Juicy Woman: Julia Watson

At this moment in history, it's especially good to know that we have women like Julia Watson looking out for Mother Earth.

By Olivia Fincato
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Julia Watson likes to introduce herself as a design activist. An environmentalist at heart, Watson teaches urban design at Harvard and Columbia University, leading the field in the search for indigenous technologies and vernacular architecture (translation: architecture that is local to a particular environment) to help find climate-resilient solutions. Her new book Lo-Tek: Design by Radical Indigenism, published by Taschen, is a global exploration of primordial innovations: a catalogue of sustainable, adaptable, hand-made technologies borne out of necessity and embedded with traditional ecological knowledge. With her studio, juliawatson.com, she approaches design as a “rewilding” of modern society.

Who is Julia Watson?

She's 42, left Australia 20 years ago, and now she calls home Fort Green, Brooklyn. 

Why she does what she does

After backpacking for more than 20 years through remote areas of the globe to explore indigenous smart settlements (self-sustaining, nature-based communities), Watson decided that hundreds of nature-based technologies from past millennia needed to be considered as potentially sustainable, climate-resilient infrastructures for modern societies. She says, “They are more relevant than ever and will assist us to develop and live in harmony with nature.”

You’ve probably never heard anything like this before...

Watson once trekked into the jungle via the living tree-root bridges that allow the Khasi hill tribe in Northern India to travel between villages during the monsoon floods. "These roots can withstand adverse weather better than any human-made structure and can bear up to 35 people at a time."

Her dream

Watson wants to make today’s cities more adaptable to climate change by using symbiotic nature-based technologies to increase biodiversity, beauty, and resilience. [For environmental neophytes, Symbiotic nature-based technologies are usually natural living landscapes that are habitats for animals, incredibly lush and beautiful, and also adaptive to extreme environmental conditions. Think: The East Kolkata Wetlands, which are a complex of natural and human-made wetlands in India that cover 125 square kilometers and include salt marshes and meadows, as well as sewage farms and settling ponds. They’re used to treat Kolkata’s sewage, and the nutrients contained in the wastewater sustain fish farms and agriculture.]

One thing she wants us to do

Instead of using or buying more air conditioners, plant more trees. Urban temperatures can be cooler with tree cover. Green roofs with high vegetation density can cool buildings up to 60%. 

Her superhero

Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser. When the Malaysian government was clearing the forest for logging and palm oil plantations, he helped the nomadic tribe Penan — living in Borneo — protect their land. Manser went missing in the jungle, presumably murdered.

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Think about how your actions can affect the next seven generations, which is about 150 years from now. 

Julia Watson

Her feelings about high tech

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

The credo she lives by

Don’t separate your professional self from your personal self. Bringing your entire person to every role you take on is key.

On planning for the future

Think about how your actions can affect the next seven generations, which is about 150 years from now. 

Her advice to other juicy women

Use your voice. Women are not empowered in the same ways as men to be leaders. Be outspoken, be confident to operate outside the norm. Lack of power makes us inclined to make compromises; it can decrease our ambitions and expectations and increase our inhibitions. 

Her latest goal

To start a family. 

Life after 40

There’s a unique wisdom that comes from aging. A lot of single women approaching 40 are scared, really struggling. Getting older can be tough, but if you renegotiate it and see aging as a catalyst for powerful change, you’ve figured it out. 

Read More: Check out stories from other Juicy Women.

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