“Ko au te whenua, te whenua ko au...
I am the land and the land is me”
Working with CSA to bring your vision into existence as a living project requires architectural and co-creative partnership skills that embrace a new way of working. A key part of this is working with nature to inspire and inform our design to be regenerative, resilient and beautiful.
To do this, we work with you to build ‘living’ projects, following the natural stages of life from conception to gestation, emergence, existence/experience, through to renewal or return to earth.
By creating a living project, the project integrates and positively contributes within a larger living environment.
“The sustainability of a living system is tied directly to its beneficial integration into a larger system. The smaller system contributes to the larger system’s development and, in turn, receives nourishment for its own”.
- A Framework for Evolving Sustainability. Regenesis Group
Our integrative approach bridges indigenous wisdom with leading science, particularly in Biomimicry. We have woven together the frameworks and principles of different practices and embedded these as the five foundations within our practice.
These foundations are Regenerative Practice, Biomimicry, Living Futures - in particular the Living Building Challenge, Sacred Form and Tikanga Maori.
What is interesting are the many overlapping and connected practices that form part of each foundation. This allows each of the five foundation frameworks to integrate seamlessly.
Describe below is a snapshot of each of the framework foundations that we base our work on, and which informs our process at CSA.
Regenesis Group, leaders in Regenerative practice, state that there are five progressive levels of partnership when participating with living systems. The five levels are:
Conventional – meeting minimum standards for social and environmental protection
Doing less harm – a partnership based on arresting disorder and minimizing negative footprints
Sustainable – a life-sustaining partnership. Sustaining dynamic balance and healthy functioning.
Restorative – A life-enhancing partnership. Maximising positive handprints and doing good.
Regenerative – A co-evolving partnership. Catalysing mutually-beneficial transformations.
It is our intent at CSA that we work within the regenerative level of partnership.
A living project is a living system which is part of a nested system. In simple terms, there is an inter-connectedness of people connected to the project, the project to place, its immediate context outside of the defined boundaries and the greater whole. To access the full potential of people and place is when these systems are understood and are mutually reinforcing each other. Within our process, prior to designing or even completing the brief, we begin to ask questions such as, what is your own potential within this place, what inspirational goals do we seek to realise, and how we can collectively partner with the nested systems in which we belong? After the building of this project, can this project continue an ongoing evolution with itself and the surrounding community? How do we create a project that is healthy and resilient?
At the conceptual stage, taking a regenerative practice framework we start by looking at stories of place, and the potential of both the people and place. We look at how the local people describe their place and what they love about their place and the natural boundaries that define place.
Below is a summary taken from the ‘Biomimicry Resource Handbook’
Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of nature. The practice of biomimicry which helps distinguish itself from other practices embodies three interconnected elements, being the ‘ethos’, ‘(re)connect’ and ‘emulate’. Ethos represents our respect for, responsibility to and gratitude to all of life. All decisions and processes come back to this to ensure that we are not harming life. The ‘(re)connect’ element is a practice and way of thinking that strengthens our relationship with the rest of nature. The ‘emulate’ element brings the principles, patterns, strategies and functions found in nature to inform design and material development. To help shift our way of thinking and seeing the world, biomimicry adopts six different lenses. The operating conditions is one lens which seeks us to reflect on how each of the five elements define the operation conditions of the place: earth (soil, geology), water, fire (could be considered sunlight as well as actual fire), wind, and space – eg dense to more open. The ecology lens looks at the ecological system of place, whether it be for instance a forest or farm, or an ecotone where two ecosytems meet.
A functions lens looks at the challenges of our time, one being climate change – and asks which natural models near our place offer solutions to those identified functional needs? And how? Another lens is the naturalist lens, by mimicking nature we can get closer to natural beauty. What are some instances of beauty in the natural world around place that stand out? And why has it been made that way? The second to last lens is the Pattern seeking lens – taking the time to observe patterns in nature and why they exist. And finally, the Life’s Principles Lens which understands that nature runs on feedback loops that include a signal, an antenna, and a response. Signals can be in the form of colour, a sound, a motion or other.
Key to this is that life’s principles are design lessons from nature, where life has evolved a set of strategies that have sustained it over 3.8 billion years. Life’s Principles represent these overarching patterns found amongst the species surviving and thriving on Earth. By learning from these life principles, we can model innovative strategies, measure our design against these benchmarks and be guided by nature using these principles as our aspirational ideals. Biomimicry understands that life creates conditions conducive to life. And the Life’s principles that support this, is the ability to adapt to changing condition, being locally attuned and responsive, using life-friendly chemistry, being resource efficient – both in material and energy, integrating development with growth and having the ability to evolve to survive.
Living Building Challenge
We work with Living Building Framework to help create our projects and adopt the 20 principles of Living Building. The International Living Futures Institute (ILFI) helps organisations like ours be “socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative”. One initiative that helps us realise this, is the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings. The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a green building certification programme and sustainable design framework that uses the metaphor of a flower as is framework.
Why a flower? Because in nature there is no such thing as rubbish or waste…everything that is made has at least one reason, and is often beautiful as well. And when something comes to the end of its life rather than take from the environment it gives back… the flower is a perfect example of nature – both simple and profound.…and if our buildings can be as beautiful, efficient and resourceful as a flower than we know we are on track.
The Living Building Challenge flower is made up of seven performance petals. The petals being: place, water, energy, health + happiness, materials, equity and beauty. Within these petals are 20 imperatives which address specific issues through detailed requirements. The LBC designs for the future…where the buildings and its surrounds give more than they take, creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them. The outcome – Living buildings - buildings which are resilient, self-sufficient, beautiful and positively restore the surrounding ecology.
In all our projects, we look at what is the energy behind the project. This energy is the unseen. Part of the process is to acknowledge the unseen. Acknowledging the unseen is done in simple ways that people have found to be both enriching and meaningful. When we acknowledge the unseen, we activate consequence, cause and effect. Being attuned to this we can respond to what arises which ultimately strengthens the alignment of potential purpose.
We take the time to connect to the ‘language of the landscape’. In doing so we look at what is emerging. We work from the premise that we all have a unique vibrational essence and that there are sacred patternings for all creation – what we understand as the blueprint. With this understanding, we observe and uncover the unique vibrational essence, the mauri of the blueprint of place which shapes and informs the intent, design and decisions along the way.
The blueprint is activated when the people and the land come together. Our role is to uncover and interpret this energetic blueprint that has been activated and bring it into form…so that all those that inhabit the place can benefit from the unique vibrational alignment of the purpose of place. Each building carries an energetic blueprint that carries a story.
We work on the smallest detail to the whole, where every aspect is thoughtfully considered – interiors, exterior, materials, lighting, landscaping and colours. Each part is like a note or verse where together they form a coherent and unified song.
When we approach what we do holistically, balance is innate. We work concurrently with the physical and etheric to activate and clear energetic pathways to allow the blueprint to evolve.
The impulse, which is the motivator to create, is an unseen energetic process. The clearer the 'mind pictures' or visualisation of how we are going to actualise the required actions, the more successful will be the outcome. We walk our way through the entire project and visualise each stage of the process from design through to hand-over.
All matter/material is made up of energy. All energy is in motion and has a vibration or resonance. Through intent and right practice this can be structured to vibrate in a way that serves a building's potential. Beauty, colour and the arrangement of form also influences vibration and touches all those who experience it.
Often at the start to the project a place has disharmony or dissonance. One of our roles is to unlock the cause of the disharmony and transmute it into harmony. Through reverence the project is realised in a balanced and holistic way, and through reverence, we work towards wholeness rather than dissonance. Done this way, living architecture is created....places with soul.
Recently Tony Watkins, an urban designer, vernacular architect, marine planner, educator, owner-builder, author, revolutionary, peacenik, environmental advocate and luckily for me, a mentor that helps guide me on my architectural journey, tried to get a motion passed by the New Zealand Institute of Architects. The motion was this:
That architects pledge to embrace the spirit of kaitiakitanga and commit themselves to act in a way that is tika and pono, respecting the mauri of the natural environment and the mana of other architects.
Unfortunately, the motion was not passed. But it opened one very large doorway and allowed me to step through it. I will be forever grateful. Even though a first generation born kiwi I was given the nod to be able to embrace this way of working.
In my work, I have begun to understand that there is a right way of working or right process, which is of this land and also of me, reflecting a Maori proverb:
Ko au te whenua, te whenua ko au….I am the land and the land is me.
Principles and values of Kaitiakitanga, tika and pono, respecting the mauri of the natural environment and the mana of other architects is becoming inherent to the CSA process.
What links all these principles and values is relationship. And more importantly that in our relationships with each other, the land, the waterways and all of life, we act from and with aroha (love). When operating in relationship and with aroha the decisions we make are unlikely to do harm.
On Tony Watkins path towards taha Maori, he had a champion of this practice to guide him, Pa Henare Tate who brought deeper understanding of tika, pono and aroha as foundational principles of living. Pa Tate stated that “tika is about getting the relationships between people, land and spiritual beings right. Pono consist of acting ethically and with integrity. Tika is doing the right thing, pono is doing it the right way”.
At CSA we are taking the time to observe, reflect and consider right relationships and practice in our process. Over time we will show more of how this was of working is becoming embedded in our process of creation.