Karlo Berger
Whole Health Solutions, LLC
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Holistic Design: In Praise of A Pattern Language


I know that “green design” is good for the environment, but could you elaborate on some benefits from a holistic perspective?

Greened Up Granny

Dear Granny,

To answer your question, I turn to the remarkable guide, A Pattern Language (Oxford University Press, 1977), written by Christopher Alexander and his talented team. Although this book is approaching its 30th year, it reads as if it were written today, with its emphasis on design that maximizes appreciation of human life in all its variety and goodness.

The book lists over 250 architectural “patterns” that speak to human needs such as shelter, security, efficiency, wellness, joy, and meaning. The authors combed the earth for examples of what makes for wonderful, livable spaces, and produced these guidelines in a language that everyone can understand. It’s a great book.

So: Here are some patterns that particularly speak to those who want to see more holistic homes and communities:

Pattern #134: Zen View

A pleasing view, the authors write, “is a beautiful thing. One wants to enjoy it and drink it in every day. But the more open it is, the more obvious, the more it shouts, the sooner it will fade”. However, a Zen View, such as the view one might get as one is passing a window along a staircase, between rooms, or in entry ways, offers only a glimpse, and that glimpse can have a much more profound effect. Therefore, where your home has a Zen View, realize its potential. If you can, make what is glimpsed outside beautiful and striking (for example, by planting wildflowers). They add, “If the view must be visible from inside a room, make a special corner of the room which looks onto the view, so that the enjoyment of the view becomes a definite act in its own right.”

Pattern #203: Child Caves

Who doesn’t remember the magical world of our childhood secret spaces? “Children love to be in tiny cave-like places,” write the authors, lovingly. “Therefore: Wherever children play, around the house, in the neighborhood, in schools, make small ‘caves’ for them. Tuck these caves away in natural left over spaces, under stairs, under kitchen counters. Keep the ceiling heights low—2 feet 6 inches to 4 feet—and the entrance tiny.”

Patterns for Real Communities

We have a right to live in communities that engage us in body, mind, and spirit and take us out of our everyday lives and realities. The authors agree. Pattern #63: Dancing in the Street, asks, “Why is that people don’t dance in the streets today?,” and calls for public squares with covered bandstands where people can come dance for free. Pattern #58: Carnival, points out that “a city needs its dreams,” and asks communities to “set aside some part of the town as a carnival—mad sideshows, tournaments, acts…which allow people to reveal their madness”. And Pattern #94: Sleeping in Public, rightly points out that “It is a mark of success in a park, public lobby, or porch, when people can come there and fall asleep.”

I say, there’s plenty of space in your town park for all of this. I can envision it now: carnival tents, dance festivals, people snoozing away…And let’s add a healing space too, for morning t’ai chi, people giving and receiving energy healing, for laughter yoga…See you there!

First published in Boston Natural Awakenings July 2006 "Ask Karlo" column.

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