Saturday, January 31, 2009


Life continues through offering. Earth, rain and sunlight are offered to plants. Plants are offered to animals. Animals are offered to other animals. Animals are offered back to the Earth. Most offering occurs involuntarily, through the sweep of life currents. Cherished objects, people and beliefs are ripped from our fingers. Clinging to them, resisting the movement of living, we suffer.

Yet every second of every day, willing offerings are made. Many of these are given with the hope of some return, a bargain with mysterious forces. Some offerings, though, are made willingly. Something dear is carried to a river, altar or other place. There, hands open in vital surrender to the flow of life. Offering can then become an opening to greater connection—a doorway into a world where one does not give to and receive from another, but a world where one is the other in dynamic relationship.

These openings are everywhere—at the market counter, at the office, on a crowded freeway...  In these moments, will we, to paraphrase the Persian poet Hafiz, be dragged kicking and screaming (to offering) or will we go dressed for dancing.  

Friday, January 30, 2009


Whatever happened to ceilings? In most designs they are forgotten about except as a place to hang a light. Look up there and most of the time all you see is an expanse of white and a smoke detector or a grid of ceiling tiles and fluorescent fixtures.

As James Hillman points out, our neglect of ceilings is a loss of the upward gaze. Most of the time our eyes are caste downward or straight ahead. We focus on floors, beautiful and supportive, but all about the practicality of holding our feet and our furniture. Or we look at the horizontal view, sensing opportunities and oncoming threats. Tilting our heads backward and allowing our eyes to rise is an act of trust. It's letting go of the boundaries we use to place the world in knowable categories. It's allowing our minds take in the expanse beyond what our fingers can touch. Looking up and appreciating a ceiling usually makes us stop in our tracks. There's something up there that calls to the energy within us that longs to soar. A beautifully designed ceiling offers something worth soaring toward. 

To make such a ceiling is to participate in the currents of that soaring spirit. Yet, it's one of the most difficult architectural elements to create. Think of Michelangelo's struggle to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or the city of Florence waiting 100 years for someone to figure out how to put a dome on its cathedral. Creating wonderful ceilings is all about knowing gravity so well that you can defy it.

It doesn't take much. During one of my travels, I arrived at a small town that didn't seem to have a hotel. Near the edge of the village a sign indicating a place to stay pointed to what looked like a house. After knocking on the door and going through the ritual of signing in, getting my key and settling into my room, I climbed into bed. After reading for a while, I switched off the light and lay on my back. In the darkness above, thousands of tiny iridescent stars glowed. Magic... 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Masks are designs that conceal and reveal what lives behind them. Much of design follows this theme. We might express ourselves through the choice of an entry door's style and material. But how much of that choice is guided by what presents a socially acceptable face? When we step back, the entry is a lot like the other doors on the street. The door may appear tasteful, cool or whatever adjective you prefer to use. Yet, the intention of using that design opportunity to express yourself has been lost. 

In workshops I teach, I lead people through an exercise that helps them discover the images that nourish and reveal what is hidden behind the usual mask of design. We start by closing our eyes, sitting quietly, and noticing the stillness inside our bodies and minds. I ask, "What is the shape, material, color and texture of the floor that would support this stillness?" What are the shape, materials, colors and textures of the wall that would embrace this stillness?" We continue through the other elements of roof, windows, doors and ornament until each person has imagined a complete setting where the dwelling of stillness is supported. The we go around the room and people describe the designs that spontaneously rose in their minds. Each one is unique to that person. Each one is vital. Often then are surprising. Each one masks stillness to reveal creative possibilities of design. I'd love to live in a neighborhood where every house was created in this way. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


In some places, air is the memorable element. How a building invites the experience of crisp mountain air or warm sea breezes can be a major feature of the design. This was the case four years ago on the first day of spring in Paris. After a hard winter, the city parks teemed with people drinking in the sun and taking in the soft, sweet air. 

Walking up the Rue Soufflot, I saw the portico of the Pantheon draped with long yellow curtains. The fixed, classical facade now swayed gently with the breeze. The scene drew me like a vision in a dream. Standing inside the portico looking out intensified the dreamlike quality. The limestone Corinthian columns framing the golden banners responding to each nuance of the breeze seemed both timeless and completely of the moment. Every measurable boundary of this physical setting carried my senses toward what is beyond measure and boundary. Again and again, with each ripple of the curtains against the limestone columns, the movement of the wind widened the circumference of my perception into air.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Water is both tangible and elusive. It can flood a house into ruin, but fingers cannot grasp it. A still lake can hold a mountain's reflection, but a raging stream consumes the mountain's image. Water is impermanence incarnate—a vehicle of every-present change. It is a teaching in surrender—following gravity's pull along the contours of terrain while never losing its essential nature.

I love sitting by a pond or a bay and opening my mind to water. My breathing settles. Muscles relax. The light rippling on the surface of the water flows into my eyes and falls on the silent consciousness behind my thoughts. Between my eyes and the inner silence, thoughts ripple through my mind. The rippling on the water and the rippling in my mind flow together. I and the surroundings become a unified, fluid reality. The solid world flows. The fluid world becomes more vivid than any solid object. Water consumes all, is all.

Sometimes, when I'm designing a roof or an arrangement of walls, I think of these encounters with water. I look for openings to make the seemingly hard, fixed boundaries of stucco, 2x4's, insulation and sheetrock as fluid as water. 

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I've spoken with rocks all over the world. Mostly, my feet do the talking as they navigate the story lines of stone pathways, stairs, bridges and floors. Often my fingers listen to the messages textured into walls of granite or marble. Sometimes, I take out my journal and write down what my imagination hears during a direct conversation with the stones my road has crossed. 

Once at the Greek site of Mycenae, I sat on a limestone block in the beehive- shaped Tomb of Clytemnestra. "We wanted to express the design and structural possibilities hidden within us," I imagined the massive stones saying as they arched from the floor to a central apex 30 feet overhead. They continued, "The builders wanted to express the design and skill hidden within them. Weaving our desires together created this marvel."

Most of the time, we encounter Earth in building materials with a lecture, not a dialogue. We know what species of wood or type of stone we're looking for and find it. Or we discover a plank of cherry or slab of Italian marble and sculpt it to our preconceived idea. The result is architecture that reflects the human mind, but excludes the hidden delights and wisdom of nature. 

Instead, selecting and crafting materials can be a dialogue of discovery. While you create a design by inquiring, "How do I want to live?" You can include the materials you work with and ask them, "What do you want to become?" By weaving their desires into yours, the result just might be a co-creation, revealing possibilities beyond what you could have expressed on your own. 


Thursday, January 22, 2009


Jenny asked that I write something about the elements. In numerous books and courses you can find detailed knowledge about using the traditional western system of earth, water, fire and air or the Chinese system that adds metal to the list. As you can tell from previous blogs, I believe its important to include direct experience in any process of designing, building and inhabiting. Sensory experience is the link between mind, nature and architecture. It's the reality check that what we create actually fulfills our intentions.

A number of years ago, I worked with a couple in Utah to design their home. To gain insight into the sensory experience that would provide a structure suited to them, I asked them what images they associated with each room of the house. In room after room John said, "Fireplace." After the fourth room, Suzanne asked, "What's up with the fire place in every room?" John closed his eyes. After a few seconds, tears rolled down his face. "I haven't thought of this in 30 years. I grew up in my grandparents house in the Midwest. They always had a fire burning in the fireplace, even in summer." In this case, fire was an organizing element in designing their home. 

John's precise associations with fire weren't as important as creating a place that honored fire. To do so, honored the psychic glow and warmth that linked him personally to home. Fire and the other elements are sensory thresholds between the seen and the unseen, between matter and soul.

How do you relate to fire? Do you see it as a friend or an enemy? What experience have you had with fire's color, light, and warmth that you would like to include in your home? Notice your encounters with fire today and see how it's passion and transforming power influences your life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Vision is exhilarating. The mind glows with possibilities. Heart expands through limits. Fingers reach to gather materials. Then comes  the moment of truth. Does the elusive power of imagination translate into concrete form?
It has countless times before, in grand and humble ways. Structures from the pyramids in Egypt to the Golden Gate Bridge were born from vision. So were tools from sewing needles to laptops. They sprung from the minds of people like us—individuals living in an uncertain world, looking into present circumstances and glimpsing something that might sparkle into the future.

So here we are, the power imagination has brought forth a leader who has holistic vision, a mind that connects possibilities to concrete patterns, a heart bigger that petty divisions, and hands guiding us toward the realization of our long held dreams. 

With his wisdom and street smarts, President Obama (I love saying that.) has made rebuilding the country's physical structure a way to revitalize the economy. The brilliance of this program is that it will do far more than put people to work. The process of translating vision into brick and mortar will allow us to see and touch the design of the nation's soul. Rebuilding America won't be an abstract concept depicted on a spreadsheet. It won't be measured by the "drill baby drill" mindset of consumption. The vision of CHANGE will become a physical place. It will become architecture we can walk through, take shelter under and look out of to envision the next steps in our collective journey. "Make hay while the sun shines," is the wisdom from our agricultural past. Maybe "make architecture while the vision shines" fits these times. Why not chant, "BUILD BABY BUILD." 

Sunday, January 18, 2009


There's more to solar power than charging your cell phone and heating your shower. There's more to it than glorious colors at dawn. The sun's path can be a powerful connector to the rhythms of nature. It can point our imagination to the Earth's ancient dance around the Sun. It can shape architecture into the timeless geometries of the day and year. 

"The days are getting longer," we say, stirred by a vague awareness that the light dims 10 minutes later than it did a month ago. If we lived outside, we might notice the sun rising at a different place on the horizon than it did two weeks before. We might perceive the sun higher at noon. By following the path of sunlight across the sky, can experience a deeper connection to our place on Earth.

A simple way to do this is to mark how sunlight enters your house or apartment at the time you usually eat breakfast. In the coming weeks and months, notice that at the same time of day, the sunlight is in a different position and falls place on the floor or wall. If you lived closer to the equator or north pole, the position and angle of sunlight would change to reflect those places on the globe. 

Marking the changing angle of sunlight it not just an intellectual exercise. Bees find their way back to the hive by sensing the slant of the sun. The position of the sun effects climate and the growth of plants. Noticing the specific relationship of sunlight to the place where you live is a simple, powerful way of sensing your place in the timeless patterns of ecological change.

Friday, January 16, 2009


ECOfont is one of the most creative developments I've heard about in a long time. By putting holes in the alphabet, this font uses 20% less ink than standard fonts. This one brilliant innovation could save millions, maybe billions, of gallons of ink each year. It was developed by SPRANQ Creative Communications in the Netherlands. And you can download it for FREE at

I love this font because it creates more by using less. It communicates by incorporating silence. Through gaps it spawns substance. 

Spaciousness is an overlooked power in nature, imagination and architecture. From the womb of spaciousness, nature exploded the universe into being. Faced with gaps of understanding, the mind looks for and conjures the story lines that define personal and cultural identity. As the Tao te Ching explains, "We craft wood into the walls and roof of a house, but it is the space inside that makes it livable."

With one micro creation, ECOfont makes a step toward saving the world. WOW.  

Thursday, January 15, 2009


The key to sustainable dwelling is noticing. Sound simple? It is. But most of the time we're too consumed with the movie playing in our heads to look at what is literally under our feet.

The photos above show a few manhole covers I noticed one day. I came across hundreds of them. Each one expressed a different pattern within a circular frame. If these designs hung on the walls of a temple, they might be called mandalas, diagrams of the totality of creation. Instead they covered holes in the street. Instead of being crafted by monks for spiritual purposes, they were drawn by anonymous artists at drafting tables. Instead of arcs depicting the cycles of being and becoming, the ridges of these designs help people avoid slipping and falling.

The practicality of these manhole designs doesn't reduce their ability to connect our individuality to the rest of life. In fact, noticing the connections between common, functional objects and cosmic designs is a way to live "the universe in a grain of sand." Noticing what is before our eyes and seeing connections between the parts broadens our vision beyond isolated fragments. From this wide-angle perspective we have a better chance of moving passed disconnected living into holistic dwelling. 

Spend five minutes today noticing what passes before your eyes. Discover connections between the patterns you see and the greater network of nature. Email me photos or sketches of what you find and describe your experiences.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


These diagrams are stonemasons' marks. They were etched into limestone building blocks 900 years ago at Poblet Monastery in Spain. The diagrams indicate which family of masons sculpted which blocks. They are signatures of their craft and ensured the masons would receive payment. 

When I discovered these markings in the church at the ancient monastery, I sensed the currents of building knowledge and skill that had flowed through the centuries. These builders received wisdom and practical know-how from those who came before them. In turn, they passed that knowledge and skill to those who came after them. Along the way ancient methods were refined. New technologies were incorporated. 

These stonemasons weren't saints and they weren't simple-minded slaves. They were highly skilled artists who understood their role in the grand design of human dwelling. The walls, roofs, windows and other elements of your home and neighborhood stand on the knowledge they handed down. The wooden trim on the Victorian houses in San Francisco is shaped by the memory of stone construction.
So is the ogee edge on a wooden cabinet or table.

In each age, builders have created structures that embody the mystery of dwelling on this planet. They built architecture that reflected the culture and technology of their times. In pillars and doorways, roof beams and spires, they encoded ways to build wisely. They left clues to living sustainably in our time. When people look back at this age 900 years from now, will they find structures that carried on the ancient stream of insight and integrated creativity? Or, will they see a time when humanity lost its hard-won wisdom and built ego-centered fantasies? It's up to us.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I came across this carving in a Barcelona house. It was designed 100 years ago by Antonio Gaudi. For me, this door panel embodies what is overlooked in the discussions and craft of green building. It embodies the poetry of looking beyond checklists to experience the relationship of wood and water, stability and change. This design reveals that wood is not a dead object, a resource. It is a living substance with character, history and influence. It embodies what Lao-tzu wrote in the Way of Virtue, "What a caterpillar thinks is the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly."

What does this door panel say to you? 

Monday, January 12, 2009


One of the lost secrets of architecture is layering. Attempting to craft rooms of simple beauty, designers often reduce spaces to bare essentials. This approach creates elegant harmony, but neglects dimensions of depth that make architecture come alive. 

The mosque in Istanbul shown in this photo makes the point. A single dome would have created an expansive, peaceful sanctuary. By layering dome upon dome, the space pulls your consciousness up and up and up. Yet, the curving layers don't drag your attention toward a single point. The rings of the domes move together like circular ripples of water mingling in a pond. This arrangement pulls the mind free of its grid of facts. It opens to wonder that can't be pinned down.

Most layering is not this elaborate. As you move through your house or apartment, go beyond seeing the walls, windows, furniture and other elements as isolated objects. Look at them as layers of experience tying together your path through the rooms. Notice the shades of color, light and shadow. Touch the layers of textures. Smell the layers of aroma. Listen to the symphony of sounds. The places you inhabit are made of layers that can take you beyond surface appearances into the hidden power of dwelling.

Please share your experiences of layers in nature, imagination and architecture in the comments section below. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


When I look at San Francisco from across the bay I don't see a city. I see trillions of dreams. Each one shapes the substances and forces of nature into skyscrapers and salt shakers, row houses and ringtones, coffee cups and countless other things. Somewhere in the teeming forms that rise and fall into streets and neighborhoods, a child in a sandbox dreams sand into a castle. A college student imagines blue paint onto the ceiling of her apartment. A storekeeper envisions the new red sweaters to display in the window. A gardener mows a park lawn. A construction crew plans the foundation of a new office building. 

When I walk through the city, I think of what the great architect Louis Kahn said, "A city is a place of availablities. It is a place a child may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life." I see how the dreams of children from the past have formed the city of the present. I see the dreams of one person weaving into the dreams of others, laying the foundations for the city as it will be tomorrow. 

I think of my own dreams for a city that dreams the wildness of nature into the streets and buildings. The buildings would be shaped to reflect the geometry of the sunlight. The roofs would be gardens producing food. And the roof eaves would be designed to invite birds to nest. Windmills scattered here and there would sparking in the air. Trees would line every boulevard. Every detail would be a reminder of the interdependence of Nature, Imagination and Architecture. The city would be experienced as it is, a fluid, changing, living dream we inhabit.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


This is a photo of one of the Ellora Cave Temples in India. It's an amazing place where the people added a building by carving away from the earth. They created sacred space by losing solid stone. Imagine the vision of looking at a mountainside and seeing a temple within it. Imagine the tenacity to chip away the rock bit by bit to allow light to penetrate matter. Imagine the moment of stepping back and realizing what could be achieved by human hands. 

Imagine the vision you might find within the obstacles looming before your own life. Open to the power in your hands to chip away, bit by bit, at those obstacles to reveal the life waiting there. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Letting Nature In

Shelter keeps Nature out. Architecture can let it in. Shelter sheds rain and buffers wind. Architecture can open to the delights of water and air. When Shelter might have offered a protective pavilion to view a waterfall in Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright placed a house in the waterfall.

Certainly we need to stay dry and warm. We need to screen out mosquitoes and burglars. But we can't engage an intimate relationship with Nature if we don't invite her over for dinner.

Musing on this idea last year, I made the attached sketch. It shows a cross section through a small building. Instead of the roof sloping out and shedding the rain, it slopes toward the center and gathers the rain in a central pool. Instead of windows facing out, the seating focuses on the inner pool and people who might gather around the pool. This little temple is designed as a protected place where visitors might opened their minds and bodies to let Nature in. Nature in this case includes rain, sunlight and wind. It also includes human nature and chance encounters between the two.

With all our talk about loving Nature, when to we actually stop for a moment to let her touch us? When do we really let the colors of leaves and stone flood our eyes? When do we let the melodies of birds and the rhythms of streams hum into our ears? When do we let the textures of moss and tree bark caress our fingertips? When do we meet the eyes of others and let their souls whisper into ours? 

I thought a little building like this might offer a place where we could let Nature in.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


When most people design a home or apartment they reach for style books and magazines. A golden opportunity is missed. They could have listened to their deepest desires for living and explored how those longings could shape and be shaped by the specific site of the design. Instead, they employ design ideas that may have perfectly suited other people and times, but don't sync with their personal role in the play of existence. 

If you want to take a fresh approach to design and make your home a place that truly fits you and your place on earth try the following: 

If you're painting your walls, don't start with chips from the paint store. Take a walk and look at the colors of the leaves, flowers, tree bark, and soil you pass. Notice the color or combinations of colors that attract you. Take samples of these colors home and see how you might incorporate them into your living space. Then, go to the store and ask them to match the colors you discovered.

If you're looking for a new sofa, chair, bed or other piece of furniture go to a forest or beach. Find a place where it feels good to sit. What do you like about this place? What shapes attract you? What textures do you want to run your fingers across. What materials such as wood or stone make this place feel like home? Imagine combining the forms, textures and materials you see into a sofa, bed or other piece of furniture.

Take this approach and imagine other ways of incorporating the patterns of nature into the design of your home.

Like a bee following its attraction to flowers and carrying away pollen for making honey, follow your senses and desires to gather the forms, colors and textures  that can make your home a more creative and connected place.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Check out this recent book, Open Spaces Sacred Places by Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp. This inspiring volume tells the stories of "Firesouls" who brought communities together to create public places of peace and vitality. It grows from the work of the TKF Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland. Over the past 12 years, TKF has funded healing and mediation gardens in Baltimore's inner city neighborhoods. The book shows what others have done to establish sacred places in the heart of a chaotic and uncertain world. It shows how you might apply their insights and tenacity to making a sacred place in your neighborhood. 

I've been involved with these wise, generous and courageous people for a number of years. I was lucky enough to help create one of the places described in the book—a meditation garden in a prison in Cumberland, Maryland. Read the book to find out about this and the other amazing stories of using imagination to transform nature into havens of peace and delight. 

Find out about the book at

Find out about the TKF Foundation at

Nature's Eyes

We see the world as if we stand at the center. Earth may orbit the sun, but we see the universe revolving around us. Whether we feel isolated from or connected to the surroundings, our individuality still perceives events from the standpoint of central camera. 

Even when we reach out to understand other people, animals and plants, we interpret them through the lens of our beliefs and preferences. "This plant is a flower. That one is a weed. This forest is beautiful. That desert is a wasteland. This squirrel is cute. That mouse is a pest." When we want to build a house according to green principles, we create it from a human-centered, personal preference viewpoint. In the process we building structures that isolate us from nature. We see ourselves as intruders in nature's garden. The more we try to break free from this cycle the more we seem to wound the planet and ourselves.

So, how do we get beyond our ego-centered ways and dwell in the currents of an eco-field sensibility? For me it happens when I open my perception beyond the "me" perceiving a scene. I notice that my thoughts and emotions rise and fall against the background of stillness that has always been here. I notice that the objects and events in the environment also rise and fall within this field of stillness. This broadened perspective softens the sense of a separate "me." Sounds, colors, textures and aromas penetrate deeper into my perception. My kinship with the people I encounter is closer. This kinship extends to the beings in nature I come across. I sense their point of view and their concerns. I realize that what appear to be separate selves interacting is a dance of forces and substances forming and reforming the world like waves form and reform the ocean.

In future posts, I will talk about ways of getting beyond ego-center home design and moving into eco-field creation. For now, tell me your experiences of opening beyond ego-centered living into eco-field experience.  

Monday, January 5, 2009

Angels in the Architecture

Architecture embodies the human journey. Like the eddies and swirls of water cascading down a ravine reveal the shapes of the boulders the water flows across, the design elements of buildings reveal the terrain of human needs and dreams. Throughout history, architecture has been enriched with paintings and sculptures depicting the mystery of dwelling in this world. Only in last 200 years have architects designed structures that looked more like the tools used to craft buildings than the people that inhabited them. The adoration of the machine as a tool for creating better homes and cities replaced the appreciation of the human form as a renewing link between nature, imagination and architecture.

The painting above, Law Versus the Mob by John Stewart Curry, is located in the Department of Justice Building outside the Law Library. It shows a man fleeing a hate-filled mob. When the Attorney General of the United States, U.S. Attorneys, and Judges walk these halls, the architecture frames this stark reminder of their role in society.

Sacred architecture in most parts of the world is adorned with art that tells the whole story of the soul's journey. It's not all celestial light and humming chants. At the central portal into Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, for example, a pointed arch frames the full spectrum of experience. On the left are a host of saints with pious faces. On the right, devils frolic through horrific mischief. In the center of this wild scene sits Christ, Buddha-like, raising his hand in a fear not, be cool gesture. Hindu and Buddhist temples throughout Asia display these same sort of scenes.

What I've experienced with this is that sacred space is all encompassing space. It excludes nothing and embracing everything. All the impulses of life and invited in. Not for a Kumbayah sing along, but to stir the ocean of silence into powerful, revitalizing energy. The full spectrum of life from perfect peace to dynamic creation, destruction and renewal rises and falls within the measureless expanses of sacred space.

By looking for ways to include the design of the human body in our dwelling places, we may be able to imagine vital ways to connect the designs of our buildings to nature. I'm not suggesting we go backwards and cover our buildings with statues. Instead we can look into and feel the ways our consciousness is expressed through the gestures and expressions of our human form. We can look for ways to create places that extend those currents into the rooms we inhabit and find a sustainable coexistence between our minds, bodies and the garden of the world.

Thanks for the comments on previous posts. Keep sharing them and telling us what you're experiencing and doing.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Allison asked me to write about sacred space. These days, it's an elusive subject. Holy lands can be the sites of unholy bloodshed. A piece of toast with a splotch of melted butter resembling the Madonna can become a holy relic. 

Since the old definitions don't fit, I set out five years ago to discover what sacred place is now. Over 18 months, I traveled to sacred places in the American Southwest, Europe, the Middle East and India. I found sacred places everywhere, from tiny niches in backstreet walls of 3rd world slums to glorious temples rising from pristine mountaintops. I saw people worshiping in front of video screens and making offerings to the sky. 

To say that sacred space is impossible to define is both true and a copout. To say that is personal is too easy. After countless miles of travel, meditations is all sorts of places, drawings, diagrams, discussions, etc. I've come to this—sacred space is a physical structure that opens to what is beyond the physical. It is a defined boundary that opens to what cannot be defined. 

A primal example of this is the Pantheon in Rome. The basic diagram is a dome with a circular opening at the top. On sunny days, a shaft of sunlight explodes through the opening. During thunder storm, rain pours in. What could be simpler? Yet, the precise shape of dome and circular opening break through the limits of conventional experience. Mundane perception is transcended. The intangible shimmers into the tangible. 

Pictured at the beginning of this post is the new Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California. It's a modern sacred space that draws on timeless design forms to point to the formless. What was your response when you first looked at this image? Did you wonder what it was? Were you drawn to go there?

In future posts, I'll talk about this masterpiece of modern design and about specific techniques for making, perceiving and inhabiting sacred space. Tell me what you think.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


"OUCH! OUCH! OUCH!," is the sound feet make when the thermometer hits 120 degrees on an Arabian Gulf beach. But the tender toes of the cool clientele at the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai will soon chill on refrigerated sand. It's one thing to cool your champagne in a bucket of ice. Refrigerating the grains of sand on an entire beach pops the cork on a whole new bottle of possibilities. This exotic cocktail of Nature, Imagination and Architecture may leave eco-minded tourists gagging. It does, however, deliver some juicy issues to consider.

None of us is immune from using nature for our personal pleasure. Every object we make to experience a bit more comfort is the result of human desire transforming Earth's raw materials into a new physical structure. The screen in front of you is made from the desire for a flat surface that transmits light images combined with sand (silica) and the manufacturing processes that transformed it into your monitor. All objects, from paper clips to skyscrapers to cities, are the result of this interaction. I'll talk more about this in coming posts. 

I want to focus here on how a refrigerated beach collides with the desire to reduce global warming by reducing energy consumption. We attempt to rectify this potentially devastating problem through equations that balance the number of carbon units. This is an essential start. The danger is that this approach uses the same old fragmented thinking that got us into the problem in the first place. Does Nature use calculations to balance itself? Does the Sky figure out how much energy is required to lift trillions of gallons of water into the air as vapor, turn it into clouds and release it as rain? Does a plant calculate how much of that water to draw through its roots? 

Imagining Nature's processes as linear equations will never reveal the secrets of dwelling in holistic, sustainable ways. The way beyond our fragmented, ego-centered mindset is to open to the eco-field mind of nature that is already doing it. Instead of pushing beach sand into ego-centered fantasies that protect my soft soles, we can open to the already flowing patterns of the sand and ocean that enrich the soul. A sage once said, "To avoid thorns, one can try to cover the earth with leather. It's more practical to wear shoes."

I'll explore details about seeing the world through more holistic lenses in coming posts. For now, send comments about what you think. And let me know topics you'd like to explore.

Friday, January 2, 2009


ISRAELI GROUND INVASION MAY BE IMMINENT is the headline this morning. Whatever side you're on, the conflict comes from drawing a line on common ground. The line is made of belief. It is reinforced with steel weapons. The dividing line separating Israel from Gaza enacts a primal paradox—hope of safety coupled with fear of attack. 

Each of us engages thus duality when we divide the people that appear to be like us from those that appear to be different. We draw lines between our "good" political party and their "bad" party. We divide the "true" religion from the "false." The heart asks, "Why can't we get along?" The mind warns, "Threats are everywhere!" We believe peace would come if others were more like us. We usually don't consider that other people are more like us than we want to admit.

I have no idea how Israelis and Palestinians can resolve their differences. But dwelling here now involves facing the paradox of thresholds. For my body to be healthy, my front door must separate the cold rain tapping on the outside from the warm air filling the inside. My body also needs water to come inside for bathing and cooking. Then the water needs to return outside, carrying away wastes.

Thresholds for shelter clearly separate inner from outer. Thresholds for architecture are another matter. They open to dimensions beyond the physical. An architectural threshold is at once "safe" and "inviting." It defines both my place in the world and my access to the world. A threshold is worn and scuffed by the countless feet that traveled across it in the past. Those same markings shine with the call to enter the unknown possibilities of the future. Thresholds pull me from sleepy patterns of isolation into fluid geometries of connection. The threshold at my front door reminds me that a simple structure designed to separate inside from outside also points toward connections that defy easy categorization.

As I cross the threshold into this new year, I'll be looking for ways to honor my distinct identity while discovering common ground that nourishes us all.