00. Introduction to the Journey


Building (for) a New Paradigm

The Thermodynamics of Shelter on a Living Earth


Sheltering in Place

by Robert Riversong

Sustainable Thermodynamics

Like water molecules that remain isolated individuals when engaged in frenetic activity but tend to bond and then cluster when that energy dissipates to a more sustainable level, human experiments with living a new paradigm – like Ken Carey’s “islands of the future in an ocean of the past” –  often disappear below the waves when maintained with the high initiating energy of enthusiasm but coalesce into archipelagos and then continents once we learn to inhabit them more habitually, at a more sustainable energy.

From an ecological science perspective, the web-of-life is a N.E.T.-of-life, or a Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamic system – a self-generated and self-perpetuating dance – which both feeds from intricate flows of information and energy and enhances and expedites those flows.

Τα Πάντα ε (ta panta rhei) “everything flows”

Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, was the father of the thermodynamic universe. He recognized that the cosmos was not made by god or man and has always been and will always be; that “all things flow” and nothing remains the same; that fire is the quintessential element, the basis of all else and the motive force of all transformation; that the tension between creation and destruction is strife, and the balance of the two is justice; that all things are always becoming and the totality of things – the whole – is an eternal flow; and that the universe is but a heap of dust poured out at random (a quantum probability, in today’s terms).

Designing for stability in a fluid universe

If life is a sacred dance that is choreographed by currents of information, energy and matter, a movement in the greater symphony that is encoded in the quantum field expanding from the primordial cymbal clash, and if each of us is a note in a musical measure that we call community, embedded within a scale of landscapes and culture – then what must we consider in designing appropriate containers for such an ethereal melody?

This exploration is one way to answer that profound question: How to properly clothe the life we’ve been given as a member of this all-too-human dance troupe? So, take off your shoes, kick up your heels, open your mind, and stretch your paradigms.

Sheltering in Place

As a long-time wilderness search & rescue specialist, I know that when someone is in crisis – feeling injured and alone in the wilderness of the world – there are two ways to respond. One is to heroically extricate them from the situation, often involving many rescuers, much technical equipment, intricate coordination and many dangers. The other is to shelter in place: to make a temporary home for them and us in an austere and challenging environment with few resources but much resourcefulness. The former often feels more compelling when time seems like an enemy. The latter understands that patience and forbearance might be a better ally, and it proclaims “here we are, so how can we turn what appears to be crisis into opportunity“.

Every place has gifts to offer if we are open to receiving them. Recovering a relationship to place, however ephemeral it might seem, can offer precious opportunities for renewal.

The Design Journey

  1. Context – land, community & ecology
  2. Design – elegant simplicity & the Golden Mean
  3. Materials – natural, healthy and durable
  4. Methods – criteria for appropriate technology
  5. Foundations – building from the ground up
  6. Envelope – our third skin
  7. HVAC – comfort, health and homeostasis
  8. Energy & Exergy – sources and sinks
  9. Hygro-Thermal – the alchemy of mass & energy flow
  10. Capping it All Off – hat &  boots and a good sturdy coat
 by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes

2 Responses to 00. Introduction to the Journey

  1. I’m really intrigued by your comments about sheltering in place. Do you have any stories about those situations that you’ve posted anywhere? I’m curious to learn more because it’s making me think about how I approach trying to help my friends when they’re going through a hard time. I’m definitely quick to try to pull them out of the problematic situation, but that doesn’t always work very well. I’d love to explore other ways of looking at things like this.

  2. Riversong says:


    “Exploring other ways of looking at things” is another way of addressing paradigm-shifting, or thinking outside the box of conventional perspectives and responses – most of which tend to dig us deeper into whatever morass we find ourselves stuck within.

    I have written a number of essays on paradigm-shifting, or personal and collective rites of passage and transformation of consciousness. They are at my other blog, Turning the Tide: Shifting the Paradigm of Human Culture.

    You might explore:
    What Does “Green” Really Mean?
    Preparing for the Shift
    A Collective Rite of Passage
    From Shadow to Rainbow
    Of Prophets and Hope
    The Art of Surrender

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