BUILDING WITH THE
BREATH OF LIFE - Tom Bender - revised
draft text 8 Jan.1999
. TAKING ACTION
SOME PERSONAL NOTES ON IMPLEMENTING ENERGETICS OF PLACE
Successful achievement of a new way of relating to and shaping our surroundings is, of course, where the proof of these concepts lie. That accomplishment is obviously yet in its infancy. Enough can be sensed, hopefully, from the places shown throughout this book, along with the following projects and images, to get a tangible sense of the possibilities of implementation, if only shown in a few bioregions.
Taking action is changing what we do, and also changing how we are and how we act. It involves chi, and intention; the worlds we walk in and how we walk in each. It involves how our feet touch the earth, and how we shape the earth to better touch our feet. In the real world there is no separation - only interweavings - of chi, intention, love, honoring, respect, celebration, ancestors, the past and future, what we have been and what we are becoming.
SEWAGE IS ART!
Healing of Place with Chi and Li
[KOMA model and drawings]
Conventional architecture today seeks primarily visual excitement and immediate attention-getting impact, but rarely creates places that nurture our bodies, minds, and spirits. This study of healing place with chi demonstrates an alternative approach to the making of place. It shows the possibilities of creating meaningful and nurturing places through design which incorporates modern application of energetics of place.
Rather than the conventional owner's demands of "I want..., I want...", it began with the question, "What is the most we can give to users of the place, to its surroundings and community, to the future, and to all of life?" It suggests that a giving-centered design process can create places which more successfully contribute to the true goals of their creators and users than conventional and even "green" design. It recognizes that embodiment of positive and nurturing values can generate the greatest power of a place to affect us, to heal and enhance our lives and community.
Some traditional practices of place energetics constituted a highly competitive search to obtain and flaunt the most geomantically favorable site or design, to give comparative advantage to one's life or success. Such sites had the most dominant views and positions, favorable breezes, exposures, terrain, neighbors, etc. In contrast, good practice needs to recognize what is soon learned in a family relationship - that the happiness and well-being of each is dependent upon the health and well-being of all. It seeks improvement of the qualities of physical surroundings which can benefit an entire community.
In this case, choice of site was not possible. The study was done as an entry in a competition for design of a new Museum of Korean Art and Culture to be built in Los Angeles, California. The site was already determined, and its context and qualities were not encouraging. It was located in a commercial ghetto in a smog-ridden and automobile-dominated urban area of Los Angeles, filled with racial and class tensions including the aftermath of rioting and arson. The site was rubble-strewn and barren, with virtually no trace of the natural ecological community remaining. The site starkly reflected the results of a society based on greed, on self-centeredness and materialism, on taking rather than giving. This provided an appropriate challenge to find what could be given to a place and its community to nurture and improve its energy and life, and to tackle head-on the issue of healing and revitalizing the places most damaged by our actions.
Our energy connections with a place occur through our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. No matter how beautiful we make it, nobody will visit a museum if its neighborhood is too scary to enter. If our surroundings reflect back to us only the values of greed, lack of caring, and failure, we are unlikely to become caring, giving, successful people. But if we initiate caring for a place, for its people, and honoring a belief in a good future, it will come to reflect those values, too, and become a support for the people who live within it. The most important change any building on this site could demonstrate is a change in the values the site embodies and establishment of the precept of 'giving' rather than 'taking' as a basis for interaction.
One basic strategy chosen was to take what is considered
waste, honor it, and turn it into wealth which can enrich the community.
It was probably the least likely action possible - of taking the community
sewer and rerouting it onto the site. The sewage of the neighborhood would
be pumped onto the roof of the museum, given advanced biological treatment,
and its nutrients used to support rooftop produce gardens to provide fresh
produce to the neighborhood. The produce would be sold at a green grocer
incorporated into the public areas of the site, which would provide incentive
and opportunity for everyone in the neighborhood to drop in, linger, and
relax, as well as obtain fresh, healthy produce.
The wastewater from the produce gardens would then be used to irrigate street tree plantings of native California live oaks. This would help restore greenery, shade, and some of the native ecology back into the area, as well as decreasing temperature swings. It would also provide groundwater aquifer recharge, while demonstrating that a community can take action to improve itself.
This may seem at first to be far removed from the mission of an art museum and culture center. It is a potential gift, however, which is inherent in any facility in a neighborhood with community consciousness and a large roof area. It also has a particular appropriateness in KOMA's case. KOMA does not have a traditional museum's goal of just storing old objects. Its goal is to honor its particular cultural heritage, transmit its skills and values, heal tensions in the community, and stimulate a positive new modern synthesis of culture.
For that primary role of the center to even begin to succeed, however, it has to show leadership, to become a welcome and valued part of the community and to draw people into and contributing to its activities. Vitality is a goal of art, and any tool which helps achieve that vitality is appropriate. The resultant roof gardens, street landscaping, and facility gardens are a true form of art as well as wealth. In this context, sewage truly is art, and the neighborhood an appropriate canvas!
A community enriching and empowering itself through discovering its least likely source of wealth can be an essential element of leadership in synthesizing a new and vibrant culture in this time and place. It also provides several potential concrete benefits - recapture and savings of sewage treatment and disposal costs, avoiding use of chemical fertilizers, keeping nutrients and food production in the neighborhood and in control of the residents, and providing an attraction to bring more than just Korean neighborhood residents into the project.
It turns unused roof areas that conventionally contribute only to climate extremes into green and productive areas. It provides areas of economic value on the project property beyond those permitted by city zoning codes. Perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates a commitment to improving the quality of the community, and concern for the health and well-being of all members of the community - human and otherwise.
This first level of energetic design was to change the energy and intention of the neighborhood - replacing values that destroy, pave over, ignore, and take, and setting in motion ones that support and restore life, diversity, caring, and giving.
A second level of energetic design for KOMA
was to change the ecology of the site itself.
It constituted actions around and within the site itself to improve the
microclimate and ecological aspects of the facility. In addition to the
rooftop produce garden, four other separate garden or green elements were
designed into the project - a traditional Korean garden in the heart of
the site, a community-use "forecourt" garden area; an outside
neighborhood "pocket garden" along the sidewalk adjacent to the
west entrance to the project, and the native street tree plantings surrounding
the site. These were planned to quiet the site, to freshen and improve the
oxygen/carbon-dioxide balance in the air, to provide food and home for birds,
butterflies, bats and other forms of life, and to reestablish a natural
ecological community on the site.
Other water features were part of the design - a gurgling and splashing "moat" surrounding the building, the waterfall and pond in the pocket garden, fountains at the building corner and at the "spirit wall" at the south entrance, and fountains and water features at the entrances. They were used to increase anions in the air to counter the "Santa Anna" winds, to cool and refresh the air, and to provide counterpoint to street noise.
The forecourt area, while people-intensive and necessarily hard-paved, was designed with overhead tree vegetation, moss-covered undersides of overhead structure, ivy-covered walls, and planters in guardrails and court areas. These were all designed to be provided water and nutrients by the same wastewater system.
The traditional Korean garden was located in the core of the building devoted to understanding and conveying the roots, values, and achievements of traditional Korean culture. It was ringed by a research library, museum galleries devoted to the traditional arts of Korea, and a performance hall for traditional art forms. While providing a serene "breakout" space for meetings and visitors to the center, the garden gave an intensive experience of traditional Korean garden and architectural arts. As well, through the principle of using community wastewater to nurture the garden's growth, and in the special place given to the location of the garden in the arrangement of the facilities, this garden also held a much more central role in the symbolic level of affecting the chi of the place.
Together, these gardens would help to share the place with other life, to delight in the beauty, richness, and diversity of the life that makes up a natural community, and to rediscover the sense of fit and rightness of the natural community that had evolved in this place over the ages.
The third and perhaps most powerful level of
energetic design involved the minds and hearts of the users and visitors.
In doing so, it dealt with the internal
arrangement, design, and symbolic meaning of elements of the facility. In
traditional Korean city and home planning, the position of power is the
north end of the central N-S axis. Here, the ruler or owner faced and received
the power and warmth from the Sun in the South, and becomes the local source
of power in the complex. In this project, that pattern of arrangement was
honored, and that prime location was given to tradition, to nature, and
to ancestors, in the form of a traditional garden.
Within the garden, in the position of greatest importance directly on this axis, was placed a physically non-imposing, but symbolically vital element - a shrine to the ancestors. This was to contain earth and icons brought from sacred places in Korea. Its role was to give central place and honor to the tradition, the land, and the ancestors which created the special Korean tradition and culture, and which brought it to this place. It formed a touchstone also for members of the community who had come from Korea or whose family still live there, and a place to scatter the ashes of those with deep ties to the "old country".
This is not of small importance. If a way can be found to show the continuing validity and value of the principles underlying a culture and tradition through its own design and function, the effectiveness of a museum and cultural center dedicated to that tradition becomes an order of magnitude more successful than one which can only preserve fragments of a tradition it is unwilling to embrace itself.
Balanced around this shrine, representing the active and passive, yang and yin, powers of nature, were a mountain, waterfall, a traditionally-designed garden pavilion, and a central pool of water, representing the place and participation of people in the balance of life. From the roof, the sun-purified waters were conducted to the mountain and waterfall, to the still waters of the pond, and then flow outward, carrying the energy from this central and vital place to the rest of the project and on out into the surrounding community. Likewise, the facility honors and spreads the heritage it represents. At the core of the facility, the garden gives a place of silence, of emptiness - a place for things to begin, and a reflection of the primal source out of which all creation arises.
On this same north-south axis are located the main activity spaces of the center - a breakout space for the audience of the performance hall, opening into the garden; the performance hall itself, with a unique stage arrangement with operable walls allowing a variety of combinations of public and private use; and the community forecourt which permits a more public, community and people-oriented gathering space connected with the various parts of the facility.
The arrangement of the 'stage' area and the performance hall was planned to give unique opportunity for flexible and public community use, and to restore performances to the simplicity yet effectiveness of natural lighting, open air performance, and participatory audience arrangements. The foyer walls slide aside, merging the performance hall thrust stage and the public performance area in the forecourt into a single large circular stage for large community events which can play to both the hall, the forecourt, and the balconies around it.
Sustainability requires something be held closely
enough to our hearts that we value it enough to devote the resources needed
to its continuance. It also requires that such maintenance be affordable
and not press heavily on other life. Energetics recognizes the importance
and wisdom of letting the renewable energies of nature wisely channeled
provide the heating, cooling and lighting of a building. All of the elements
of this KOMA design were planned to be naturally lighted, heated and cooled,
and except for the permanent exhibit areas, designed for open-air use tied
to the garden areas during the majority of the year, reducing conventional
energy needs an order of magnitude. They also were planned to use natural
and traditional building materials of the area.
The design for the facility also was based on the energetic principle of durability, acknowledging that a building that lasts 200 years costs only one-tenth of a building that lasts only 20 years. The savings from durability permit a generosity of design that gives comfort, repose, and fullness to its elements and its users. The expression of that goal of durability also conveys a firm belief in the future and creates a gift of the facility to that future, acknowledging that our own lives are built upon the gifts of the heritage we have inherited.
This core - of permanent and temporary museum galleries, performance hall, gardens, library, greengrocer, bookstore and newsstand - was all contained within the traditional form of a walled enclosure - a dominant building form not only in the Korean tradition but in many of the Latin and African traditions which are the roots of other community residents. It was felt a particularly appropriate form for the safekeeping of cultural treasures, as a sanctuary from the noise, confusion, and wrongness of American urban streets, and for security in a tension-filled community. This "enclosure" was combined with curved roof forms which embodied the same sense of effortless, floating support of traditional Korean roof construction in modern materials and technologies.
The "moat" and "wall" distinguishes the facility from surrounding areas, defines it as an honored or "sacred" area, and makes special acknowledgment of this difference at points of public entry. At these points, the four elements of life - earth, air, fire, and water are given special acknowledgment or honor. A gong or a traditional drum is located in the central entry, acknowledging the power of air, of vibration and sound, in the organization of life from energy. Fire, in the form of sunlight, is honored in the form of plant life it makes possible. Earth is honored in the placement of special rocks, whose form reminds us of our kinship with the earth, the rocks themselves, and the stars - all ashes of earlier stars. Water is honored everywhere at entrances, for its central role in the creation and unfolding of life.
Incorporation of traditional principles of design acknowledges their value, and with that, the value of the culture of which they were part. Demonstrating their effective power in new materials, technologies, climate, culture and context not only gives greater meaning and effectiveness to the design itself, but as well further enhances the credibility and value of the traditions and our ability today to create with them a synthesis which opens new vistas and dimensions of effectiveness for our current environmental design
By asking the prime question, "What can
we give?", we see what can be gained and created - free, if you
wish - in the course of meeting the program of a facility. Here, careful
arrangement of facilities and creation of ancillary services allowed the
community to use facilities outside museum hours. The performance hall,
meeting rooms, studios, bookstore, newsstand, greengrocers, cafe, courtyard
all could have double use. The gardens, trees, and fresh vegetables became
other gifts to the community as well as a new intention of caring,
expressed via something as unthinkable as turning sewage into gardens, trees,
and the song of birds.
Rediscovering the effective design principles of a tradition and finding successful contemporary expression of them became a give-back and honoring to that tradition and those born in it. The respect and honor we give that tradition affects in turn our own self-esteem and mutual respect. By asking the question, we are able to create a gift of opportunity for the community - to grow, to learn, to give, to share, and to enjoy. A community without joy is one without life.
A building, like a person, can have a soul, can affect our lives, and can be part of the life of a community. It can be rooted in and convey the spirit of a strong culture and tradition. It can help restore to our surroundings a sense of sacredness and honoring of people, place, and diverse traditions. In its organization, construction, and demands on the rest of our world, a building can demonstrate patterns which are sustainable and nurturing of the human spirit and of all life. Any less is not worth pursuing.
THE COLOR OF LIGHT
[Sheridan Ave. apt]
As renters or users of places, we are, of course, more restricted in what we can do to improve the energy of the place. With stark white walls being typical to most rental spaces, other means need to be used to provide warmth and color in a space.
One of the simplest and most effective means is to use light reflection off of colored fabrics. Spotlights on an orange bedspread casts an instant golden glow within a room. Sunlight on a rich colored rug overlaying a dirty gray existing carpet reflects a warm ambiance into the room. Inexpensive fabric bedspreads can be used as wall hangings. Wide and inexpensive colored fabrics such as tricot can be used to create a soft, billowing ceiling diffusing harsh built-in lighting and hiding ugly ceilings. The same fabric, or shoji paper, can be used as window coverings to let in diffuse light while hiding an ugly view. Folding screens or bookcases can create privacy at an entrance.
Crystals in a sunlit window can refract rainbows deep into a room. Plants, of course, can bring the richness of life into otherwise stark spaces, and the sound of wind chimes or a small fountain can give pleasant sound.
Imagine also being held captive in a 20th century architecture school faculty office. Concrete block walls, metal desks and windows, asphalt tile floors, fluorescent lights. Stark, functional, depressing to the soul. Sounds an awful lot like a prison cell, doesn't it?
Then imagine that you are teaching some courses in non-Western architectural history, with different concepts of space use, an eye for rich and subtle color combinations, lighting, mood, spirit of a space. Something would have to give way.
The department secretaries were startled when the desk was pushed out into the hall. Their eyes really rolled when a mattress was dragged in from a second-hand store. A trip to the dusty storerooms in the basement of the building turned up a wall sculpture and an old samovar. A lucky find of a worn oriental carpet in a rag store, a coat of warm-white paint, a tricot ceiling, and a couple of $2 spotlights, and the architecture prison was gone!
In its place was something closer to a nomad's tent. Room for people - to sit and talk together on a comfortable carpeted platform with pillows. Soft lighting. Shoes off. Tea and quiet music. A low shelf for a desk. Hierarchical office and interpersonal patterns wouldn't work.
Experiencing a different way of living and being, not talking about one. Our acceptance of conventions of space use are often more limiting than real restrictions put on us as users.
A PLACE OF THEIR OWN
[FMS windows, outdoor seats, porch, commons, lofts diff sized rooms]
It is rare that we actually consider and honor children in the design of schools. It is usually classrooms, teachers, support staff, and code requirements that get attention. This elementary school was designed as a place for children - to give them access to resources, guidance, enthusiasm and love of others for their own learning. As a result, windows are placed where kids can see out through them, open them, and make window seats in them.
Library and supply shelves are open and accessible so everyone can find what they need. Outdoor group and individual places are made for good weather use. Classrooms have lofts, where kids can get off by themselves (yes, out of sight of teachers) to read, nap, or work on projects. Doors are glazed so kids can connect with what is happening inside or outside. A small kitchen lets them make their own lunches. The surrounding forest provides real-time nature labs. Windows allow us to keep an eye out for interesting things happening in those woods - hummingbird nests, hailstorms, or animal visitors.
A Commons provides space for small group meetings or projects outside of the classrooms. The classrooms are different sizes and configurations. In real life, student/teacher ratios are never exact, classes are different sizes, class groups are combined together in different patterns, and different projects have different space needs. Two have sliding doors between them to be used together, or for a stage for plays.
The school was built by the families, with the kids helping to nail framing and raise walls in what turned out to be a very wet "barn-raising". Daylighting, and sunshine when it makes its rare appearance, is provided to all spaces.
INSTITUTIONS HAVE HEARTS
Our intention towards a place can totally change the lives of others. Out of an intention of making a Head Start Center good for the kids using it, we asked ourselves what would make us feel best if we were kids coming in the door. "The smell of good food!" was the unanimous response. This lead us to put the kitchen right in the middle of the building, open to all the classrooms and entry. It works wonderfully, giving immediate pleasure and sense of rightness to those coming in the door. It also gives parents a place to stop for a cup of coffee and a chat, and to peek around the corner to see how their kids are doing. It allows the cook to be an extra friend and source of snacks and hugs for the kids, and a backup pair of eyes for the teachers.
What we didn't realize until later, is how much our intention totally changed working as a cook in this place! Cooking is usually a "back-room" job, tucked away out of sight in service areas near the loading dock. In contrast, putting the cook in the middle of everything, and in contact with everyone, made them a whole-person part of what went on!
What happened in the Head Start Center was undoing the marginalization of people's lives by honoring them, and by changing their working context. The right-design of place intermingles, enhances and enriches the lives of everyone concerned. The design tradition of putting kitchens in the back corner, behind closed doors, next to the loading dock had put the cooks' lives in the back, behind closed doors, and next to the loading dock. It deprived both the cooks and the rest of the people of other things that those people could contribute to the community of the place.
An architect later asked what we would do if the center was larger and needed a bigger kitchen and loading dock. The answer was simple...... "You've just defined too big!" A change in intention - from wholeness and people-centeredness to optimizing mechanical function - is usually what underlies our gut feeling of wrongness when something becomes too big. [Head Start kitchen]
TAKE CARE WHAT MIRRORS REFLECT
Mirrors are frequently used in modern buildings to give an illusion of greater space. Using anything to delude people into believing something untrue damages the energetics of a place. Better to design a good small room than to use mirrors to give the illusion of a space twice as large.
Mirrors are often used geomantically as a curative for many negative qualities of spaces. They may have some effect on reflection and movement of subtle energies, but their symbolic value can be achieved better through other means.
Our family stayed once in a rental apartment in Florida with mirrored walls everywhere. Waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, we got disoriented in the reflections and non-existent hallways, frightened by the intruders we bumped into around every corner (our own reflections, it turned out). Mirrors reflect confusion, not comfort.
We also use mirrors compulsively to check on how we look. In the process, they focus our attention on surface appearances, rather than inner qualities, of ourselves and others. We use them at times that most frequently bring us face to face with our bleary-eyed worst outsides, with subsequent damage to our self-esteem. Without their nudging our consciousness of externalities, we stop seeing and thinking about ourselves, stop being so concerned with the outside packaging of people and things, and become more attuned and responsive to important inner qualities.
There is value in avoiding bathroom mirrors - putting them on the inside of medicine cabinet doors or on the back of bathroom doors, where they can be available when needed, but out of the way otherwise. If you're stuck with non-removable mirrors, hang fabric over them when not in use, stick pictures to them, or otherwise try to diminish their effect. How much better to place a window into a garden rather than a mirror over a bathroom sink! How delightful to start our day in connection with beauty and nature - with reality, rather than a mirror image of its packaging.
Mirrors can be used beneficially in certain cases, to reflect light or sunshine into an otherwise dark space, to give us a glimpse of something otherwise hidden around corners or out of sight, for sometimes playful accents of sparkle, lightness, or incongruity, or to give us a glimpse of someone approaching from a blind direction who could unexpectedly interrupt our privacy. Otherwise, however, they disturb the congruence and wholeness of a place, and probably should be avoided.
THE RICHNESS OF EDGES
This was a very low budget expansion for a YMCA several years ago. Their national office did all the programming and preliminary design, giving local architects an already designed layout that only had to be "gussied up" and engineered. But it felt as if something important was missing.
There was. All of the programs were planned for - swimming classes, basketball games, and exercise rooms - but there was no planning for people! What about the shy new kid, who was more than a little apprehensive about some program and wanted to scope it out a bit before committing to join it? What about people who wanted to sit around and rest after a hard game and watch some other people play? What about the kids who came to spend the day, and needed a place to sit with friends and eat their sack lunch? What about a place to sit around during the bigger kids' time and learn some good moves? What about a place to sit and replay an exciting game, or to just jaw and make friends? None of those places were in the program!
With some hard stretching, it was possible to enrich the edges to give space for such "people stuff". Wide spaces in the corridors were provided with chairs and full-length windows into the gym. The entrance lobby was widened to provide room for lunch tables and vending machines. A balcony corridor at the handball courts was added so non-players could watch the games. Wherever a usable corner could be found, lights, windows, seating, carpet, or whatever was needed was added to turn it into a people place.
The success of these places acknowledged the psychological, emotional, and interpersonal dimensions of human lives that rarely show up on a planning program. The edges where something ends and something else begins are special places with important values of their own.
HONORING THE SPIRITS OF ALL LIFE
[our entry door] [wormy door handle] [MacN or Wilson driftwood] [MacN rock wall] [Rombalski prow]
It is wonderful to discover how much our hearts are moved when we find ways to honor other life in our buildings. It started for me, I think, with a spruce root found on the beach years ago and made into the handles on our front door. The root had squeezed its way among the pebbles on the beach, which had left their imprint on it's contours. Some pebbles were still enfolded into the root!
With another twisted piece of driftwood as a handrail on the stairs, coming into the entry in the evening had a particularly moving quality, hard to decipher. What we realized finally is that through the contortions of their shapes, the root and the tree were still telling the story of their lives. Like the wrinkles and stoops of an old person, each told of a battle won or lost, a lesson learned, an impasse surmounted. We were feeling the history of their lives, and the stories were worth experiencing.
As time went on, I started trying to have at least one place in a building where the past lives of the materials were not sawn, ground, split or otherwise taken away. In one house, a single driftwood arch. Not much work, but something that everyone entering the house seemed to fall in love with! In another place, a couple of natural boulders forming the end of quarried stone retaining walls - honoring their past lives, untouched, as part of a new place.
I sometimes make door handles now of bug-chewed wood, where the traces of the insects' paths seem to add a singular beauty to the wood. And recently, I've started to find ways to honor other spirits in the making of a house. It ' s hard to define the difference between doing this and adding "art" or "sculpture" to a building, but it is very different. It comes back, again, to intention.
On one house, situated on the edge of a slough of the Columbia River, we had the projecting ridge beams of the roof carved into bird heads. The eagle head happens to be visible from inside through a clerestory window. Unexpectedly, the lightness and shape of the roof, combined with the carved head, gives a subtle feeling to the room underneath of being sheltered under the wings of this powerful spirit! This is how, perhaps, we should feel connection with the spirits of all life around us.
THE PEACE OF SANCTUARY
What a building becomes or doesn't become emerges out of the nature of the owner, designer, builder, site, budget, and the times. As I understand intention more clearly, I've been able to look back at past projects and see the subtle yet vital role which the intention of the owner has on a project. In one project there was lack of trust, and the results turned out competent but uninspiring. In another, the client exuded trust, respect, caring and clarity. What resulted had a soul.
With another client, lack of their caring held me back from doing certain things that would have resulted in a more moving building. In another case, the client's expectation that I could do more than I thought resulted in spectacular improvement in sensitivity.
This one house, in ways I'm not totally clear, powerfully and instantly affects everyone who enters it. The patterns are good - porch and entry as welcome, kitchen as a place to gather around food, living space as connection between people and between people and place, bedrooms as sanctuaries. But there is something else (the generosity and love of the owner?) that is reflected in it and which causes people to feel it a haven immediately upon entering.
BE WITH, NOT ABOVE
The top of a mountain, the highest point on a hill, or an upper story in a tall building are all considered premium locations in our culture. They have a common characteristic, however, which negatively affects their occupants.
Often such sites are without vegetation, or have had vegetation removed to achieve an "uninterrupted panoramic view". The result is a lack of grounding for the occupant. "I'm here, and the view's out there". There is no connection, no context for the occupant, no world they are part of, which leads inevitably to disconnection from the world. Obviously, one of the seductions of such sites!
Any view, however spectacular, becomes boring after time. There is far more power in a variety of views that connect us in different ways with the world outside. It can be wonderful leaving some of the trees in a "view". How magic it is at sunset with the light causing the raindrops on the end of every pine needle to shimmer! "A view" is a uniquely modern concept, and one that misses the powerful value of being an integral part of a place. To be connected with its setting is primary to the power of a building. If that setting establishes a relationship with distant places, wonderful, but if that is done with exclusion of linkage with its own setting it causes that same loss of meaning for its occupants.
Frank Lloyd Wright named his own home in Wisconsin "Taliesin", meaning "Shining Brow" in Welch. He placed it off the top of the hill, preserving that singular place in a natural state so it could be enjoyed for itself, in addition to the house. In doing so, he was able to nestle the house into the hillside, creating a wealth of connected and unique interior and exterior places tying the house into its natural local community.
SILENCE AND INTENTION
One of my richest memories is of silence.
It is a memory of a full-moon night inside the dome of the Taj Mahal, filled with reverberation of the singing of the keeper of the space. Near midnight, he went out, and silence filled the majestic space.1 The dome magnified the silence as it had magnified the sound, and our breathing and our hearts fell deeper and deeper into the rich and powerful silence. .......
Ever since, I have listened for that silence - and the harsh mechanical noises of TV, of toilets flushing, and of refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers and heating systems turning on and off have jarred me to the core.
In this house, more than 20 years ago, I set out to regain that silence. Flush toilets were replaced by a compost toilet. Heating was passive solar and wood heat. An insulated cupboard, or cool box, in the kitchen, captured the cool night air, eliminating need for a refrigerator. Earphones supplemented audio speakers. No TV. Only one house rule - quiet has priority over noise.
The silence from the Taj returned, and grew deeper. It was enriched by the song of the wind and waves, of birds, by the dainty footsteps of deer in the night. It filled with the sound of snowfall and of moonlight on the water.
That silence made a space for clear attention and intention, for working from the heart and touching the heart of what was being worked with. It opened a closeness with the world outside, between people, and with our inner selves. It began the journey that has become this book.
38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© 8 Jan. 1999