In an earthquake – which do you think will fare better. skyscrapers or mountains?


Have you noticed that when nature creates something, it’s quite random in construction. Mountains aren’t created with perfectly straight rocks. Yet when humans design something, our geometry and thinking is very linear.

We love the use of straight, angular lines that directly challenge the Earth’s elements. It’s as if we believe that our human understanding of mathematics is enough to trick nature into submission (cause of course we are more powerful than nature itself). Then it seems to come as a big surprise when the universal balance hits back and disaster strikes.

One of South Africa’s proudest inventions is the dolos. A Dolos is a 20-ton concrete ‘knuckle’ that is used (in numbers) as a very effect sea barrier. You probably recognise it.


It’s name (Afrikaans BTW – a contraction of the phrase ‘dobbel osse’, which are ‘bone dice’) recognises the natural form of the sheep’s knuckle that was clearly the inspiration for the design. When packed on a coastline in numbers, the collective pattern these things form is random and; unlike a flat, linear seawall – is very effective in countering the huge power of an ocean tidal surge.

The randomness and fluidity of the cumulative design works with the energy that is forced on in, not against it.

Obviously physical things allow us to easily see how the laws of nature work against linear design. But what about how this linear school of thought translates into other areas of life like education, politics and even our economic system?

Could the very rules that are considered by learned academics as best practice, be the root cause of what is holding back many of our attempts to progress without resulting in major catastrophe?

This question reminds us of a Dutch study, where authorities did an experiment getting rid of all of the road rules, signage and traffic lights on a section of highway. The surprising result was a calm street with no chaos and a complete elimination of traffic. It was discovered that motorists, due to a lack of recognised rules, were forced to make eye contact with one another and read the traffic conditions in the moment. The motorists self-policed themselves and got on with negotiating the situation at hand rather than stressing about who was obeying what rule.

We tend to instinctively think that as our world advances, we need more regulation, more scientific evidence, more linear straight-line design. But it could well be that we are moving further away from the truth.

The world is far more complicated than what our primitive understanding of mathematics and physics can even begin to try and decipher. It feels, that up until now,  our collective advancement has been as a result of humankind’s conquering of nature. In everything from architecture to agriculture, we have overcome the challenges of the Earth to manipulate it for our own advancement. But the laws of nature dictate that balance will always be restored.

By sticking to our own inferior interpretation of the rules we have come so far, but the road ahead is more open. The path from here could be that we need to revisit the very basic thoughts that we consider all rules to be based on. Maybe those past Nobel prize winners were wrong. Perhaps everything we think we know, we actually don’t.

If you knew nothing about architecture and somebody asks you to come up with an idea of how you can safely shelter two hundred people in one go, what around you would you use for inspiration to solve that problem?

Skyscapers will tumble, markets with crash, disease with flourish while mountains remain.