Monday, October 12, 2009

John Muir's Green Architecture

In 1869, John Muir attached a wooden shack to the saw mill near the base of Yosemite Falls. He lived there two years listening to the music of the rushing water. Through the hole in the roof, Muir gazed at South Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the stars. Living in the nave of nature's cathedral inspired him to write: "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

Muir's green architecture was not about reducing his carbon footprint. It's wasn't about the latest politically correct style. Instead, this funky, little shack established a receptacle for guiding the forces of nature into his senses and his soul. Living there, Muir entered an intimate communion with the wisdom and revitalizing power of ecological processes. There, he learned what nature actually was and learned his place within it. That encounter and many others powered his life's work of looking through the outer appearances of mountains and trees, boulders and water, bears and birds and seeing the spirit speaking at their core. He got beyond the idea of nature and engaged in a direct dialogue with it.

In our rush to green the planet, we would do well to remember John Muir's wooden perch at the base of Yosemite Falls. We would do well to follow his lead and listen to the songs of water and wind and to hear the silence of granite and pine. Before drawing the lines of floor plans, we could trace the lines of tree bark and gravity. Before raising the roof, we could raise our eyes to receive the designs of hawk wings and cloud paths. What we find could flow into our cities and our homes. The energy of storms and the freshness of the wind would cancel out our carbon footprint and guide us toward architecture that was a vital and nature itself.


  1. Anthony, this blog post makes a great point, which I've been thinking about for a while and struggling to put into clear words as you have here. Genuine, deep, authentic "sustainability" is about so much more than counting carbon molecules or measuring neighborhood density. In its highest form, it is founded upon and flows from, (in your own words), "communion with the wisdom and revitalizing power of ecological processes". That sums it up. Sustainability isn't to be found in the numbers, but in striving for authentic partnership with the Natural World. My rational brain can't process all the planetary variables, but my heart, intuition, and vision always lead to a clear path forward.

  2. Michael, Thanks for your comment. Yes, the shift that can heal Earth and our relationship to it is to see beyond our mechanized mind's view. The fragmented consciousness that wounds Nature cannot heal nature. Only the whole, rich mind that was spawned by nature can hope to heal the wounds. I'm writing about is a new book that I hope will foster an integrated. poetic, process oriented approach to humans inhabit earth.
    Thanks again for your thoughts and dialogue.