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Back on the old days (centuries before JC) Rome was getting bigger and bigger. It had become so huge, in fact, that the usual arrangements to sustain a city couldn’t possibly work. Just imagine 2 hundred thousand people pissing and shitting everywhere.

It might be easy to downplay the importance of this, from todays’ point of view. And not because of the technology. No, those romans were crafty bastards, their engineering took more than a thousand years to be surpassed — and in many aspects, our technology is not significantly better than theirs. What should really make a huge difference in those times was the very fact that a city could be that big. Today it is normal to live in a city, almost the rule. But back in Before JC times, the vast majority of mankind would live in the fields, growing crops and herding. After all, that was what kept those people eating and shitting.

So, the huge amounts of feces. Those roman people were cleanliness freaks, they even took frequent baths! A city that smelled bad was not good enough. So they had to do something about that. The solution, obviously, is water, a fuckng big lot of water.

Actually, only providing all those people with water to drink was an impressive task. From a biochemical point of view (so to say), humans are just some more of that organic slime that grows, just like fungi and lions and fish and vermin and whatnot. And that goo is fragile, it needs some very specific environmental conditions to be alright. Without air and water and food, we die.

Very well then. But imagine, if there were some 6 or 7 rivers flowing straight into this place we like to call home (or Rome ;-), i guess pretty much we could have all those hundreds of thousands of people drinking. Guess what, the rivers could even be split, so the ones we shit on are not those we drink from. Sadly, rivers don’t tend to do that, and they also don’t do that here, where we want them to.

So, let’s build some rivers. And for that matter, we could call them Aqueducts.

It actually sounds silly, an aqueduct is only a pipe. A big one, granted, but only a pipe. Another piece of plumbing. And not the first one, either, humanity had been making aqueducts for centuries then.

What is amazing about aqueducts is that it requires no energy input. One does not need to be pushing it around so that it produces water, it just keeps on bringing it, just keeps on doing it’s thing.

It is not like the rest of life: to make money you have to be always working, to make food you got to tend the earth tirelessly, to make happiness you have to be pursuing your dreams with every breath you take. It is just all too tiresome, and it seems like the norm, like “the way things are”®, that one needs to invest one’s energy to produce desired results. It seems “natural”®. It seems “reality”®.

And still, the aqueduct does not need energy input.

Obviously, it does. It requires the energy of the sun to produce the cycle of water in our planet, which in it’s turn takes water to the tops of the mountains so that gravity can pull it down. It is complicated, it is huge, and it is a vast amount of energy. And also, it requires maintenance — so that it even requires some pushing around to do it’s thing, some action on the part of the subject. And let’s not forget, to build said thing is a enormous act of engineering, and huge expenditure of energy.

[edit] What i mean by no energy input is not an economical consideration, it is not that the aqueduct is a good bargain. What i mean is that it is not a tit-for-tat relationship, it is not a quantitative relation.

To make it clearer: let’s say you have a water pump. You push the lever once, you got a cup or water, twice, two cups. You need a bathtub of water you’ll get tired, you need a thousand cubic meters you’ll get wasted. In the same vein, you could just put more and more slaves to go fetch some water (they Romans got plenty). In most systems, you can just put more energy there and achieve what you like, you can turn everything into a simple question of energy costs: then every desire is just a matter of collecting enough energy.

(And most people tend to see everything in life in linear cost scales: how much money do you need to buy this, how many muscle you need to beat that guy, how big a car you need to fuck that chick, how many women you need to get to be the man…)

But the Aqueduct makes a different situation. It neither assumes that something with too great a cost is impossible, nor tries to find an opportunistic solution like stealing or winning the lottery. It creates a situation where the energy costs are secondary. It subvert the simplistic, dull, greedy vision of the world where every decision is an amount of energy.

In a way, the Aqueduct is a zen spot between trying to turn the world into something it is not (and you want it to be) and accepting whatever world you are put on (no matter how shitty it is). It let’s the world be, it accepts the way things are. And still, it maintains the conditions needed for life.

It is a decisive, visionary, affirmative way to deal with the world. It cuts the epistemological Gordian knot (of subject against world). It solves the dream against realism dilemma.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] functionalism, slow design, use Despite being tagged as “design”, the post about The Aqueduct had very little to do with design, really, aside an Aqueduct being a physical object. There is a […]

  2. […] of only playing into people’s fears. None of those work in order to survive. What they do is change the Circumstance around […]

  3. By Aqueduto Xpiral « Filosofia do Design on 09 Feb 2011 at 5:28 pm

    […] (pra quem não sabe, o meu post do “Aqueduto” já existia numa versão diferente, em inglês, no meu outro blog, desde 2007), e quando eu cheguei lá foi uma surpresa que existisse alguma […]

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