"The Nurturing House"
A study in eco-design and sacred geometry in building
Students of spiritual or esoteric philosophy are aware that reality is governed by certain fundamental universal laws. For example, consciousness depends on the principle of polarity or opposites, for nothing is recognisable without its polar opposite to give it identity. All concepts would be meaningless without their polar opposites to set a standard of comparison. "Good" would be incomprehensible without "evil"; light would be meaningless without darkness as a background. In every concept there exists implicitly its polarity. This principle has a very simple and logical mathematical basis, and yet it sets the parameters for creation to occur. Within the vast realms of creation lie all possibilities, for the purpose of creation is to explore those possibilities, and humans, as an aspect of creation, are very good at that. This does not mean that pain and suffering must exist in order that peace and wellbeing can occur, for all polarities are unmanifested potential in principle. Manifestation of opposites occurs through the belief in them, which in turn springs from a belief in separation - separation of body from spirit, separation of man from nature, and so on. But as in all things, there is actually no right or wrong about separation, for it is simply a means of acquiring knowledge. It is not the purpose of this article to expound on ways of raising consciousness through study of universal laws, but to illustrate how these laws affect us all to some degree by virtue of the environment we live in, specifically the buildings we inhabit. Our dwellings can be seen as expressions of who we are in consciousness, and so by recognising our relationship with the whole, and incorporating principles that govern harmony and connectedness into our architecture, we can create a much more supportive and nurturing environment.
Contemporary society has shown a particularly strong trend towards distancing itself from nature and from natural laws and principles in favour of technology and economic growth. This human experiment in separation has been taken to such limits that the Earth itself is now under stress to the degree that there is no seeable way of reversing the passageway towards self destruction. Many Australians live in cities and have never camped a night in the bush, seen a kangaroo in the wild, or heard the sound of a whistling kite. Life for many of us is about working in a meaningless job in order to build a box like structure called home, so that we can raise a family, watch sitcoms on television, and follow the fortunes of a range of sporting gladiators. In an over populated world, and in an era of industrialised urbanisation, our link with nature has become a ritual of mowing the lawn, tending the rhododendrons and roses in the front garden and taking an occasional weekend drive in the country. In losing touch with nature and sense of place, we have lost contact with ourselves - we no longer know who we are. We have become immune to the natural forces and rhythms of nature, and our senses and sensitivities have become dulled. This unconscious approach to life is reflected in our surroundings and our experiences. At the domestic level this shows in our dwellings - our homes have become the mirrors of ourselves.
The majority of newly built houses have a depressing degree of uniformity about them. They are a product of our socio-economic values. They reflect our capitulation to conformity and to our role as consumers in a system of bureaucratic control, manufactured materials and mass production techniques. They have become a symbol of our determination to distance ourselves from the godself, and a shrine to our lust for comfort. They are a reflection of our lost identities from which the life force has almost been extinguished in an overwhelming environment of anxiety and synthetic entertainment. In losing sight of our own special individuality, we have forgotten the basic, fundamental purpose of shelter, and we have all but lost the innate urge to create an environment around us that we can feel with both our inner and our outer senses, and that will sustain rather than alienate our humanness. With aesthetic feelings blunted or obliterated, there is little or no concern for architecture, and there is only the perception that what goes on inside a building is all that matters.
The Aboriginal people, before the arrival of Europeans, had no such problems. They had a highly developed sense of place: all elements contained within the landscape had meaning. They saw themselves as part of the earth, not separate from it. Their celebration of nature did not require them to build temples and monuments to their beliefs, for it was already expressed in the magnificence of the landscape. Nor was their sense of self related to what they owned, for they owned nothing; but they knew who they were - children of the Earth Mother. The buildings of indigenous peoples have always expressed a harmony between people, land and cosmos with forms that link earth to spirit. The Aboriginal people epitomised that to the extreme with the most rudimentary shelters that took as little as possible from the Mother, for they acknowledged the spirit in all things.
Now as we witness the progressive decline of social fabric in some sectors of our community, there is a parallel awakening of consciousness occurring in other sectors. This polarisation expresses itself on the one hand as a fear of change and a clinging to material values, and on the other hand as a yearning in which people are seeking to find themselves once more and get in touch with their divinity. As the inner changes progress, so they will manifest in the outer, and the environment will reflect those changes. As does the peace and beauty ever present in nature, for those who look, reveal the face of our godliness, so do the imbalances and degradations we have wrought upon our natural environment reflect a society in torment. If we are able to achieve inner harmony both individually and societally, this will reflect in our architecture, and our homes will become our havens and our work places will support our creativity. Conversely, if we use architecture as a means of embodying principles of harmony, so will they influence our inner state.
A few architects and designers are recognising that a new approach is long overdue. In the emergence of this new direction is an underlying awareness of the profound role that buildings have on our health and our psychic and spiritual state of being. Harmony and balance, light and colour, relationship to landscape, ecological sympathy, energy efficiency and resonant geometric form are starting to be recognised as contributing elements of shelter which aspires to be nurturing rather than draining. In Europe particularly, new schools of architectural philosophy are starting to evolve that are breaking free of the constraints of technological fashion, and are exploring innovative philosophical and practical consideration of the impact that buildings have on the human psyche and the environment. Baubiology or Building Biology, combines healthy building with an ecological and spiritual sensitivity. Rudolph Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy, recognised that geometric form has a profound effect on behaviour and feelings. A few contemporary architects are influenced by Steiner's contention that "organic" buildings help people to experience a sense of wellbeing, creativity and individuality. Deep ecology, as espoused by Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, James Lovelock's Gaia Theory, and Australian Bill Mollison's Permaculture, provide an integrated philosophical approach that encourages people to change their way of thinking with a deeper ecological awareness. Feng Shui and Geomancy are gaining popularity with provision of guidelines for establishing harmonious relationships and unconstrained energy flows.
In pre-industrial times, utilitarian objects were also fashioned as objects of beauty - there was no distinction between utility and beauty. Mass production and economic growth did not exist conceptually, and there was none of the ugliness that arrived with synthetic materials and power-operated machinery. Craftsmen were the manufacturers, and they took pride in their skills. People knew their station in life, and they valued what they had for its quality, not its quantity. Nowadays, utilitarian objects, including places of work, are shaped by utilitarian considerations - they must be cost efficient and functional. The idea that places such as hospitals and schools, for example, by virtue of their lack of harmonious form and other aesthetic qualities might actually be performing in opposition to their purpose, has been lost from our contemporary consciousness. Beautiful things are accepted as having a place, but they are relegated out of the workplace, and to a large degree out of the home, into their separate categories. The assumption is that practicality and aesthetics are mutually contradictory. What has been lost is the awareness of relationship between aesthetics and health, between harmonious forms and contentment, between beauty and love. Our culture has settled for stress as a payable price for expediency and economic growth. It is indeed time for change!
There are requirements of the soul which are able to be provided by our environment, particularly the natural environment which embodies the undistorted harmonics of creation. In nature we can experience the natural cycles and rhythms, the beauty, tranquillity, power and timelessness of creation in its infiniteness. Our senses are stimulated and rejuvenated by the blending of shapes, colours, sounds and movement in a seemingly random but in fact orderly pattern which is rich, complex and elusive. Out of deprivation of a sensory connection with things natural arises the phenomenon of dependence and attachment: to drugs and alcohol, television, gambling, consumerism and possession.
When we close down our senses to protect them from being jarred by disharmonic resonances in artificial and unsympathetic environments, a part of our true nature is suppressed and imbalance occurs which leads to dis-ease. We become ill! We cannot live in nature as did the aborigine, but we can to a considerable degree emulate it. We cannot easily undo what has been done, but we have more freedom than most would believe to choose an environment which is agreeable and nurturing, and in particular the type of house we live in. The only thing that limits us is our understanding and commitment to the principles involved. Architecture that draws on principles of universal harmony can compensate to some degree for lack of direct contact with the natural environment. It can be a means of bringing these principles back into urban reality where nature has been defaced and natural order replaced by artificial structures. Architecture which nourishes the human spirit can be healing.
Healing takes place when there is transformation of psyche at the inner levels which can work through to the outer levels. This is quite distinct from those forms of medical treatment which deal only with effect, not cause. Practices such as meditation, homoeopathy and a range of healing techniques that work on the subtle body, are often effective as catalysts in initiating the healing process. The environment is one such agent, and buildings are a necessary part of the human environment. Buildings, although constructed of seemingly inert matter, need not be dead. When they are synthetic and limited like a concrete bunker or a prison cell, they can starve and oppress the human spirit. But when they soar and flow like a Gothic cathedral, they can inspire and expand the spirit, freeing it from its bondage. When founded on universal qualities that occur within nature and the cosmos, rather than personal, mind based qualities, they can transform human experience from self centred indulgence to an artistic and spiritual status.
There are many elements that contribute to a healthy and nurturing dwelling. The meeting of responsibilities towards others and to the earth constitutes a significant input to a building, because these responsibilities relate to intent, and intent sets up a vibration which remains within the structure. When intent is based on personal desires alone, there is no sharing, there is no compassion, there is no giving and there is no receiving; there is only taking. Right intent can be expressed by accepting responsibility.
There is a responsibility to be sensitive to the environment. A house that compliments its environment does not offend. In the country or the bush this is particularly important. In a wide open space, such as an agricultural setting, a house should look strong and robust with its own personality, a drawing point from the surrounding featureless landscape, a place that attracts us to enter into it and shelter from the rain or the wind or just from the anonymity of the environs. Amongst the beauty and fragility of bushland, a house should blend with nature and not try to dominate, at the same time standing robustly and proudly as an object of beauty in itself. Its shape and colours can be sensitive to the patterns of the landscape, camouflaging itself by revealing minimal long straight lines and unbroken surfaces. It should look as though it has tiptoed in during the night to take its place quietly and gently in its rightful place. Its arrival need not be accompanied by scars in the landscape, depleting cavities in the hillside where truckloads of concrete have sealed the surface of the soil that is our maternal source of nourishment. When Mother Earth is given respect, she responds with bountiful gifts to her children.
There is a responsibility to minimise pollution and eco-damage. Account should be taken of the consumption of energy and natural resources in the manufacture and production of constituent materials. Excessive use of forest timbers, particularly tropical hardwoods, has had a devastating effect on the planetary environment. The same applies for materials such as plastics that consume large amounts of fossil fuel and pour vast quantities of pollutants into the environment in their manufacture. Some materials can have an adverse biological effect on occupants. When I design or build a house I use natural materials as much as possible, as I believe that "processed" materials such as concrete and plaster have low energy or life force. They are like processed foods - they are depleted of the natural biochemical ingredients that are necessary for our nourishment and health. Coating wood with paint or polyurethane seals off its sensory output, and instead of being a beautiful, rich organic material that is alive and breathes, it becomes merely a surface.
The type of contract, the method of construction and the artistic involvement of the builder, can affect the vibration of a building. In Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet", when Almustafa was asked to speak to the people of Orphalese about work, he said - "... what is it to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. It is to build a house with affection even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house. It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit ... if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger." Love is a vibration that imparts its stamp on the spirit of a building. This is the reason that owner-built houses tend to have such a special quality which makes them a joy to be in - they are built with care and love, and they are built by hand, not by machine.
Heating, lighting, colour, texture - all have their capacity to enhance or deplete. Colours have visual characteristics with varying physiological influences from which no one is immune. Natural light stimulates hormone growth through various glands, whilst artificial light does little more than illuminate while consuming energy. Solar energy for lighting and heating is non polluting and gentler - the water from a solar heated shower actually feels different than electrically heated water. The positioning of windows to take advantage of natural light and warmth at different times of the day will impart an inviting warmth and ambience within the house that remains constant but not static.
The relationship of the within and the without is often sadly neglected. We forget that the inside of a house can participate with and reflect the environment also, blending with it in subtle harmonies and gentle contrasts. What more peaceful place can there be but a forest glade with sunbeams dancing on the surface of a gently flowing stream? What else should a house be than a place which nourishes and supports us through all the intimacies, the joys and the struggles that we share with our loved ones, our family and our friends? Close your eyes, and listen to the raindrops on the roof, the wind whispering to you from the trees, and the birds singing to your soul. What are the fears within you that cause you to separate yourself from nature? What is it deep within that connects us to nature if we could only find it? The key lies in the fact that the universe is constructed from sacred geometric principles.
All living things, including us humans, have an innate spatial awareness. At the cellular level of our physical bodies, specialisation occurs in the body's tissues whereby individual cells resonate and function according to their spatial relationship with other cells in their region. Each particle is unique in its responses, according to its position in the whole. Its function is expressed harmoniously when it perceives its perfect dynamic relationship with surrounding interactive forces. In practical terms, this ability to resonate interactively with other forces enables human consciousness to perceive its relationship within the universal geometric order. Our unsuppressed senses respond intuitively to the melodic forms contained within the eternal realm of geometric proportion, and if we allow ourselves the freedom, our consciousness enables us to act out our course in harmony with our total environment.
The simple geometric forms or melodies upon which nature builds are woven into a subtle, symphonic web of infinite complexity and grace. Each basic form has its own sound, its own intrinsic message. Within the symphony of sounds, colours and shapes of nature is expressed the secrets of life, the song of the universe. When we place ourselves within a structure we call home, we immerse ourselves in a collection of sounds or notes contained within the universal song. We can choose discordance, or we can choose harmony. As we grow within ourselves and become more finely attuned to the vibrations within the universal order, so do we respond with greater sensitivity to our surroundings. Our home can support us in our growth, and become a poetic vision of who we are in time and space.
We respond vibrationally to the geometry of the space that encloses us. If that space is bland, featureless, textureless and colourless, it represents a reflection of our own suppressed inner life force, and binds us into passionless limitation. It becomes the mirror of our pain. If we give ourselves the freedom to soar to new heights, finding new hidden corners to explore at different levels of our existence, then we should give ourselves a space in which to live that symbolises that freedom and raises our passion for life to new levels. Different geometric forms evoke different responses, so what we need to do is find the way to achieve optimal spatial sympathy. A study of sacred geometry gives us clues - patterns such as pyramids, spirals and certain polygons contain powerful archetypal vibrations that motivate and stretch our creative energies. Rectangular shapes have less of a stimulating influence, but their resonance is appropriate in many situations. We all are different in our inner vibrations, and so the search for the personal patterns that give us most stimulus and comfort must be an intuitive one. This is the greatest challenge for the designer - to ask for the clients' trust, and in return offer them the gift of what they want but never knew they wanted. Then the giving never stops.
In nature there are lines, curves, arcs, spirals, circles, triangles, squares, pentagons and hexagons in unlimited variations and combinations. Some of these forms are pure in their essence, but mainly they are woven into a subtle web of infinite complexity and beauty. Each basic form has its own intrinsic message. For example, the circle is the symbol of unmanifest unity (God), while the square is unity manifested into the four primary directions, north, south, east and west, which make space comprehensible. The cube represents the three directions that determine space, and thereby symbolises matter as it exists in 3-dimensional reality. Because it is so linked to the primary concept of creation in matter, the cube represents unmanifested potential.
This is the vibration of the dwellings in which many people choose to live, and it symbolises their own unmanifested potential. In isolation, the square expresses limitation. Squares superimposed on each other at different angles can, however, give rise to other geometric shapes. When utilising this principle in a building, it can express a more developed vibration without completely losing the practicality of the right angle. The square can also give rise to a spiral by using the relationship between the side and the diagonal. Within a square there exists implicitly a diagonal, which in turn implies another square with its side as the diagonal of the first. This square will have an area twice that of the original - thus one gives rise to two. This can be continued in geometric progression; it is a cause and effect relationship, the movement from implicit to explicit. It is only in the mental world that cause can be separated from effect, otherwise they are inseparable. Nature uses this principle, and simple forms such as the square can be seen as building blocks for spiral forms in nature such as sea shells, pine cones and the configuration of seeds in sunflowers.
There are many different mathematical forms that give rise to spiral configurations. The spiral principle in one form or another is powerful because it is the connecting link in the molecular structure of our genetic coding, the DNA. On a larger scale it defines the relationship between stars within galaxies. In motion it is a vortex, which is a vehicle for controlled energy transfer. When applied to a building it symbolises the powerful forces of movement in creation, both involution (descent out of spirit into matter) and evolution (ascent or movement out of matter towards spirit). Spirals can be incorporated into buildings through the ascending arrangement of floor levels, or through the roof structure located around a central tower. The tower can be a square, a pentagon or a hexagon, each having its specific vibrational influence. The shape of the tower becomes the dominant theme of the building, and should be carefully chosen to resonate sympathetically with the vibrational character of the occupants.
The relationship between the side of a pentagon and its diagonal represents the golden proportion or golden mean, phi (f). Its proportionality is described in the equation f = a / b = (a+b) / a, where a is larger than b. If a = f and b = 1, then f = 1 + 1/f . Its value is (e5+1)/2 = 1.6180339... Like p it is a proportion rather than a number. It is considered to represent perfect harmony, and was used by the ancient Egyptians in many of their temples and works of art. It appears frequently in nature, as does the pentagon and the number 5, for example in the arrangement of leaves and petals in many flowers. A rectangular building with its proportions based on f will impart its harmonious influence to its occupants.
The hexagon is associated with many inanimate forms in nature, such as the crystal, the snowflake, and the cells of a honeycomb. Implicit within the hexagon is the six pointed star or hexagram, seen as two equal and opposite equilateral triangles overlapping. Three is said to be the trinity of creative power, and six the number by which the universe is made. The 3-dimensional version is the star tetrahedron or merkaba, two interlocking tetrahedron pyramids representing male and female energy in perfect balance. The vibrational influence of these forms is therefore very powerful, and should be used with care, as they can stretch some people beyond their capacity to respond in comfort.
These are some of the patterns out of which nature evolves and develops from the nuclear seed to the complex and beautiful forms we see in plants and minerals. When these patterns are incorporated into our architecture, they compensate to some extent for the loss of association with natural forms lacking in contemporary artificial environments. Lack of vibrational exchange with nature, being a denial of our biological roots, can lead to dis-ease. Our minds might function well enough, but our senses that give rise to creativity, meaningful communication and relationship become dulled.
My interest in sacred geometry arose out of examining retrospectively the forms I had been intuitively working with for a number of years. Many of my designs contained one or several of these geometric forms in combination. Starting with one as a simple theme, as might a composer of music, I improvised with them and used them as building blocks in much the same way nature does. It seemed they were contained in my subconscious prominently enough for me to recognise their value in my architectural work, and their emergence into my conscious mind was triggered by my intention to design buildings that blended with the environment. Perhaps being a structural engineer, with no formal training as an architect, enabled me to be free of architectural fashion and get down to basics. The point I make is that such an approach, to be successful, must come from the inner senses rather than the mind. The logical mind provides the discipline needed to translate from feeling through to thought, which can then be transcribed into a working format. The format I chose to focus on primarily because of the inherent geometric freedom it offered was pole frame construction.
Pole frame houses have the geometric and structural versatility to incorporate the same principles embedded in natural forms, and are limited only by the designer's skill and imagination. They can be kept simple and standardised, but by their very nature they ask for a high degree of designer input. They can be geometric or organic, and are well suited to use of organic materials such as timber, mud brick and stone. They require very little ground excavation, and so their impact on the environment is able to be kept minimal. They can be built with equal ease on steep slopes or level ground, they can have single or multiple floor levels, they can have perpendicular or angled walls, and they can have almost any shape of roof and ceiling. With provision of good documentation by the designer, they can be constructed without difficulty by owner builders with little or no building experience.
Pole houses can be anything you choose them to be. They can be a low cost weekend retreat, or they can be a luxury mansion. Their cost is related to their size, their shape and the choice of materials and finishes. They are not necessarily a cheap alternative to conventional construction, but they can provide savings in certain situations such as on steep sites. They are one of the best types of construction to use in unstable soil conditions, earthquake prone locations, and cyclone affected areas. They can be conventional in appearance, or they can be a fantasy limited only by the imagination of the designer. Their geometric versatility and inclination towards use of natural materials enables them to incorporate the stimulating life force vibrations that occur in nature. To my mind they represent the ideal medium for the biologically and ecologically sensitive dwelling - the nurturing house.
Your dwelling place can be seen as an expression of who you are in consciousness. By recognising your relationship with the whole, and by incorporating principles that promote harmony and connectedness into your home, you can create a stimulating, supportive and nurturing environment.
Contact me at 21 Stanmore Avenue, Somers, Victoria 3927, Australia
Telephone: +61 3 59313269, Mobile 0401 460079