Healing the divided mind that wounds the world. Interview with Anthony Lawlor, Architect, by Willi Paul. Co-Presented by PlanetShifter.com Magazine & planetshifter.com

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Healing the divided mind that wounds the world. Interview with Anthony Lawlor, Architect, by Willi Paul. Co-Presented by PlanetShifter.com Magazine & planetshifter.com

Your Treasure Is In The Space Between

"Life is in the space between. We focus on words, people, clothes, houses, cars, jobs, food, trees... Mostly, we dwell in pauses; we inhabit the openings between gestures and relationships. In traffic, in line, at the desk, at the table, on the path, we wait; we stare out the window; we muse; we worry; we laugh; we confuse; we clarify; we explore. Most of the time, we ignore the gaps. In our ignorance, we miss a major aspect of life.

If we do acknowledge the space through which our lives travel, it's usually to escape, to find peace, to get away from all the stuff. What we miss is this: the space between is filled with life. But the knowledge, laughter, beauty, practicality and poetry in the intervals cannot be recognized by our minds. It speaks in a language that is not hearable, touches us with caresses that at not tangible, offers us guidance with signs that are invisible.

Acknowledging the space between and allowing yourself to rest within it transforms your life. I'm not talking about retreating to the meditation cushion, the studio space or the forest. Here, now open to the opening... Let it in... A silent explosion rocks the visible world... "Lifeless" objects speak... Being blasts through all becoming... The hidden treasure you've been searching for is revealed." (AL)

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How can permaculture be integrated into the wider green movement consciousness?

Permaculture is human agriculture modeled on biological relationships found within indigenous earth ecologies. The wider green movement at its best seeks to design objects, buildings and communities that sustain the earth and the beings who inhabit it, including human beings. For the wider green movement to fulfill its intentions, permaculture must be woven into its methods of design. The common green approach attempts to rework the designs of the human community to better fit the renewing processes of nature. A gas-guzzling automobile, for example, is reworked to use less or better fuel and produce less carbon dioxide. A house is redesigned to employ renewable materials and power. A skyscraper is reworked to be a green skyscraper. Such reworked methods of transportation and shelter take forms that were originally designed to defend humans from the variability and hostility of nature and uses them to befriend nature. It’s a bit like a medieval knight reworking his armor to be more huggable. It’s still armor.

Weaving permaculture into green design requires the human community to let go of reworking the old defensive mindset that separates us from nature. It asks us to make a radical shift from trying to outsmart nature to engaging nature as an ally. To do so necessitates giving up seeing nature as some kind of ingenious machine with integrated parts to engaging the earth as a living, breathing process. It is to willingly participate in both the creative and dissolving stages of nature that facilitate the organic renewal of the earth.

Let’s say that permaculture is alchemy re-tooled. What traditional architectural practices have you transformed?

The traditional practice of architecture uses design to solve problems and express one’s personal style preferences. The needs of the human client define the problem and the beliefs of the architect guide the style. The work involves arranging architectural elements such as walls, roofs and windows to achieve a functional plan and a pleasing appearance. I, on the other hand, approach architecture not as a problem to be solved, but as a process to discover what life seeks to express. I see the land, climate, plants, animals, human clients, local culture, etc. as the voices of life speaking the desires of the earth through that place and time.

I engage and listen to the voices of life through visualizations that reveal the seed images that will guide the overall form and the details of the design. Instead of focusing on the objects of architectural form, I look to the effects the forms have on mind, body and surrounding. I seek to create architecture that points beyond itself to the consciousness framed by the design.

Holistic design is key to your design mantra, but is this Sustainability?

For me, wholeness is found in the stillness of silent awareness plus the totality of creation. It is that which cannot be described and includes the expressed cycle of birth, growth, decay, dissolution and renewal that creates, maintains, dissolves and restores the earth. Holistic design participates in the dynamic totality that sustains earth. It is not a rarified detached circle of purity.
Holistic design is important because it assists in healing the divided mind that wounds the world. The viewpoint that splits spirit from matter, mind from body, humans from nature and other opposites is the basis for the design of objects, buildings and communities that fragments the world. Wholeness cannot be restored through a balanced arrangement of parts. It can only be lived from a comprehensive awareness that does not see parts, but waves within one ocean of living.

What metaphors or symbols or patterns run through your mind when you first consider the shape and community of a building? Are these yours?

I avoid beginning a design with a preconceived symbol or pattern. Overlaying prefigured forms on a client or the land prevent the design from emerging within the circumstances of the project. Instead, I listen and look for the patterns that already exist within the project. I work to reveal those patterns. For this purpose, there is an image of the design process that guides my work: the participants in the design gather in a circle, we peer into the space within the circle, watching what patterns arise from formlessness into form.

As a designer, what are the limitations in the USGBC LEED prescriptions?

USGBC LEED prescriptions are “intended to provide building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.” This approach embodies the belief that buildings can be attuned to ecological processes by fulfilling items on a checklist. The linear recommendations of this strategy are well meaning but they disconnect designers from a felt relationship with nature. They do not include shaping and orienting buildings to the paths of the sun and moon. They neglect connecting buildings to the forms of the land and waterways. They don’t employ colors and patterns of plants and animals. USGBC LEED prescriptions limit sustainable design to a measureable formula that doesn’t account for the immeasurable qualities that sustain the earth.

When you consider the environmental impacts caused by organizations from their existing operations on a campus - or corporate-wide scale, what are the key metrics?

The vital measurements for determining environmental impacts of human organizations are:

1) Does the organization make the health and renewal of earth the reference point for the forms and systems of its operations, or does it make independent human society the reference?

And 2) Is the organization result-oriented or process-oriented? Few if any organizations do this. To do so, they have to acknowledging their interdependence with the earth as vital to their health and well-being.

What new earth-sourced building materials have you experimented with? Any results to share?

I haven’t experimented with new earth-sourced building materials. All materials come from the earth. How we relate to the earth’s materials determines the health, sustainability and soulfulness of their use in architecture. The key is honoring the specific qualities of a material, such as wood, clay or stone, as it is produced by nature and incorporating those qualities into the design. The problem comes from processing the materials is a way that fragments the wholeness of the material. As a result fragmented materials produce a fragmented environment. Glass, steel and brick are processed materials that retain the integrity of the raw materials. It’s similar the difference between herbs and pharmaceutical drugs. Manufactured drugs produce side-effects that inflict further injury of the patient.

Even with something as simple a composting, building owners can have problems changing staff behavior. What are the dominant values and principles in your practice?

The dominant value is silent awareness. Mechanical rules undertaken with fragmented consciousness have limited value. We cannot participate in restoring wholeness to the earth or ourselves without acting from wholeness. Actual wholeness is found in the silent awareness behind out thoughts, words and actions. This silent awareness is not far off or something developed through spiritual practice. It is the quiet observer that looked through your eyes when you were 5 years old, 20 and now. Acknowledging, honoring and acting from silent awareness, we act from the wide-angle vision that allows us to transform fragmented behaviors into integrated actions.

How important is sunlight to human interaction? Health?

Sunlight is central to human interaction and health. For thousands of years architecture has used the path, illumination and warmth of sunlight as organizing principles in the design. Thinking of the sun to only gain heat and produce electricity limits access to its more profound powers. Positioning buildings to the rising and setting of sunlight, aligned human life with the patterns and processes of nature. The rhythms of human existence pulsated with the throb of the earth in relation to its power station, the sun. Electric light, besides polluting the planet, allows us to disconnect with sunlight and, therefore, live out of sync with nature. Being out of step with the earth, we cannot hope to live sustainably.

Is it hard to design a green roof to function as both an integrated building component and a patio?

The difficulty is waterproofing and ensuring the plants receive enough water. There are technologies are readily available if you can afford them. It’s more import to consider how a green roof relates to the rest of the building and the surrounding environment. Many “green” design features, green roofs, solar panels, on-demand water heaters, etc, are unconsciously used as symbols to attuning a building to the patterns and process of the earth. Indigenous builders created sustainable architecture integrated with the local ecology. If they were in a desert, they didn’t thrown in a green roof to feel they were aligned with nature. We would do well to learn from our ancestors.

“Something becomes holy by offering it to wholeness.” Consider my post: http://www.planetshifter.com/node/1758. How do you create the Sacred?

I don’t create the sacred, I acknowledge its presence and remove what hides our perception of it. For me, the sacred is the whole of life. The only thing that could be considered not sacred is the fragmented viewpoint that attempts to divide the world into sacred and profane. In the all-inclusive, indigenous awareness of the sacred even the fragmented view is within the circle of the sacred. The sacred view engages the totality of life as a breathing conscious being/process encompassing creation and destruction devouring itself to continue its existence. Traditional sacred places outline microcosms of this macrocosmic sacred. All impulses of life, beautiful and horrific, tender and brutal, stable and instable were invited into the circle of the sacred place. Within this ring, the universe of opposites churns the world into renewal. If we attempt to divide the world into sacred and profane we interfere to this mysterious process and generate more suffering. It is the wise relationship with light and dark, birth and death, friend and enemy not the suppression of them that renews the world.

“At the edge, there's no turning back. Behind is the corpse of a life that no longer breathes.” So, where exactly are you? We?

The corpse is the fragmented thinking that has turned the earth and human life into a divided wasteland. The edge is the unknown way into thinking, speaking, acting and dwelling in wholeness. Though people have lived in wholeness before, we have the possibility of entering a new, global wholeness. The edge in this transformation is creating and employing technology, culture and personal modes of living that point beyond their individual forms to the underlying wholeness that connects them all. The edge is living a spiritual life without the fracturing influence of dogma or self-righteousness. The edge is expanding beyond the personal viewpoint to recognize and live the comprehensive field of vision we already are. I see the world this way, because this is where I am.

Connections -

Anthony Lawlor, Architect
Anthony Lawlor, Architect
email: Anthony at anthonylawlor.com
415.686.9427

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