New Alchemy Institute

Energy & Sustainability
New Alchemy Institute

In Make: Talk 08, the conversation circled briefly around to the New Alchemy Institute or NAI, an ambitious center dedicated to developing sustainable living techniques. In college, I recall going on a trip to the New Alchemy Institute. Unfortunately, those were the days of analog, so alas, no pictures, video or blog entries to look back upon, geeze, no notebook either…

TreeHugger has a review of A Safe and Sustainable World by Nancy Jack Todd about the NAI, which had a run from 1971 to 1991.

The story of the growth and groundbreaking research and development of the group is compelling, but ultimately plays a secondary role to their discovery and execution of innovative ways to sustain the human population in harmony with the natural world.

Perhaps the most important lesson in the book regarding ecological design is simply that “It works!” Their early experiences farming vegetables and fish to building windmills led to the consolidation of all of their ecological design experience into the construction of two “Arks” — large greenhouse-like shelters built to sustain those living inside (including their shelter, food and energy needs) independent of the power grid or the rest of the world.

The land is obviously still there, but I sometimes wonder what became of the people, ideas, structures, and systems of the New Alchemy Institute. The Green Center seems to have something of an archival relationship to the institute, and there is a collection of their articles. Back when land was cheap and the living was easy, there were a number of examples like the New Alchemy Institute of people living together sharing resources and working with the land to meet their needs. It would be great to hear of people’s experiences in those communities and to find out more about the ways people are getting creative ReMaking the world in our current economic restructuring.

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