St Pete Aerial
Odum’s dark bottle and an ecosystem approach


  • Brian Cook University of South Florida




Environmental design, ecological design, Build with Nature, ecosystem approach, landscape architecture, ecological planning


Eugene Odum was an ecological pioneer, writing the discipline’s first textbook, Fundamentals of Ecology, in 1953. Although his work is almost 70 years old, it laid the groundwork for contemporary landscape systems thinking. Since Odum’s time, a lineage of ecological research and theory has helped to define concepts pertaining to ecology, ecosystems, and nature. With these terms in peril of becoming ambiguous, especially in the design arts, this chapter revisits the origins and development of ecologic thinking in order to construct a more critical understanding of nature, and the role of the designer for Building with Nature. One particular experiment by Odum is used as the foundation of concept development. A pond is his reference site and he ‘dissects’ it, using dark and light bottes to illustrate its nuances and the overall ecosystem idea. Three important principles can be derived. First, the ecologist, or the designer, should understand the ‘nature’ of the system, or site, where they are working. Second, nature is formed through functional interactions over extended periods of time. Lastly, through an ecosystem approach, it is shown that systems involve indirect effects. In ecological networks, sites are impacted by forces beyond their immediate boundaries, as well as through other social and cultural systems. Case studies located along the Florida Gulf Coast are used to explain Odum’s and others’ concepts. Florida has developed in parallel with human’s capacity to manipulate their environment. For this reason, it is a useful reference site, illustrating trajectories in ecological thinking.

How to Cite

Cook, B. (2021). Odum’s dark bottle and an ecosystem approach. Research in Urbanism Series, 7, 177–202.



Author Biography

Brian Cook, University of South Florida

Brian Cook is an assistant research professor at the University of South Florida. He is also a registered landscape architect with 15 years’ experience and has recently co-founded the firm Wide Open Office. His work and research is focused on the site-specific nature of landscape as well as issues of coastal resiliency, of displacement, and representation in the design process.


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