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  • Writer's pictureKaren Aiyana Birch

Physical = Energetic Architecture

A culture that stands for a new earth, must be inspired, creative, expansive, grounded. There must be opportunities for spontaneous meetings, for imaginative weavings and sacred wanderings, silent reflections and creative activities. It is a culture where people have the time and right space to tune in to earth, to feel into the truth of their cells, find the impulses of lifetronic energy and follow them. There must be a diverse range of spaces for a diverse range of people and purpose and inspiration to flow. Each building must be placed and designed with its purpose and interrelation to other parts of community life in mind.

Spaces and layouts create lifestyles and culture. We have all experienced this, during times when it becomes easier or harder to engage on different activities in different spaces for instance. Even countries and regions of countries have different energies.

I once got really into running, going out everyday into the tree-lined country lanes and into the forest. I loved running so much I thought I’d be doing it every day for the rest of my life. I then moved house, where there were no quiet forest lanes anymore and within a couple months, despite my determination, I stopped running.

Likewise, in the previous house where I went running, I could not get into my writing no matter how I tried. The room where I could work was north facing and the whole time I tried to focus on my writing, I was thinking about all the sunlight and openness coming through the other side of the house, which is where I wanted to be. Yet in the house I moved into next, though my running stopped, I could finally focus on my writing, sitting at my desk before the patio doors to the garden which opened into an expansive view of field, trees and sky.

My father shares a story with me about his childhood. There was a crossroads, and on one corner was a barber shop and another corner was a cobblers’. My dad as a young boy, would go to the barbers shop and sit and watch the people coming and going and passing by, have chats with the barber and sometimes help him sweep the floor. When the barber closed for the day, my dad would cross the road and go to the cobblers, and do the same thing there until that shop closed for the day. This was a rich part of my dad’s childhood – and probably in a way, his rites of passage into manhood.

There can be no mistakes or unconsciousness regarding the design of a community’s physical infrastructure if you want to consciously create the culture. Unfortunately, this mistake probably happens all the time. For instance, your intention is to create a culture that has a strong focus on interpersonal flow and consciousness expansion through meditation, whilst your knowledge, resource and skill base lead you to creating lots of independently placed earth ships and dome-like cob buildings, creating a stronger polarity between personal space and interpersonal space, and creating a downwards, grounding flow of energy, rather than expanding consciousness.

Recently a friend and client asked me for some support in the redesign of a main bedroom. The result is spectacular. A loft room, the ceiling was relatively low making it feel dark and grotto-like, and despite the epic view from the room onto sublime green hills, the windows were fairly small and oddly positioned, whereby the only way to see the view was to sit across the bed, or lengthways turning to the right. 

My friend planned to raise the ceiling and I petitioned that we go for maximum light and view by creating windows on every outer wall that spanned nearly the length of each wall. In the process everything of course had to be removed from the room, and in respect to the intention of the room as being a sacred space of inspiration, joy and purpose, very little was added back, except what would become a small altar, a pile of purpose-related books, a desk, and - an excellent idea from my friend - a hammock chair for dreaming, imagining, and thinking!

Although always full of sacred items, and used as a space for either sleep or meditation, after the physical changes and intentions of the room were transformed, the energy of the space became crystalline, with a portal-like high vibrational centre of light in the centre: the exact potential the room had always wanted for itself!! Unfortunately the rest of the house pales in comparison and now needs to reburbished and realigned also!!!!

Where we place and position things creates and shapes the cultural life that inhabits it. It could be as simple as placing some benches outside the carpentry for passers by to pop by, take a seat and have a chat about what the carpenters are making next, or having raised flower and vegetable beds to create more interaction between people and children and the plants.

It all depends on what you want to create, and what your vision for the community is. For instance, Tamera ecovillage in Portugal has a strong focus on intimacy, tantra, connection between people, and so there are plenty of spaces for people or to use where they can spontaneously be in privacy. Lilleoru eco-community in Estonia has within the Flower of Life garden several sacred spaces for different purposes of meditation, ceremony and reflection. Both of these examples have been designed consciously for the culture they are facilitating.

Now let’s take a different example. In the heart of Costa Rica, Rancho Margot, situated near the edge of the beautiful lake Arenal, was built within a steep valley. It has a very impressive ecological infrastructure, and a rich learning environment for the steady flow of volunteers passing through there. There are rich gardens to wander through, but no spaces for individuals to sit and be, or for people to meet and interact. The physical layout of the space lends itself to work and purposefulness, but not community life or connection.

There are two spaces for yoga or workshops, which have been constructed very well, yet there was an absence of energy in these places when I visited, which I intuited was due to an absence of community culture and the relationship between physical infrastructure and natural environment. There are lush gardens and well maintained pathways, but there is a lot of vertical growth and not much sense of space, which creates an energetic block in moving from one space to another, even though there is a path through. The main restaurant and meeting place was under shade to protect from the intense sun – rightfully, yet being at the trough of the valley without any sense of space or air flow, meant that the space did not feel like a place you’d want to hang out in.

In contrast, nearby is Essence Arenal, situated on a hill, where people can expand their minds looking out over the lake and volcano. Not every eco-community, or any kind of community can choose such a luxurious vista, but even in a piece of land that occupies a valley and hillside there are options for creating spaces further up the hill or creating more opening, light and airflow.

At Essence Arenal, there was a huge gap, energetically and physically between the farm and the hostel business. I visited there twice and the first time I didn’t even make it to the organic farm side of the property because there was no sense of really being invited to, and the bridge I had to cross down and up a very steep road and passing a small but barky and bitey dog was not inviting either. But the second time I made it, and was amazed. The extensive gardens and food forest were the most beautiful I have ever seen. It all gave the impression that the owners did not want to encourage visitors to come here, and were not interested in creating a sense of community in the volunteers that lived here, but they certainly knew how to create paradise on that land. I was sad to leave it.

Climate naturally plays a big role in culture. Look at the difference in culture between hot and cooler countries! In warmer climates people want to be outside – with the option of cooler inside spaces for when it is too hot - but building a large closed walled hall containing lots of tables is pointless, as people will not want to feel trapped inside.

At Hacienda Cristoforo, an urban eco-community and hostel with a school in Tenerife, no one was ever sitting at the tables inside the kitchen. Whereas at the Yoga Mandala Retreat, which is also a little eco-community in the Sacred Valley, Peru, on the other hand there was a communal kitchen area which had a roof, but was open at the sides and front, so people would hang out there to look at the view, read, socialise, eat. This is also more friendly and inviting, as in a closed room, people feel like they have to be more committed to enter and do something, whereas with it being open, people can just wander along and see how the energy feels, maybe sit for ten minutes then leave again.

What Cristoforo also didn’t have was anywhere to go to be more alone and just with nature – being in a built up area. Yet still, a small forest of some description could have been created on the edge of the property so that people could wander into that sanctuary to meditate or connect with nature. This for me is a priority, even where the village is in the middle of a city.

In warmer climate villages, there can be a greater flow of inside-outside spaces. In the Venus abode at Cristoforo, the bathroom and kitchen was outside, and although I hoped Tao would have those spaces inside, once in Tao, I missed being forced outside. The landscape and proximity also meant that in Tao, I felt more cut off from the hacienda, whereas even though we had our own private area behind walls in Venus, being outside, and close to a lot of coming and going, gave the greater sense of being a part of the hacienda. The outside areas of Tao were of course idyllic, and the doors in nearly every room provided the sense of staying connected to outside.

As having an outside space that is partly connecting to outside the house, but also kept private at the same time, is important, courtyards are an interesting option (where the land offers itself to it – otherwise terraces like at Cristoforo are ideal). With a courtyard, you could have two (or more like at Cristoforo) houses co-joined. Two families can then live side by side, or the adjoining property can be used by the village for guest accommodation.

It may work better for people to have their own individual vegetable gardens or a village garden depending on size and type of village. Cadrg eco-village near Tolmin in Slovenia is a traditional village, with many of the houses having their own vegetables, as well as there being bigger fields etc.

Houses should also be built according to the inhabitants or climates needs, for instance, I like to go to bed early and wake early, so a design that works here is to have lot of windows etc that let the light in in the morning, and weak artificial light in the evenings to encourage the sense of it being time to sleep. An example of this is at the Tao house in Hacienda Cristoforo. The cave-like bedroom also cultivates this.

What Cristoforo excelled at in a way I have not seen before, except perhaps with the Flower of Life Garden at Lillerou, is the spirit or energy of the place. There was tangible spirit, presence, love in every placement of stone, every nook and cranny of the entire village. It has clearly been built with pure clove and conscious intention, and this radiated throughout the entire place.

This spirit of place, the energetic soup, is a key factor that many people overlook, in exactly the same way that they overlook it in their own lives and energy fields. As we touched upon in the Four Wind Vision, it is the energy of the place that will convey a sense of paradise; no amount of expensive infrastructure can fake this.


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