The Integral Urban House Revisited


By William Olkowski, 12.25.11


The Integral Urban House was a retrofit project which redesigned an old run down house in Berkeley, CA initiated in 1974 with various ecologically friendly components including: food gardens open to the public, chicken, rabbit and crayfish rearing for animal protein, solar hot water, roof top herb garden, greywater systems, wood fired stove, and a waterless toilet.  While it existed it educated many thousands.  The house was considered important enough by Architectural Digest to be considered among the top houses of the 20th century.  It was certainly unusual and is to this day still an innovative example of what could be a worldwide movement to redesign the developed worlds’ residential element.  It was a volunteer project at the start but later got some funding to do the construction work.  The architect was Sim van der Ryn, a professor at UC, Berkeley.  Some further details are covered below as requested by a recent reader (now over 35 years ago).


Helga and myself loved this project and devoted a great deal of personal time at the house during design, construction, conducting public tours and handling the publicity.  People came from all over the world to see the house.  I remember an Italian film crew who were taking videos from the different windows, popping out first in one window and then others.  I wrote the final draft of the book (took about 3 months of daily work, in between other jobs and teaching) with Helga as always, and with Tom Javits making major contributions, particularly in various designs and drawings.


During submission to the publisher, Sierra Club, the chapter on solar energy was deleted and another was substituted without our knowledge.  I just found a copy of this chapter in my piles from back then, but it was lost for a long time.  Not that the chapter was anything special, but it was focused on how people could maximize solar house heating by such simple means as manipulating existing shades and blinds, for example.  Other methods were oriented to how people could do solar projects, ovens, distillations, etc.


Then the book came out under Sim’s name which we felt was unfair and tried to correct.  The second edition carries our names on the cover but again messes up the authorship.  By that time we had left the institute, but the group of our students from UC and Antioch College (SF) who lived there during construction and other friends continued on the board: David Katz and Sheila Daar were board members when we left.  We, like fools, turned over the proceeds to the Farallones Institute to run the urban house project.  The Institute later sold the house.  So we lost authorship and royalties, and the house was converted to an office.  Royalties would have been helpful as we were starting another project: The Urban Integrated Pest Management project then at UC and later spun off as its own non-profit.  Well, in retrospect, we did not do it for the money but just to influence the world.  And the project did that which still makes me feel proud.  It was considered one of the most important houses of the 20th century by Architectural Digest a few years ago, see the video on our website: the O’s.


Many people contributed time to this project which inspired us to work as we did.  We all saw the future as an opportunity to address the gross inefficiencies in the urban lifestyle which is at the core of massive environmental exploitation of the Earth.  One group designed and built the passive solar hot water system, another the rabbit and chicken system, Abby Rockafeller gave us the Clivis Multrum (a water less toilet), one of our students designed the crayfish rearing unit on urine, and others.  Sim’s students were hired to do much of the construction.


How Did the Project Start


I got a request just recently to clarify some aspects of the project so that is how this particular blurb arose.  The project started for us when our friend Sterling Bunnell (see the book Mind in the Waters for his chapter on Cetacean Intelligence) came by our Acton St. house as he was wont to do at times and wanted us to meet up with this UC architect professor, i.e. Sim.  We did and then each week thereafter we continued to meet with him and Sterling and more and more people were invited to also come and share ideas.  Sterling was a faculty member at the College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland who was also teaching with us at the innovative college, Antioch West which we help start.  So different faculty from that institution also showed up.


We had a floating group of about 8-10 that met each week at different restaurants, usually Chinese, in Oakland and Berkeley.  We all got to make points about the sorry state of affairs of the planet, etc.  Then I pushed for a practical project where we could put together various solutions, but it was a retrofit right from the beginning.  I wrote up a plan for an “Integral Urban House” project with the components which turned up in the book, including a passive hot water system and food producing systems.  We had been working on food gardens for 5-6 years around our house and at a student garden on University of California land in the middle of Berkeley (Rose and Walnut Streets) (see the book City Peoples Book of Raising Food).  This garden and our house garden had attained a small degree of local attention, but we needed builders and construction people to work on other components and we needed a place where the public could come through and learn about the methods of raising food and using solar hot water, for example.


Public tours at our Acton St. house got so bad that foot traffic was damaging the food producing beds.  A publically accessible food garden was clearly needed. The plant and animals systems included in the eventual IUH project were based on our explorations and those of our students: composting, chickens and rabbit structures, an innovative pond with wind activated aeration producing crayfish on human urine, and bee keeping for honey, pollen and pollination services.  We had started a class at UC, Berkeley within the first Conservation and Natural Resource Management Program, a large scale educational responses to Earth Day.


Students were working on these components and we were teaching how to kill a chicken, for example.  This was a great experience as we had shocked vegetarians and all sorts of urban folk who had never really understood where their meat came from.  Being the radical I am and my feeling about food and animals as food I was really too much.  I used to go through the steps of first holding the chicken, then breaking its neck, then bleeding it by cutting its throat right there in the classroom.  Then it was really an anatomy lesson, which itself was an eye opener because most students at the college level never see anything real and learn such skills, nor do they ever fully appreciate how the vertebrate body is constructed.


But if push comes to shove, knowing how to kill and dress an animal like a chicken or rabbit could be important for survival.  I felt this way then and still do.  If our food supply takes a dive, a lot of people are going to starve.  Rabbits are the best survival system as they could eat almost anything growing in the urban area.  Chickens need protein to make their eggs and getting that from food wastes is usually not enough to make the system efficient.  Rabbits could be raised on alfalfa which could be grown in the garden.  In WWII rabbit growing was big in the San Francisco Bay area as the climate is amenable to alfalfa as I saw reports of over 10 cuttings per year on earlier alfalfa farms.  They are all gone now, however.


No matter what, knowing how to produce your own food is a revolutionary activity.


Hopes are Not Agreements nor Final Designs


We could see the needs to integrate the urban house and food garden while innovating and applying various solutions to building problems associated with waterless toilets, solar hot water systems, composting, animal shelters, etc.  We welcomed cooperation from builders and it seemed a great integration.  As I was into Integrated Pest Management I was nuts about the idea of Integration, hence the Integral Urban House.


Then Sim found a student who was willing to donate a sizeable amount of money and a house to the group (Sim suggested a non-profit he had somehow been associated with or started?)  This is the instructive part of this message, and one which I should have known without having this experience.  This great learning can be capsulated into: those who control the money control the project.  I assumed this would be a cooperative effort but when I saw how things were unfolding I became concerned about cooperative ventures, but that is a tangent.


So we started looking for a place to do this project.  Helga and I are rather outspoken people and we were pushing the group to consider an existing house that could be renovated.  This was because we estimated that given 80 million of so existing houses/residential structures in the US at that time, we needed something relevant to most people.  Sim and others wanted to build anew.  Later I learned to appreciate why the architects prefer to build NEW rather than retrofitting.  It’s ironic that those who initially opposed the concept eventually profited most from its actuation.  But all that is water under the bridge, but it should be remembered by other innovators.


Architects do not like to fix other peoples mistakes and prefer to create new designs upon which they can build their careers.  So this was a barrier to real complete integration of builders and practical ecologist.  I thought the conflict was resolved by having another project start within the institute with a focus on building new at another location.  But I still believe that retrofitting was virgin architectural ground.  There were no manuals for redesign, for example.  It still is a frontier as far as I can see.


Andy Finds a House for Sale


Back in those days, about 1974 or so Andy Pollack was a student at Antioch College West in San Francisco where we taught in addition in the Man and Environment Program at UC, Berkeley.  He was living at our house at that time and found what later became the Integral Urban House by riding his bicycle around Berkeley searching for a place.  He found a house for sale in the industrial sector within a zone where one could hear constantly hear the low steady rumble of the freeway in the background.  It was being put up for sale (actually a bidding process) for back taxes.  The Institute (FI) paid $11,000 to own this fifth street house.  Sim sold the another house given to the Institute and the money was used to purchase this fifth street house, building materials and to pay his students.  Our students were volunteers, some of whom lived in the house for some time, as indicated above.  (The Integral Urban House was eventually sold with the funds incorporated into the FI, after we were gone.)


Then the design work started, i.e., regular meetings orchestrated by Sim.  We had a floor plan and Sim would record our ideas onto a transparent sheet of paper placed over the floor plan.  This was the fun part of the project as various ideas could be examined on paper and then we all could think about them until our next meeting.


What We Learned


This volunteer project was a great learning experience for us which we have built upon over the following decades.  We are still using the IUH project to understand how to innovate and institutionalize, along with other projects we have created, but that’s another tangent.  The IUH was among one of our first efforts at innovation in a field we had no credentials in (another was recycling centers).  So, we gradually came to know we had to create our own non-profit within which we could do what we did best, i.e., create IPM programs to reduce pesticide use.  All our projects have public educational components and we have always taught people about food production and we have also created educational systems in various combinations and permutations.  Our attitude was public education was most important.  This was clear given our experiences at the UC, where many professors (at that time) seemed to hate the intrusion of the public.


Our work in reducing pesticide use was paramount as we believed urban pesticide use was creating massive public health problems (and we still do).  And urban areas were of particular concern as pesticides were (and still are) being used in close proximity to people.  This use pattern changes the exposure equation to predominantly respiratory and skin exposures compared to the small amounts of pesticides on foods via large scale agriculture.  Respiratory exposures are the worst as they mean lung tissues are certainly affected as well as having the pesticide more quickly distributed around the body compared to stomach exposures of much lower concentration.  And that was our focus for a few decades after IUH, except for developing a teaching farm in the Sacramento Valley, again another tangent.


Final Comments


One of the cutting edges for this project was sociological.  People need to learn how to cooperate.  They are commonly taught to compete, so cooperation is usually neglected as a focus.  We recognized that all public projects which may be significant have limitations.  The people who show up to volunteer all bring their own ideas, some of which are good and some not so good.  So how to bring them in without alienating them is the trick.  When we started FI meetings we decided to have consensus as our group decision making process.  This means that one person can hold up decision making.  I didn’t realize this limitation at the time.


The rules for democratic group decision making called Roberts Rules of Order is actually a better way for groups to use in making decisions, especially when the people are particularly diverse.  We saw the difference this approach created when we were part of the design team for creating the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) based in Butt, Montana (at first, then later moved to Washington DC).  Helga served on the board for 6 years as vice president.  Roberts Rules of Order refers to a group decision making process, which is really at the base of democratic organization.  Get the manual which is widely available and you can see for yourself.


After we had participated in the creation of the FI, it was a great learning experience to see just how a democratic group could run when the first group of about 60 people were assembled to create NCAT.  Much later we were introduced to ideas created by “Skinnarians” at a college in Lawrence Kansas where such psychologists were banished by the main line psychology professionals who thought Skinner’s ideas were bad.  We thought their experiments in using reward systems were of potential use in community organizing, much needed by groups like those who showed up for volunteer work at the Integral Urban House.  But such ideas were and are still foreign to most people, even though of great potential importance.  Maybe a good part of the world is changing.  It is certainly true that another good part is still back a century or two.  Such divisions are certainly clearer now, but the oligarchs have always been retards, with some few exceptions.


Recently a reader mentioned that the IUH project was covered briefly on Wikipedia and upon checking it out I saw that the interview we did with Mother Earth News back then had a complete copy available at:  I recommend this article because it was the most complete detailed interview we ever conducted during those early years.  My copy was destroyed, unfortunately so it never made it to our website.


Note: Finally part of the federal government has awakened to the idea of urban agriculture, As we predicted back when we wrote the City Peoples Book of Raising Food (still available via Amazon – Author H. Olkowski.

Dr. William Olkowski.

Interconnecting Our Cities Agriculture


Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany

Paperback – June 28, 2016

by Robert C. Clarke (Author),‎ Mark D. Merlin (Author)


A book review by Dr. William Olkowski



Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration of the natural origins and early evolution of this famous plant, highlighting its historic role in the development of human societies. Cannabis has long been prized for the strong and durable fiber in its stalks, its edible and oil-rich seeds, and the psychoactive and medicinal compounds produced by its female flowers. The culturally valuable and often irreplaceable goods derived from cannabis deeply influenced the commercial, medical, ritual, and religious practices of cultures throughout the ages, and human desire for these commodities directed the evolution of the plant toward its contemporary varieties. As interest in cannabis grows and public debate over its many uses rises, this book will help us understand why humanity continues to rely on this plant and adapts it to suit our needs.



I met one of the authors, Merlin, at a recent Xmas party and we were mutually impressed over our common interest in cannabis.  I don’t want to spend the $40 or so dollars for this book at this time, but I restate this short Amazon review above because it covers how “deeply (cannabis) influenced medical, ritual, and religious practices of cultures throughout the ages”…  I have been aware of this history from another book: the Encyclopedia of Psychoactive plants by Christian Ratsch, 1998.  Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont.


This later 942 page compendium goes into great detail about the larger group of psychoactive plants, and their role in human cultural evolution.  This sort of knowledge is not common in the US and probably other countries as well, but so called primitive peoples are familiar with psychoactive plants, even today.


Christianity and its widespread colonization and associated genocidal activities placed psychoactive plants on the taboo list thinking so called “primitive societies” were inferior to the European culture.  This inferiority idea is covered by Jared Diamond’s classic book Guns Germs and Steel.  Just to cover the main idea in this book: why is White Culture superior, or apparently superior?


This subject deserves more words than what I summarize here, but brevity is good.  Diamond’s book should be read widely but will probably not rise above the cacophony today about racial issues, particularly because of the Trump confusion.  White culture, i.e., European culture, arose through ecological coincidence when humans were driven out of southern Africa to go north through the fertile crescent. This is all documented by recent genetic studies. That area of the Eurasian-African nexus happened to have grains that held their seeds on the stalk (i.e., wheat) after maturity.  This makes easier harvesting and storage which lead to surpluses and avoidance of starvation, so common in our human evolution.  Wheat is also calorie dense, being the highest per volume of all the grains.  Once surpluses were possible, specialization grew and with it inventions arose.  These inventions, like steel and guns, among others, including agricultural developments, gave superior tools for human domination, particularly of other humans.  Steel and guns are particular are indicated as examples of investions.  Such innovations are transmitted easily east to west, laterally, not longitudinally, since north south innovations are limited by latitudes and the concomitant seasons. Those cultures which adopted inventions survived and thrived, others perished.


So “Whiteman’s Superiority” was a fluke of nature and does not indicate innate superiority as many white supremacist claim. With the President of the US, now raising racist issues in making immigration policy this idea of how many innovations arose deserves greater exposure.  People are people and we all started in southern Africa as brown people.  Whiteness arose when climate change force the human emigration north and elsewhere.  Black skin protects  from damage from sunlight, white skin makes extra vitamin D since it allows sun energy deeper penetrating power than black or brown skin.  Vitamin D is crucial for bone development and immune system function.  White skin is susceptible to skin cancers, but it makes advantages for people in northern climates as it is easier to make Vit D.


I make this essay because even today the US police systems are still jailing hundreds of thousands of people for possession of a plant.  This travesty is continuing in the face of widespread legalization of marijuana (Cannabis).  The wider and even more severe impacts of other plant materials by the relevant justice departments remain in limbo, even though these are medical problems rather like alcoholism.  Portugal is one country that has legalized all psychedelics without harm along with great savings in penal costs and human costs.  We were in Portugal last year and the policemen we asked for directions to the nearest cannabis dispensary did not know its location, even though we were just blocks away.  This tells the story so quickly.  Here is another:


Chinese story: Wise man on a horse stops to ask a question of a old woman sitting by the side of the road between villages.  He asks: “why do you sit here when tigers are so threatening”.  She says: “I fear bad government more”.


And my experiences says she has a major point, highly relevant today, especially since we have this regressive government headed by the ignorant “businessman” Trump, but supported by equally ignorant lawyers, mostly Republican congressman and congresswomen (not exclusively Republican).  Nobody learns from the past if no effort is made to absorb its lessons.  And nowadays the rule is kill the messenger, rather than learn the message.


William Olkowski 1/25/18


Seo: marijuana, drug policy, kill the messenger, lawyers, Republican, evolution, Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond, Merlin, Whiteman’s Superiority, psychedelics.


Note: This thoroughly researched article debunks Monsanto claims that their GMO products will save us from starvation. Many studies done independently of each other in many other countries supports this position. Below is an update I received from the latest IPM Practitioner.


Dear Bill,

The latest IPM Practitioner is now online at

The lead article Glyphosate, GMO Soybean Yields and Environmental Pollution reviews yields, fertilizer and pesticide use, and effects of glyphosate sprays on soil microbes and diseases in GMO soybeans.

A repeated mantra of the biotechnology industry is that GMOs are needed because they increase crop yields. In the case of GMO soybeans, yields generally have not increased. In fact, USDA data show that to maintain average yields, a 50-70% increase in fertilizer, and major increases in pesticides are needed.

Farmers have adopted GMO soybeans not because of yields, but because they are easier to grow. Entire fields are aerially sprayed with herbicide, killing weeds, but sparing the resistant crop. Farmers jumped to adopt this easy method of weed control. But the golden promise of better yields with less work has a darker reality—many weed species have become resistant to glyphosate.

To solve glyphosate resistance, new GMO crops resistant to both glyphosate and dicamba have been commercialized. But the new GMOs have caused problems. Dicamba sprays applied to GMO soybeans damaged about 3 million acres of vulnerable crops last year.

If you could pass this information along to those who might find it useful, I would appreciate it.

Thank you,

William Quarles, Ph.D.

Managing Editor

IPM Practitioner


The 5 Worst Plays From Industry’s Disinformation Playbook

The 5 Worst Plays From Industry’s Disinformation Playbook
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When I was 13, this is what I identified as the hardest thing about life then. My trust issues were just beginning to manifest themselves.

I have always had a healthy dose of curiosity and skepticism and a desire to hold people accountable for their statements built into my DNA. Usually, these were borne out in letter-writing campaigns. As a child, I sent a series of letters to the Daily News because I believed its campaign of “No More Schmutz!” was falling short after rifling through the pages and still having gray smudges on my fingers. Inky fingers is a far cry from misinformation about the dangers of fossil fuel pollution, but overall, my general pursuit for the truth hasn’t changed.

My newest project at the Center for Science and Democracy released today is a website that exposes the ways in which companies seek to hide the truth about the impacts of their products or actions on health and the environment. By calling out the plays in the “Disinformation Playbook,” we hope to ensure that powerful companies and institutions are not engaging in behavior that would obstruct the government’s ability to keep us safe, and at the very least aren’t doing us any harm. Unfortunately, as our case studies show, there are far too many examples in which companies and trade organizations have made intentional decisions to delay or obstruct science-based safeguards, putting our lives at risk.

In the Disinformation Playbook, we reveal the five tactics that some companies use to manipulate, attack, or create doubt about science and the scientists conducting important research that appears unfavorable to a company’s products or actions. We also feature twenty case studies that show how companies in a range of different industries have used these tactics in an effort to sideline science.

While not all companies engage in this irresponsible behavior, the companies and trade associations we highlight in the playbook have acted in legally questionable and ethically unsound ways. Here are five of the most egregious examples from the Playbook:

The Fake: Conducting counterfeit science

In an attempt to reduce litigation costs, Georgia-Pacific secretly ran a research program intended to raise doubts about the dangers of asbestos and stave off regulatory efforts to ban the chemical. The company used knowingly flawed methodologies in its science as well as publishing its research in scientific journals without adequately disclosing the authors’ conflicts of interest. By seeding the literature with counterfeit science, Georgia-Pacific created a life-threatening hazard by deceiving those who rely on science to understand the health risks of asbestos exposure. While asbestos use has been phased out in the US, it is not banned, and mesothelioma still claims the lives of thousands of people very year.

The Blitz: Harassing scientists

Rather than honestly dealing with its burgeoning concussion problem, the National Football League (NFL) went after the reputation of the first doctor to link the sport to the degenerative brain disease he named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. What Omalu found in Mike Webster’s brain—chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease mainly associated with “punch drunk” boxers and victims of brain trauma—broke the NFL’s burgeoning concussion problem wide open. But instead of working with scientists and doctors to better understand the damaging effect of repeated concussions and how the league could improve the game to reduce head injuries, the NFL went after the reputation of Omalu and the other scientists who subsequently worked on CTE. Just this year, Boston University scientists released a study of 111 deceased former NFL players’ brains, revealing that all but one had signs of CTE.

The Diversion: Sowing uncertainty

The top lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry in the western United States secretly ran more than a dozen front groups in an attempt to undermine forward-looking policy on climate change and clean technologies. As a leaked 2014 presentation by Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) President Catherine Reheis-Boyd revealed, WSPA’s strategy was to use these fabricated organizations to falsely represent grassroots opposition to forward-looking policy on climate change and clean technologies. WSPA and its member companies oppose science-based climate policies that are critically needed to mitigate the damaging impacts of global warming.

The Screen: Borrowing credibility

Coca-Cola quietly funded a research institute out of the University of Colorado designed to persuade people to focus on exercise, not calorie intake, for weight loss. Emails between the company and the institute’s president suggested Coca-Cola helped pick the group’s leaders, create its mission statement, and design its website. A growing body of scientific evidence links sugar to a variety of negative health outcomes, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high cholesterol. Coca-Cola’s actions overrode sensible transparency safeguards meant to ensure the independence of research—and allow consumers to understand the risks of sugar consumption for themselves.

The Fix: Manipulating government officials

After meeting with and listening to talking points from chlorpyrifos producer Dow Chemical Company, the EPA announced it would be reversing its decision to ban the chemical that is linked to neurological development issues in children. In 2016, the EPA concluded that chlorpyrifos can have harmful effects on child brain development. The regulation of chlorpyrifos is additionally an environmental justice issue. Latino children in California are 91 percent more likely than white children to attend schools near areas of heavy pesticide use.

The secret to a good defense is a good offense

By arming ourselves with independent science, we can fight back against these familiar tactics. Granted, it’s not an easy task, especially in the face of a government run by an administration that doesn’t appear to value evidence, believing asbestos is 100% safe and claiming that climate change is a hoax. I hear powerful stories every day of communities working together to crush corporate disinformation campaigns with the hard truth.

Just a couple of weeks ago, community members from Hoosick Falls, New York attended the hearing for “toxicologist-for-hire,” Dr. Michael Dourson, the nominee to head up the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Senator Kristen Gillibrand paid homage to their bravery, “The water that they drink, the water they give their children, the water they cook in, the water they bathe in, is contaminated by PFOA. These families are so frightened.” These individuals had a powerful story to tell about the way in which DuPont downplayed the dangers of the chemical byproduct of Teflon, C8 or PFOA, and Dourson’s consulting firm, hired by DuPont, recommended a far lower standard for the chemical than most scientists believe would have protected exposed residents from harm.

We hope that reading through the playbook will encourage you to stand up for science and join us as we continue to challenge companies that attempt to sideline science, seeking business as usual at our expense. Become a science champion today and take a stand against corporate disinformation by asking your members of congress not to do automakers’ bidding by rolling back valuable progress on vehicle efficiency standards.

Stay curious, stay skeptical, and together we can work toward making corporate culture more honest and transparent by raising the political cost of using the disinformation playbook.