Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Passive Is Powerful

Photo courtesy Flickr

The term passive is so far out of fashion, that when I brought it up at a recent meeting, people shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. We were discussing security in a health club and debating the wisdom of installing security cameras in a common room. I suggested that simply placing a mirror to reflect a dead corner would add line-of-sight surveillance from passers-by on their way to the weight room.

The basic issues of human life support and governance existed long before electricity, and nineteenth century solutions were low-tech state of the art. I have found that looking to the old ways often reveals a solution requiring little or no attention, overhead, or training. Who needs a manual to use a mirror? It is an ornament that adds light and monitors without insult while maintaining the comfort and security of lounging in the intersection of two windowless walls.

A passive solution is resilient, instant, always booted up, easy to repair, and usually the fruit of a short, secure supply line. It can often be found used and frees attention and capital for great leaps forward. Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language is the definitive encyclopedia of the elements of managing space in civil society.


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