Think IN BED: Lo—TEK, Design by Radical Indigenism

Words by Elisha Kennedy
Images supplied by Taschen

We do some of our best thinking in bed, and so, in light of this, we’re starting a new monthly series on The Journal, Think IN BED, to create space to explore thought-provoking books, articles, studies and documentaries across a range of topics. We’re launching this series by taking a look at Julia Watson’s new book, Lo—TEK, Design by Radical Indigenism.

The book is the result of a decade-long project by landscape architect, activist and academic, Julia Watson. Born in Australia and now based in New York, Julia’s work focuses on using nature-based technologies for climate-resilient design.

© Amos Chapple | A young fisherman walks under a living root bridge at Mawlynnong village, India. In the relentless damp of Meghalaya’s jungles the Khasi people have used the trainable roots of rubber trees to grow Jingkieng Dieng Jri living root bridges over rivers for centuries.


When we consider ‘technology’, we often conceive of it as something that is digitised, however the term ‘Tek’ in the title, refers to Traditional Ecological Knowledge - Indigenous and other forms of traditional knowledge, regarding the sustainability of local resources, particularly in such fields as agriculture, fisheries, health, horticulture and forestry.

© Esme Allen | Qasab reed has long served as raw material for homes, handicrafts, tools, and animal fodder with the distinctive mudhif houses of the Ma’dan people appearing in Sumerian artwork from five thousand years ago.


Cataloguing 18 case studies from Indigenous communities, the book is divided into four ecosystems; mountains, forests, deserts and wetlands. One case study explores the living rubber-tree bridges planted and managed by the Khasi tribe of Meghalaya in north-eastern India, who have planned for, and practiced the strategic planting of the ficus elastica at river crossings for generations. From the floating islands Las Islas Flotantes of the Uros on Lake Titicaca in Peru to the Sawah Tambak Rice-Fish system of the Javanese in Indonesia, the studies explore the intricacies of nature-based technologies around the world, and are accompanied by exquisite documentary photography and interviews with anthropologists and scientists, alongside technical drawings to demonstrate how each system functions.

(left) © Alireza Teimoury | A line of evenly spaced spoil craters snake along the surface of the desert from the high Elburz Mountains to the Plains of Iraq and is the only evidence of an invisible, subterranean man-made water stream called a qanat, first constructed by the Persians during the early years of the first millennium BCE. (right) © Jassim Alasadi | In the Southern Wetlands of Iraq, an entire Ma’dan house known as a mudhif, which is built entirely of qasab reed without using mortar or nails, can be taken down and re-erected in a day.


The book, at its core, is about observing our environments and reconsidering our relationships to them. Through scientific and philosophical inquiry, Julia encourages us to look at both existing and ancient technologies where creativity and ingenuity thrive, as humans and natural ecosystems come together in symbiosis.

© Enrique Castro-Mendivil | Las Islas Flotantes is a floating island system on Lake Titicaca in Peru inhabited by the Uros, who build their entire civilization from the locally grown totora reed.


You can read more about Julia’s work here, and order the book, here.