Plum mountain


Beyond our everyday notion of life is life as it actually is. Contemplative design both investigates and expresses this truth. It is beyond dualistic understanding and beyond labels. The contemplative designer integrates all realms and creates an environment alive with spirit.

Contemplative design arises from contemplative mind, which explores the inter-relationships of all phenomena and the dynamic forces within unity. This approach to design is not new. It has been understood in many cultures and throughout history. Look at the pyramids, the stupas of Asia, the juggerats of the ancients, and the cathedrals of Europe . See how buildings have been built and decorated for centuries, and how garden design, even in radically different styles, can evoke unity and harmony.

Contemplative design includes the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design. But it relates to all disciplines and people, and is informed by music, art, theater, science, engineering, psychology, sociology, and mathematics. A study of contemplative design encompasses all these disciplines.

It is important for contemplative design to present the voice of sanity in the world today. It will be a defining paradigm, a vision, a manifestation of the design structure of harmony and balance. Contemplative design can show the way to create a peaceful environment. There are too few opportunities these days for us to experience the quiet and serenity that contemplative design can create.

If there is to be a future, contemplative design will be responsible for formulating it and giving it life. This is why contemplative design is more than a movement, more than a viewpoint, more than a style. It is one side of a scale; on the other side are the buildings, landscapes, and environments that were and are created with motivations of greed, arrogance, pride, jealousy, fear, anger, aggression, and ignorance. We can measure this struggle by observing the health and prosperity of the contemplative design world. At the moment the other side is way ahead. That makes it all the more important to exert ourselves. Those who have the vision must join together and make their voices heard. Together we can have an effect, producing inspired and well-trained designers to create the future.


Contemplative design has three pillars: the physical; the energetic; and the metaphysical.

The physical pillar consists of a proper understanding of proportion, a correct use of space, and the integration of light and color in ways that are both pleasing to the eye and comfortable to the soul.

Correct proportions consist of understanding how masses relate to each other and to the voids that surround them. Harmony of proportion is exactly like harmony in music. Notes resonate beautifully when there is a precise mathematical relationship between them. Just as almost any ear can identify harmonious pitch, all human eyes and kinesthetic sensibilities experience harmony of proportion in space.

The harmony of proportion relies upon the meticulous use of space, the second part of the physical pillar. It is important to understand space both as the container of the whole, and as the pause between things that allow us to comprehend and appreciate the created things within it.

A proper understanding of space leads to a proper understanding and use of light and color. Color is simply light that has splintered and reflected. Yet each color has energy and meaning that can evoke a certain response in humans. Red, for example, is the color of passion and excitement; white is calm and simplicity; green is activity and play; blue is wisdom and clarity; and gold is ripeness and fulfillment.

The second pillar of contemplative design is the understanding of the experience and use of energy. The earth is an energy system, with magnetic lines and perceivable vortices. So, too, are humans: we breathe, we digest, we circulate blood, we contemplate the external world. The contemplative designer is aware of his or her own system of energy, and works to harmonize it with the energy of the earth. The design is right and complete when the building is situated in a natural stopping place, when the interior passages and the paths in the garden seem natural in their flows, when the seating is placed in a room or in a garden at a place that offers all the calm possible in one place.

The final pillar is metaphysical. To fully engage in contemplative design we must understand the Absolute, its opposite the Manifest, and the Connection that flows between them.

The Absolute is that which is enduring and ultimate, unaffected by the flow of time and by the perception systems of consciousness. It is all that we believe to be true, complete in itself. It is that which has been known and described by mystics of all traditions. The Absolute is often represented in our realm by the shape of a pyramid, or by the obelisk, or by the mountain. Hard surfaces, straight lines, and cool colors (blues, greens), are characteristic of the Absolute.

The Manifest is all that is ephemeral and changing moment by moment; it is the epitome of our ordinary experience. It is seen in a blossom, in the movement of light across a room, in the colors of a garden as they change through the seasons.

The Connection is what binds the Manifest to the Absolute. It is all that binds materials together. It is in the walkways of the garden, in the unseen piping of a building, in the interior design scheme that links the rooms of a house one to another.

In each of the physical, energetic, and metaphysical realms, all elements must be present and balanced. We look for a dynamic balance in each, and among all three. We can compare contemplative design with creating a mandala, a vision of the ideal universe. In contemplative design, we explore the inner mandala of body and mind, and bring it to life in the external world. In both inner and outer worlds, we reach our goal when all the elements of the mandala express this unity and balance. This is beauty beyond concept.

Just as there are three pillars of contemplative design, there are three parts to creating design. They are the view, the process, and the fruition.

The view of contemplative design is whole and encompassing. A contemplative design marries mind and matter, Heaven and Earth, male and female, logic and intuition. It creates the space where everything meets, exhibiting utter and complete individuality and each ultimately without an individual self. Inner and outer are not separate. The mind creates the environment, which influences and creates the next moment of consciousness in the viewer. Part of the view is the motivation to benefit all who enter the environment. Greed, arrogance, fear-these have no part to play in contemplative design.

The process of contemplative design is cooperative and open. It uses the technique of ‘open heart ‘ to find the truth beyond separation and consequently the narrow way into the reality, which is actually happening. The design takes into account the needs and desires of all who will be affected by it.

An indispensable part of the process is ethical behavior. This is not only a list of do’s and don’ts. We are speaking of the natural behaviors and aspirations that derive from continuously experiencing inter-connectedness, wholeness, and serenity. There is a story that Zen master Hakuin would get a bowl of water from the river in the morning. With it he would wash his face and teeth. What he didn’t use of the water he would return to the river. There is no shortage of water in Japan , so Hakuin’s returning the water to the river was an example of this natural respect for resources from which ethical behaviors grow.

The fruition of this kind of view and process is balance, beauty, utility, and inclusiveness. It is also sustainable in the purest sense. Since it derives from the experience of the inseparability and interdependence of all forms, it naturally seeks ways to both minimize environmental impact on resources as well as design for long-term happiness. Contemplative design explores building materials and methods that reduce overall consumption of resources as well as stress to the environment. It also seeks ways to enhance the environment, providing improved habitats for all creatures and sustainable food supplies.

Because contemplative design is based on the truth of how we are and a deep understanding of the forces of delusion and self-deception, its resulting manifestation is clarity. To see, to experience contemplative design, is transformative. The small self of the ego dissolves into simply Being, experiencing the present moment, where beauty is immediately revealed and freed from the material, where space is infinite and time loses meaning. This reveals one’s true Self.