Roots to Renewal

Episode Four: A Flowing Conversation with Renowned Urban Designer and Water Artist Herbert Dreiseitl

June 11, 2021 Hawthorne Valley / Herbert Dreiseitl Season 1 Episode 4
Roots to Renewal
Episode Four: A Flowing Conversation with Renowned Urban Designer and Water Artist Herbert Dreiseitl
Show Notes Transcript

Sponsored by Tierra Farm. Music by Aaron Dessner.

Hawthorne Valley Executive Director Martin Ping chats with Herbert Dreiseitl (see bio below) about the nature of creativity, the role of beauty in our lives, and the gifts of Waldorf Education. Herbert joined Martin in conversation this past February over Zoom from his home on the shores of Lake Constance in Germany when the country was still in the throes of the pandemic and in a state of strict lockdown.

3:00 Herbert talks about the changes he’s seen in the city where he lives during the pandemic – both from nature-based and social perspectives: incredible how nature is taking back lost spaces; less hectic life; have stopped looking elsewhere for beauty – we’ve had to find it on our own doorsteps.

6:45 Role of beauty – beauty is a kind of spiritual awareness we have as humans; healthy social connections often connected to a certain balance, and aesthetic/beauty of the surrounding environment.

7:40 Herbert’s work with water in built environments; what we feel inside is reflected outside, and what’s outside is always reflected back to us and the bridge for this is beauty = flow. 

9:00 The pandemic has highlighted hopeful signs that maybe we’re overcoming the story of human beings’ separation from the natural world, and finding our way back to an understanding of our integral place as nature in nature.

9:45 Insights we might glean by appreciating water – how might this transform our thinking.

11:35 Herbert’s views on/experiences with the gifts of Waldorf education; key to Herbert’s biography and what he does now.

https://www.dreiseitlconsulting.com | https://hawthornevalley.org/donate

Herbert Dreiseitl is a renowned landscape architect, urban designer, water artist, interdisciplinary planner, and a professor in praxis.

He is an internationally highly respected expert in creating liveable cities around the world with a special hallmark on the inspiring and innovative use of water to solve urban environmental challenges, connecting technology with aesthetics and encouraging people to take care and establish a sense of ownership for places.

Herbert is a Harvard GSD Loeb Fellow, and Fellow of the Center of Liveable Cities in Singapore. He lectures worldwide and has authored many publications including three editions of “Recent Waterscapes, Planning, Building, and Designing with Water.”

He has received many awards for his work in the United States and around the world. He founded Atelier Dreiseitl in 1980 (today Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl), a globally integrated design firm with a long-standing history of excellence in urban design, landscape architecture, and resilient ecological planning. During the last 5 years, he developed the “Liveable Cities Lab” (LCL), a think-tank at the Ramboll Group International, now based in Boston.

Herbert is always asking how to bring the best value to society, to create a culture of inspiration, and implement better-integrated solutions to humanize cities. He has also  been a member of Hawthorne Valley’s Board of Trustees. 

Heather Gibbons (00:14):

Hi, I'm Heather Gibbons, and this is Hawthorne Valley's 50th anniversary podcast, Roots to renewal. Thank you for joining us. As we mark this significant milestone, we decided to try our hand at podcasting as a way to help share our story, as well as those of our friends and contemporaries from around the world who dedicate their lives to meeting the ecological, social and spiritual needs of our time. Roots to Renewal is made possible by the generous support of Tierra Farm. A family owned environmentally conscious manufacturer and distributor of organic dried fruits and nuts. Learn more at tierrafarm.org. Herbert Dreiseitl is a renowned landscape architect, urban designer, water artist, interdisciplinary planner and a professor in Praxis. He is an internationally, highly respected expert in creating livable cities around the world with a special hallmark on the inspiring and innovative use of water to solve urban environmental challenges, connecting technology with aesthetics and encouraging people to take care and establish a sense of ownership for places.

Heather Gibbons (01:19):

Herbert is a Harvard GSD Loeb fellow and a fellow of the Center of Livable Cities in Singapore. He lectures worldwide and has authored many publications, including three editions of Recent Waterscapes: Planning, Building and Designing with Water. Herbert has received many awards for his work in the United States and around the world. He founded Atelier Dreiseitl in 1980 today, known as Ramboll Studio, Dreiseitl, a globally integrated design firm with a longstanding history of excellence in urban design, landscape architecture and resilient ecological planning. During the last five years, he developed the Livable Cities Lab, a think tank at the Ramboll Group International now based in Boston. Herbert is always asking how to bring the best value to society, to create a culture of inspiration and implement better integrated solutions to humanize cities. He has also been a member of Hawthorne Valley's board of trustees, Herbert joined Martin in conversation this past February over zoom from his home on the shores of Lake Constance in Germany, when the country was still in the throes of the pandemic and at a state of strict lockdown.

Martin Ping (02:29):

Hello, Herbert, it's really wonderful to see you and your beautiful home in Uberlingen, on the lake of Constance or the Bodensee, and I know now you're in this incredible lockdown in, in Germany because of the pandemic, which is quite a bit stricter than what we're experiencing here in the U.S. And maybe we just begin there to say, what are you experiencing from that? And what are you thinking are the, the ways forward that we can think about coming out of this pandemic new ways?

Herbert Dreiseitl (03:00):

I would like to say a little bit about the side effects, what I was actually seeing. And I think that's all around the world probably similar, or it was very interesting already. Last year, 2020, we noticed that in our cities, large cities, but also our smaller cities we have here in Europe that suddenly we, the, the atmosphere of the, of the city was different, completely different, no traffic or very reduced traffic. We could suddenly hear a bird singing right in the middle of the city. We could hear the concert in the morning. We could suddenly recognize that nature is right in the city, and we even have wildlife foxes and so on at night running through the city. We see that it is quite incredible how nature actually is kind of surviving in an interesting way of taking back lost spaces. The other thing we noticed is of course, all the pollution's going down.

Herbert Dreiseitl (04:09):

I think the aim to get the environment so that the climate question, it can be handled somehow, but because of COVID people travel much less. People walk. More people use bicycles. Uh, people talk on roads because there is not so much traffic. So you, we can be outside. We can socialize on the street. A lot of my friends say there is less hectic in our life. We do more meditation. We do more exercise. We go out to experience our surrounding, and we don't search for the beauty of landscapes somewhere in the far distance where we take an airplane to go somewhere for holidays. And then we have to find it in front of our doorstep, in front of our living space. That means that suddenly the beauty in our cities, the importance of creating a kind of healthy environment in our direct neighborhood is getting very important. And I also know that local economy is suddenly starting to be more important. Taking care of what is your surrounding, what is in your neighborhood? What is circular economy in your area is actually getting extremely important. And there is a kind of start of awakening awareness, which I can see. I hope that kind of waking up is starting to be something where, which brings people to a different way of thinking.

Martin Ping (05:48):

Mm. Yeah, it's a, it's like a remembering of our social being this with others that we've been distracted from that reality by all of the other possibilities of going anywhere in the world and getting anything from anywhere in the world at the snap of a finger. So we see similar, the local economy piece is certainly something that one can say is strengthened by this here around in the Hudson Valley as well. And I think always the real gift is this social question, that people can come together and be together in a new and different way.

Herbert Dreiseitl (06:22):

The social question is very, very important as well. How do people interact? How do people take actually ownership of their direct surrounding and how also can the young people actually get a relationship to that? There's the physical reality, the social reality, something which is more spiritual. And I think what is for me, a very important part is that really beauty matters. Actually, there's a lot of research going on also here in south Germany and especially in Switzerland, that beauty is a kind of spiritual awareness of what we have as humans. Everyone actually is connected to that. That we see something, is it true? Is it something which is a healthy situation? How's the situations often are connected to our certain balance or a certain aesthetic to a certain beauty. And you can see this in landscapes very much. Has the landscape, the character of beauty? Has a city, the character of beauty?

Herbert Dreiseitl (07:26):

If you see that you find often very, very healthy social connections, and you find a very healthy environment. Very often for me, it's very important. I have been working around the world in many cities, very much as an engineer, as a technical guy who is working for water for rainwater, stormwater management filtration, getting good water into the environment back again, uh, treating of wastewater and so on, but always was this part very important that I said: technology is one thing which is very important, but it's not the answer per se. It needs more. It needs something which is connecting our inner being as humans to the environment. And that is very much in something like a, kind of a, a deeper connection, which brings us as humans that we see the world around is nothing else than ourselves. We are in ourselves feel that what we have inside is reflected outside and what is outside is always reflected to us. And the bridge is this beauty and the, I think there needs much more research in that field and we have to take it not as something nice, but something really sort of, which has a very, very strong truth for the future for design and for also the way how we create our world.

Martin Ping (08:46):

It makes me think of the biologist here in the U.S. EO Wilson, who coined the term biophilia, which is our innate love or connection to nature because we are nature. It feels for me a hopeful sign that we're maybe overcoming this story of separation and finding our way back into, uh, an understanding of our integral place as nature in nature. Yeah. I've been to many of your projects, mostly in the U.S. But I have been in Potsdamer Platz and Tanner Springs, of course, in Portland, more than once. And I like to go and just observe how people are interacting with those places, because it's validating all of the points that you're making. And as somebody who feels very strongly connected to water myself, I grew up across the street from the ocean. My birth sign is Aquarius. I just, I feel like water is really coursing through my veins in a way. And I wonder if you could say what insights we might glean by appreciating water. Moreover, how can that transform our thinking?

Herbert Dreiseitl (09:55):

Water is a very, very important and fascinating element, uh, all my life. Um, I'm actually committed in my work to this water element, and I call it fluid thinking. So I did a lot of exercises and by the way, I do it a lot also with normal people on the road. I do it like with workshops when we do, uh, uh, involvement workshops of citizens up to 300, 400 people. I do often this kind of exercises as a kind of waking up of letting things flow, getting away from fixed ideas, opening up our fantasy, opening up future potential, something which is unknown, which is something for the discovery of something we don't know from the future, but we want to invite the future to bring into our thinking. So, so that is all connected, I think, to fluid movements to flow. And this fluid thinking in water is extremely important and extremely healthy. And I think this is all about creativity, it's about art, it's about flow and to get into a flow. And so water is kind of a prototype for that. And it's all about connecting. It's connecting something. Water is power. It's the laws that what connects us to the world.

Martin Ping (11:16):

Well, I'm intrigued because here we are at Hawthorne Valley on what is actually today, the 50th anniversary of Hawthorne Valley's beginning, and you yourself went to a Waldorf school. And now as you look back, what would you say are the gifts of a Waldorf education that prepared you for your work in the world or inspired you?

Herbert Dreiseitl (11:40):

Waldorf education was for me and my biography, a very, uh, absolutely key for what I do now. I was really very bad in writing. I'm still not very good. I love, but I'm very slow in reading and all this kind of things. Uh, typical dyslectic problem. Um, and I had a, a teacher, we always had to do, uh, in, in Waldorf school, you have four weeks or six weeks, one subject every morning. And, uh, so at the end we have to write a little book here, a little, uh, book we have to give. And, uh, because I was so bad in writing, I have actually left it completely empty. I only made drawings. So I feel, and it was about, uh, it was about many scene. It was about human, uh, the human body, how the function of the human body is in different ways.

Herbert Dreiseitl (12:33):

So what I only did, I was listening very carefully. I did only make drawings in that. And usually at the end of this, the teacher is collecting all this little booklets, and he gave us personally to every student back, uh, the booklet with some comments, you have done it well, or you could have done it better also. So it's kind of a feedback. And the whole group was actually getting their, um, their little booklets back. I was standing in front, we had to stand up and I was the last guy and all my classmates said, oh my goodness, poor Herbert. He will, he will take him apart. And he will, he will be killed after that. Um, so I was very afraid and he said, um, well, Herbert, you have given me a book. There's nothing rich in it, but yeah, your drawings were so excellent.

Herbert Dreiseitl (13:32):

So I'm totally impressed. He said with your drawings, I have seen that you really have been following up my teaching. You understood everything you learned well. Continue go on in your way, trusting your strengths and continue. And I'm still emotional about that. That was really bringing something to me where I didn't trust in my strengths. And that was in all my life very important. That's really coming up with something where I can say, you know, if I want to change the world, I should not follow a kind of something, what other people tell you should do? No, I listened to my inner voice and I say, what is that? What I bring to the world? And, uh, can I find that inner kind of well or roots and can I bring it out? And that was actually something which is so excellent on this school. That, that is what a Steiner school, a Waldorf school, actually can bring. And I think that's why I also did send my kids to that school and my grandchildren are also now to this school. So to rediscover, uh, your being and bringing that into the world, I think that's a very important part.

Martin Ping (14:48):

If we could do that for every individual, if that could be the outcome, and I know that is the goal for the class teachers and all the special subject teachers, and to really allow the emergent being to come out and not to put a prescription on who anybody should be, but, but help them to be who they are. And your story is just so beautiful and expressing that

Herbert Dreiseitl (15:14):

I'm so happy that you have now to celebrate 50 years of work at the Hawthorne Valley. What a wonderful, uh, initiative. And, uh, I think that you have brought actually different disciplines like agriculture, like education and, and medicine and research and community building, and even producing healthy food and bring it out to the world. That's so wonderful that you actually have brought all these initiatives together in the Hawthorne Valley community. Thank you,

Martin Ping (15:46):

Herbert. My dear, dear friend. It was wonderful. So nice to spend this time with you.

Herbert Dreiseitl (15:52):

Thank you, Martin. All the best. Bye Bye.

Heather Gibbons (15:58):

To learn more about Herbert and his work, creating livable cities and regions worldwide, visit dreiseitl consulting.com. Thanks for listening to Hawthorne Valley's routes to renewal podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our website at hawthornevalley.org. Hawthorne valley is a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization. And we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Special thanks to our sponsor Tierra Farm, who makes this podcast possible. We're grateful for their continued support and the support of grassroots contributions from listeners like you to make a donation visit hawthornevalley.org backslash donate. If you'd like to support us in other ways, consider sharing this episode through social media or leaving us a review wherever you listen to this podcast. Thank you to Grammy award winning artist, Aaron Dessner for providing our soundtrack and to Emma Morris for once again, lending her invaluable editing and production support.