Saturday, April 17, 2010

Water and renewal_On memories, architecture and biophilia

One of my favorite memories as a young man was the day I went fishing with friends in Walden, VT. We found a small trout stream and went to various places on it looking for the perfect fishing hole. It was a warm sunny summer day. The place I found vividly remains in my memory. The stream was about 10' wide and was covered in a shadowy canopy of trees offering comfort from the hot sun. You could feel the coolness of the running water and hear it burbling over rocks, fallen trees and the like. You could see trout rising to the surface nibbling on flies, rippling the water with concentric waves. After a while I lay down on my belly, setting my rod to the side and just watched and listened in a reverie of sorts. This randomly found place fully engaged my senses and feelings of wonder where at one point the hair on the back of my neck raised up in response.

Years later I have come to understand this experience as a turning point of my life and an awakening of a deep set recognition of the importance of nature and her living systems. There is even a term for it, Biophilia. EO Wilson developed a theory called the Biophilia Hypothesis, which suggests there is strong link between human beings and living systems. That there is an innate preference for things in and of nature by humans. I have come to believe there is a strong connection between harnessing natural forces and creating memorable, lasting architectural experiences. They work hand in hand to strengthen and enhance a sense of place and a lasting connection to those whom experience it. And often, quite sadly, this sense of connection is missing in our daily lives.

In the buildings and places I have been part of designing with our team and our clients we have sought to bring the out of doors indoors, bringing the kinesthetic, sensual experiences of living systems into the everyday shelter of our homes, our worklives, our places of play and community.

This stream side moment long ago was just such an experience of Biophilia. This moment of immersion speaks to the trans formative power of water and the place it has in our lives. We come from water at birth and water is fully part of our lives thereafter. This stream formed an outdoor room providing a deep sense of shelter, it activated my senses of sight, sound and touch and smell. The earthy loam of the soil, moist to the touch combined with the rough hardness of stream side stones and smell of the moss and fragrances of plants created a total kinesthetic experience. Bringing people in touch with their senses as I experienced along the stream offers a a path to follow or a potent example of biophilia to foster memorable and long-lasting experiences of place and space.

EO Wilson's Biophilia Center at Nokuse Plantation offers a nature center experience attempting to harness the theories he's developed over his career creating a physical, transcendent multi-faceted example for generations to come. Here's fourth grader's teacher's testimonial after visiting.

""Without this Center our students would not have had these chances to open their minds and spirits to nature in the most up close and spectacular ways. Just listening to their conversations sparked by these opportunities I can tell you that lives are changed. Our students are passionate about the world in which they live and for which they will, one day, be responsible. It has been a priceless time for them and one that will have far-reaching benefits for many.”

- Anna Hull, Patronis Elementary Fourth Grade Teacher

Need I say more.

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