Quiet Intensity: Ken Yeang’s New Book Shapes Your Thinking About All of Us and the Buildings We Build and Work In

When someone writes, “Perhaps the cephalopods (octopuses, squids and relatives), which independently evolved an astonishing level of intelligence, might one day rise to the level of global ecosystem manipulators, and make a better job of it than we have done!” you realize a few things. First, there’s a knowledge of the octopus beyond Tako Su; second, there’s an environmental knowledge implied with the word “ecosystem” and an understanding that everything is related to everything else. But perhaps most important, there is an underlying sense of humor at play – something that only someone immersed deep into the science of how our planet is constructed and our relationship to that construction can really demonstrate with quiet confidence.

Ken Yeang delivers such understanding in SAVING THE PLANET BY DESIGN. He not only knows: he REALLY knows.

His 200-page book has 116 footnotes, 54 “Further Reading” references, and a Bibliography of 84 references, including four of his other 13 volumes he has written on the topic. That in itself qualifies him for which he speaks: about our planet’s ecosystem.

But what REALLY qualifies him is that he has for the past several decades put those beliefs to the test. He has refined them, shaped them, and constructed not only a point of view that is thoroughly refreshing in the discussion of our planet. He has created structures that reflect his philosophy – a philosophy that acknowledges that we can, in fact, shape and save the planet by an act of our will.

Yeang is an eco-architect, or as he says, an ecologist first and an architect second. In his practice, as in this book, Yeang has outlined his thoughts and processes “for our built environment to perform and function as part of Nature and be an extension of Nature” by working “in a symbiotic relationship with Nature.” In other words, he builds buildings that do just that: become part of Nature with a capital “N.”

Yeang’s SAVING THE PLANET BY DESIGN uses questions and answers throughout in what could be construed as an imaginary dialogue between his readers and himself. And what a conversation it is!

An exhaustive and comprehensive Chapter One where he tackles his main thesis – Can we save the Planet by Design? Yeang uses those first 40 pages and 44 footnotes to make his case: Yes, we can. And then in subsequent chapters (2 through 7) he goes into deep-dive details on how we can make this happen. Chapters 8 and 9 are his personal thoughts on the subject, and together contain only one footnote. These chapters are excellent reading, both in terms of thinking and honesty (i.e., “There will always be limitations and inadequacies, both in terms of our understanding of ecosystem function and in our development and applications of technology.”)

But the essence of the book is the conversational tone in the Socrates-like discussion that take place. For example, questions like “what differentiates ecological design from traditional design?” or “what is the process of Ecological Design” or the provocative “What are the key attributes and functionalities of natural ecosystems that we might emulate in the rebuilding of our human-made world in implementing ecomimesis in Ecological Design?” are not only asked; they are answered. And they are discussed in detail. He educates us.

The Glossary is loaded with definitions to help the reader easily understand the thinking. Thus, he tells us plain and simply: Nature is giving us all these services for free. Any businessman or woman knows there is no such thing as “free.” And Yeang proves it subtly, quietly, so that if you invest the time to read the book, you understand the price we will end up paying for these “free” services.

The conclusions he reaches are clear: “our existing and new built environments need to be reinvented and transformed as far as we can into ‘novel constructed ecosystems’ – multi-brid ‘livin’ systems formed from a seamless interlinking of synthetic and semi-synthetic human constructions with natural systems – systems that serve as integral parts of wider Nature, and not separated from it.”

But the core of his message is that as an eco-architect, he believes (and he has proven it in the buildings he has constructed), that man and Nature can exist in harmony. In other words, we do not have to destroy everything around us for comfort. He is particularly sensitive to urban environments, so when he says, “we need to understand species differences” he is adamant about not converting new built urban development that change “faunal species that survive in urban areas.”

You will learn a new language when you read this book. You will be drawn into thinking differently about everything around you. You will, in short, be made “eco-aware” when you finish and gain, perhaps, an understanding of the impact you have on people and things around you.

What is refreshing about Yeang’s writing is he is forthcoming about how his learnings have evolved into a way of consideration of all things made by us, and not made by us. In another volume, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” he wrote: “I do not think there is only one way to design, nor is there one singular green aesthetic. Different architects will have different ways of designging green architecture with different aesthetics.” Honesty, purse and simple.

His writing is poetry in a sense, and poetry has always been quiet intensity in shaping the way we think and feel about things. As Ezra Pound put it, literature is “language charged with meaning.” And that’s exactly what Yeang’s book is.

Saving the Planet by Design by Ken Yeang is available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.


Ken Yeang is an architect, ecologist, planner and author from Malaysia, best known for his ecological architecture and ecomasterplans that have a distinctive green aesthetic. He pioneered an ecology-based architecture, working on the theory and practice of sustainable design. His firm, T.R. Hamzah and Yeang Sdn Bhd, is an architecture and planning brand established in 1977 by Ken and Tengku Robert Hamzah.


Editor's Note:


One thought on “Quiet Intensity: Ken Yeang’s New Book Shapes Your Thinking About All of Us and the Buildings We Build and Work In

  1. Thank you for the thorough review. I am interested to see how Yeang’s ideas can be applied to bread and butter architecture jobs giving the client what they already want for additions and alterations vs new structures without owner plans or ideas.

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