2. Principles of engineered environments
Suppose we are asked which of these three is the odd one out, a waterfall, a buttercup and a steam locomotive. One answer would be, the locomotive, because it alone is man- made, another would be, the buttercup, because it alone is alive. But the third possible answer would also be justifiable: the buttercup and the locomotive show evidence of design, but the waterfall does not - its shape simply happens, it has no symmetry, it is not contrived to have any function or to serve any end. The locomotive and the buttercup show symmetry and regularity - several wheels or petals all the same shape, a long regular frame with wheels attached below in pairs, or a long regular stem with leaves arising from it. All the parts of both are adapted to particular purposes, purposes which serve greater ends - in the buttercup, to survive, to grow and propagate its kind, in the locomotive, to haul goods and passengers.
Michael French (1994) Invention and evolution: Cambridge
A combination of planning, designing and engineering produces the peculiarities of our private self- made worlds, and the vast number of important problems connected with them.
The human environment is part of nature, and in any natural situation, and no matter what society is concerned, it is an integrated, organized whole. This complex whole is under the influence of natural conditions and of human action, and each of its component parts is influenced by its relations to other parts of the complex. Functionally, the installations of the human environment may be classified according to the scheme of: resource sites, circulation routes, manufacturing plants, cultivated lands, service centers, and settlements (the latter overlapping the other categories). To each of these kinds of installations correspond certain distinctive requirements of location in any society.
In any place, this scheme of knowledge holds together the actual ways of livelihood practiced by human groups and the relation of these to societal and economic forms, to techniques and tools, and to particular arrangements of the elements of built environments.
The space occupied by any human group is distinctive not only for the particular disposition of plains, hills and valleys, streams and lakes or coasts, forests, grasslands, deserts or swamps it exhibits, but also for the particular arrangement and character of the works of people within it. The homeland of every society has its own characteristic dwellings, workshops, granaries, ceremonial places, monuments, lines of communication and routes of travel. Usually it has its own peculiar aggregation of domestic plants and animals, and its own sorts of vehicles, tools, watercraft, machines, and so on. Engineered features appear in many forms in the landscape; there may be canals and dams, mines and quarries, fields and gardens; isolated farmsteads, hamlets, villages and cities; and, linking these together, trails and waterways and highways, signals, wires and conduits.
The organisation of our mammalian body make it possible for humans to intervene much more massively in nature and to regulate their actions in quite different ways from those possible for other creatures. The mechanisms of communication in particular are decisive.
The peculiarities of the human nervous system allow a high development of symbolic communication. What is distinctive is the constant use of symbolic stimuli that are both precise and flexible and capable of achieving a very complex integration of behavior among great numbers of individuals. Humans learn to recognize and respond to the symbolic content of a particular set of stimuli in a consistent way that may be called culture, whereby a group of people uses a distinct a vocabulary of perception to distinguish itself from other groups.