofing and siding, just so as not to cause too much alarm to our neighbors!

I’m imagining six or so lab spaces for the arts, sciences and humanities, all surrounding a centralized and open courtyard; lots of windows between labs and from the lab space to the outside and the inside.  And, importantly, doors and access to the interior and from lab-to lab- to lab.

Well, just food for thought.  I’m sure this food and these thoughts will keep Millard up at night.


One thought on “Shabono Human Ecological Lab

  1. I like this – I like this a whole lot. I don’t know where you’d put this on campus (I supposed you might have to expand the campus, or steal space from a field or woods, which would cause an outcry), but I like it. It may not be strategic, but it’s something I don’t think should just be a thought – especially when you’ve put work like this above for it: it seems like you were up late one night thinking about it a lot, a t least.

    The Yanomamö have been on my mind a lot lately, after a trip to the Brasilian Amazon myself, though not to visit that tribe, but to study plant ecology (even though I was in the Rio Negro area, I was nowhere near their specific territory). It’s funny that you should raise them here and now. I am reminded of what E. Wade Davis, PhD ethnobotanist, writer, and National Geographic documentary director, said in his fantastic lecture adaptation of his book, “The Wayfinders” – that every people has a unique view on the world that is intricately tied to its language and cultural heritage, and that the knowledge and wisdom of each and every culture is extremely important, because each unique set of knowledge and wisdom may hold the answers to problems besetting the world.

    Here’s a case where a relatively minor-scope problem (though one essential to the way the inhabitants of this institution relate with each other, and thus are able to tackle larger-scope problems together) is solved by cultural exchange: by learning from people that we’d otherwise have little interaction with, and a a people who’s entire livelihood, language, and culture, is at great risk due to unsolicited negative cultural exchange, local fractures between traditionalists and those who desire the progress of our so-called Western Civilisation, and infringement upon their territory in the forms of logging, ranching and other outside pressures in what is essentially no-man’s-land in terms of law-enforcement.

    Right here and now, the Yanomamö have inspired the theoretical design of a really cool Human Ecology Building Complex through their own structural designs – design concepts that could easily be lost should the Yanomamö lose their identity. And this is trivial compared to the knowledge and wisdom they, and countless other cultures, have to offer the world community. It is often said that local problems require local solutions, and I’m very fond of the saying, but it is also true that we can learn so much from other people as well. And now we’re living in an age where we truly exist as a world community: where internet serves as an uncontrolled method of communicating with people around the world, and language barriers are broken by better and better translation software and an increase in self-education. But at the same time, over 50% of languages are at risk of becoming extinct within my lifetime – and with the language usually goes a significant part of the cultural heritage, knowledge, and wisdom. That’s a percentage that would freak any biologist out if they were told we were looking at that much species extinction. If the Yanomamö were gone right now, I wonder if you, Darron, would have gotten this idea (though, in your studies with Bill Balée, I guess you would have become acquainted with the culture even if it was extinct).

    In any case, it’s an amazing conceptual design, one I wish I could see transformed one day into a reality, even if it isn’t strategic design material right now.

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