The Architecture of Life: 2009

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

Monday, November 30, 2009

Placebo Effect - Ancient Pain Reliever

For decades, scientists have tried to understand the mysterious power of what is called the "placebo effect."

A wide variety of studies have found when patients suffering from a wide variety of mental and physical disorders improve after being given placebos they believe are powerful and effective drugs.

If they truly believe - even when in reality the "drug" they are given is a mere sugar pill - they regularly report a significant reduction in symptoms.

I have suggested in the past that placebo studies prove how powerfully we are influenced - not just emotionally but physiologically - by how we percieve the world around us.

In my design practice - where I employ psychological techniques to help my clients achieve the emotional experience they desire in their homes - I have long noticed that my clients' emotional experience of their home environment is highly related to their views of reality.

Special artifacts and architectural conditions in their homes can have powerful and long-lasting psychological effects.

I have seen such conditions reduce - or stimulate - anxiety many times.
A new study published by Cell Press in the August 27th issue of the journal Neuron, provides fascinating insight into how and why simply expecting a treatment to reduce pain can produce the actual physical effect.

The placebo effect - it seems to me - offers a clue that points to how we might create therapeutic environments.

I have suggested that the placebo effect should be harnessed as a therapy - and pointed to the fact that believers in a wide variety of ancient "faith" systems also claim similar effects - as have modern scientists who study mind/body medicine.

This new study's finding is that the "placebo effect" involves pain control pathways in the human brainstem, the part of the brain that is continuous with the spinal cord.

In other words, it impacts an ancient part of our brain which we share with many other species.

So it may turn out that "having a positive attitude" proved to be adaptive long before human beings evolved.

"Placebo analgesia" if a phrase that refers to an individual's relief from pain following administration of a chemically inert substance (often a sugar pill) and is due to a person's belief that a potent pain medication was administered instead.

It is a direct test of the power of belief to impact what have previously been seen as chemical and physiological disorders. If those conditions are as "physical" as they appear - why are disorders as extreme as schizophrenia and chronic pain impacted by the mere perception of the patient?

Endogenous opioids, which are naturally produced by the brain in small amounts and play a key role in the relief of pain and anxiety, have been implicated in placebo analgesia.

"It has been hypothesized that placebo analgesia also recruits the opioidergic descending pain control system, which inhibits pain processing in the spinal cord and, therefore, subsequently reduces pain-related responses in the brain, leading to a decreased pain experience," explains lead study author Falk Eippert from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.

Eippert and colleagues observed that, under placebo, cortical areas interacted with brain stem structures implicated in pain control and that these interactions were dependent on endogenous opioids and were related to the strength of experienced placebo effects.

So there you have it. Another powerful example that the percieve hard boundaries we assume exist between our bodies, our minds and our environment are much "fuzzier" than we might think.

So not just your home is in your head - so is your pain - and sometimes all we have to do to powerfully impact those experiences is to actually believe we can.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Republican'ts and Health Care

In a brilliantly crafted speech, President Barack Obama put our country's health care crisis center stage last night before a joint session of Congress.

It was a landmark speech filled with straight talk and good ideas. For those who missed it, it can be viewed online with an attached transcript here.

Obama presented a balanced plan built from ideas of both parties - and once again displayed a clear determination to face our nation's out-of-control health care system. With clarity and rhetorical brilliance, he placed the entire circumstance in perspective so American citizens could easily understand the situation we face. He called for action.

As he said it, "The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we much bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can do what we were sent here to do."

He fought back against the organized campaign by the Republican't party, conservative activists and talk show hosts to use lies and misinformation to avoid the critical issue we all face, calling them "cynical and irresponsible".

As an independent not aligned with either party, and a small business man paying over almost $1,200 a month for health care for my wife and myself, I would like to add my small voice to his.

I am sick to death of the politics of deception. I am well past the point of being offended by the condescending and patently deceptive tactics of the far right.

I believe lying to the American people about important issues facing the nation is not just deceptive - but flat out unpatriotic and unAmerican. It smells of McCarthyism - and its underbelly is filled with a tint of racism.

I am sick to death of those who create problems where they do not exist - and stoke the anxiety of the ignorant in order to stir anger and uproar that keeps progress from being made on issues that are damaging the lives of American citizens every day.

These are plenty of Republicans who are legitimately concerned for our nation and doing their best to have a fair debate about how to accomplish reform in a vast and broken system.

But there is another group on the right that does not have our nation's interest at heart. There is another dogmatic and cynical group willing to sell our country down the river by any means necessary.

I would like to address these demagogues of the right and give them a new name.

There are Republicans - and there are Republican'ts.

Republicans have a can do spirit. Republican'ts have a "can't do" cynicism.

Republicans have our country's best interests at heart. Republican'ts don't care about our country. They only care about the minority that share their views - which very often includes racists, the ignorant and powerful economic interests who are exploiting our citizens. Republican'ts disguise economic self interest and fear mongering as patriotism and faith.

Here is what I would like to say to the Republican'ts.

Quit talking to Americans as though we are fools.

Stop trying to frighten us with lies.

Try to put the interests of our nation above your own negative view of reality. Your fear of people different than you is not a platform for public policy that will sweep the nation. It is simply sad and horrifically unworkable.

"No we can't" is not a useful counter balance to "Yes we can."

And to fair minded, patriotic Republicans who fail to call out the Republican'ts who are dividing us and blocking our nation's progress - I say get a spine.

Keeping your seat is not as important as keeping your integrity and the integrity of your party. Your grand old party will pay the consequences if you continue to cater to an ignorant and unreasonable fringe group.

Our President has called down members of his own party on the far left - even those who share his own views of policy - when they use similar tactics to those of the Republican'ts.

Please do the same. Stop the lying. Stop the deception. Focus on the real issues and get the job done for America.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sustainably Sufficient - Verse Three

Sustainably Sufficient begins here.

Declaring Yourself Sufficient

So what can must we do in the face of these seemingly overwhelming problems? What is the first step towards creating a new balance, a new world that works for everyone?

I suggest the gateway is simply declaring our selves sufficient to the task.

If I am sufficient, I can solve my own problems. If you are sufficient, I have a partner. If our lives are sufficient, we won’t need more than we can use.

If nations declare themselves sufficient, they can work together effectively for the benefit of their citizens and the world at large.

Scarcity and need - like learning to fly - are real problems to be solved. But those problems are completely distinct from the “view” of insufficiency most of us accept as true.

The two are only related in our minds – and echoed in our words.

Scarcity as a “view of reality” is a myth – not unlike the myth Columbus exposed when he discovered the Americas. To Europeans of that time, he didn’t simply discover the New World. He essentially created it, because it did not exist in the reality that existed for them before his voyage.

Today, we have the opportunity to create another “new world,” simply by understanding what becomes possible when human beings cooperate in a profound way.

The only thing holding us back is that we are live in an old pretense – one that our comparative wealth and power have allowed us to maintain well past the time it was useful.

Mindless consumption does not create happiness. Resources are not endless. Domination and control are not the secret to political stability. Those are tired ideas from the past and leading us - if not to destruction – then at least to a much sadder and less livable world for our children.

But there is also great hope that the threat we face will spur us to action. Our genius for innovation and cooperation appear again and again when our survival is threatened.

Almost always - in the end - we overcome the most daunting of challenges.

We have proven we can triumph over our past. Now, we know the world is not flat, that gravity can be overcome, that our inability to breathe under water does not have to limit our exploration of the oceans. But there was a time when all were universally seen as impossible.

The possibility of flight had to become real in the minds of man before the reality could follow. The same is true about the myth of scarcity. Until we can see that it is possible for the things we view as scarce to be abundant – we cannot address the real problems that exist.

So how does one create that new possibility?

It starts with a personal declaration. You don’t need to know how to generate something new to make it happen. You don’t even have to believe it is true.

You simply commit yourself to a world in which that possibility can emerge – open your mouth and begin to speak.

All the social movements of our time began as conversations. The civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement; all arose because a small group of people raised their voices to create the possibility of a better life and a better world.

Every religion, political movement or enlightenment began the same way – when people experiencing an imbalance in their lives began to seek a more equitable and inspiring way to view reality.

I invite you to stand for the possibility that you are sufficient and whole just as you are. I encourage you to commit yourself to a world where food and money and love and cooperation and leadership and innovation are abundant – a world where there is enough of everything for everyone.

The first step in becoming sustainably sufficient is to step beyond your past and create a new balance in your own life, a new possibility, a new world you are creating with your words.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

For more on the subject of creating sufficiency, join us at the Global Sufficiency Network.

Sustainably Sufficient - Verse Two

Scarcity, Natural Selection and Entropy

Scarcity - like gravity - is a real problem faced by all living things, not just a bad attitude. Our bodies have a limited ability to store energy. If we don’t find enough food or water, we die.

If we don’t escape predators, we die. If we use more energy than we gain in those efforts, we fail to survive. This is true for individuals, families, societies and ecosystems – regardless of species.

Every living thing passionately seeks to survive and reproduce. As a result of that relentless quest, our nervous systems have evolved a genius for assessing risk.

Even a virus can balance the value of seeking nutrients in its environment against the risk of using too much energy in that pursuit. It weighs its need to escape toxins and predators that might harm it against the cost of the energy it takes to avoid them.

After all, the world is a very dangerous place. Without exception, organisms that can’t master that skill go extinct – so every species that survives on our planet today is born with that ability.

This eons old dynamic lives at the intersection of two interdependent natural processes well known to science. The first is known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or entropy.

Many scientists consider entropy the most universal law of nature. The Second Law states that all energy and mass in the universe is running down – or said more accurately – seeking a lower and more stable state of activity.

Living things are what is called “negentropic”. Life is the only known phenomena in the universe that actively works against entropy.

Time has turned mountains to sand and oceans to deserts. Nothing of the physical world we see today existed when life began, yet living things survive.

The second universal process is natural selection. Through consumption and reproduction, organisms push copies of themselves – sometimes with variation - into the future.

You and I consume plants and other animals in order to get the energy we need to survive, converting their bodies into a more “stable” form we call sewage. We are born and inevitably die, but if we survive long enough to pass our DNA on to the next generation, the essence of our form survives.

What this means is that living things have a natural genius for weighing the benefits of an action against its risks. Human beings intuitively know when a relationship, or our internal wellbeing, or an environment is out of balance.

Though we may not be consciously aware of the interdependent nature of our lives – we sense it naturally. We feel uneasy and anxious when we sense things lack equilibrium.

We have evolved this “sixth sense” because over the millions of years during which our kind evolved we have survived the collapse of that balance many times.

When nature at all levels reaches a certain level of instability, it suffers a catastrophic collapse until it finds a new, more stable state.

We know when too many predators die in an eco-system; food species overpopulate, consume the available resources, then suffer a catastrophic die off. We know when we plant the same crop over and over we deplete the soils and our yields decline.

We know when a marriage or partnership loses its balance, peace and love are lost. We know when nations fail to find stability, war erupts.

We know it from simple every day experiences. We know every time we boil water, every time the minor irritations of life burst into anger, every time a flirty smile on a pretty face inspires a fit of passion.

Right now our world is dangerously close to precipitous collapse in a variety of realms. More and more of us feel an uneasy sense of impending danger.

We know we are overpopulating the planet at an alarming rate. We know we are consuming our available resources faster than we can replace them.

We know our fossil fuel based existence is not sustainable. We are in a race to develop antibiotics to kill disease micro-organisms faster than they can evolve into new and potentially more virulent strains.

Our built environment is expanding in the face of that population pressure to the point that we are altering the temperature of the planet, polluting our oceans, depleting our water supply, destroying the diverse web of species that maintain the balance of natural systems.

We know this and it haunts us.

We know that the forces that separate us – nationalism, tribalism, racial and religious differences, and economic inequities – are at war with new and emerging social movements that can bring us together.

We know this. We feel powerless and afraid.

We feel insufficient

Continue to Sustainably Sufficient - Verse Three

Sustainably Sufficient - Verse One

Exposing the Myth of Scarcity

Before we can create a sustainable, green and just global economy – we must first overcome an entrenched view of reality that persists in each of us.

True change is not prescribed by political leaders. It emerges from a grassroots awakening among individuals.

It is not enough to change policies and pass new laws. Every historical shift that has ever occurred in human society began first with a small group of people who were able to see the possibility of a deeper and more powerful view of life.

Human beings like to make sense of the world. It helps us feel in control of an overwhelmingly complex and uncertain existence to have strong opinions about what is real. We take these views of reality – real and imagined - for granted in our day to day lives.

Our beliefs originate from all kinds of sources - our cultural background, our upbringing, opinions we hear on TV or in our social group and to be frank, from entirely irrational sources in own personal psychological makeup.

The most reliable way we have to verity those views is by using the scientific method to understand nature. In that pursuit – scientists have uncovered general laws that determine what is possible for us.

Many of these laws are easy to understand. We know we can’t fly like the birds because our bodies aren’t built to defy the laws of gravity. We know can’t breathe underwater because we don’t have gills like fish.

We accept these facts because for most of human history, everyone who tried to fly or breathe water fell to their deaths or drowned. But “common sense” is not always a reliable measure of reality.

Through science, we can distinguish fact from fiction. But even science is a child of change. Time after time, the prevailing views of the scientific community have turned out to be utterly false.

And to be frank, most people don’t verify their “views of reality” through the filter of current science. Not only are new discoveries always revising the views of scientists – but we inherit all kinds of strange notions from our social environment that have great power in our minds.

All sorts of false views – untrue as a matter of fact - persist all over the planet. Some could be seen as beneficial. Others are dangerous to our wellbeing and limit our ability to create more workable and fulfilling lives.

Consider how damaging the views of racism, tribalism, sexism, predatory capitalism and out of control consumerism are to our planet and the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Similarly, most of us live as though “insufficiency” is an undeniable natural law. If you listen to the news, your neighbors or your internal dialogue, you can hear it everywhere.

There’s not enough money, not enough food, not enough peace, not enough freedom, not enough leadership, not enough vision, not enough integrity, compassion or forgiveness.

That is what the outside world looks like to most of us. We see the most valuable things in life as scarce and hard to find.

Scarcity as a point of view is also integral to how we see ourselves.

We aren’t rich enough, powerful enough, kind enough, attractive enough, effective enough or happy enough.

We are driven more by what we lack than what we have. We see the glass half empty. We focus more on what we are not than what we are.

Commonly held views become the accepted reality of a time. Enough people see a flat horizon in their own neighborhoods and soon the whole planet becomes flat. The “world is flat” view is passed down through the generations and becomes an unquestioned dogma in our shared reality.

Then, a miracle occurs. Some curious soul comes along and questions that prevailing view. New facts of nature are discovered that prove the old belief was a myth. The majority notions slowly fall by the wayside, often with a lot of “sound and fury.”

The old order is disrupted. A new balance is eventually restored. In a nutshell, that’s the history of all humanity and our accumulated knowledge.

Progress is directly related to our ability to distinguish fact from fiction in our communal views of reality.

Nothing has really changed in that process down through history – but almost everything has changed in the daily lives of people.

We found ways to fly to the moon and explore the darkest chasms of the oceans. Over and over, we have overcome false “realities” previously considered indisputable.

We have done that not by denying nature, but by learning more about it and creating new possibilities in the space of those discoveries. Despite our many frailties, human beings are very practiced at turning the impossible into the possible.

Go to Sustainably Sufficient - Verse Two

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Furniture World

Furniture World Magazine published an article last August covering Sam Gosling and his book - Snoop, What Your Stuff Says About You - which also referred to Truehome and my architecture firm.

Here's what they had to say:

Dr. Gosling emphasizes, 'What we can learn from how people shake hands or how they decorate their desks serves as a working hypothesis into the customer’s psyche.'"

"One person who has taken looking into his customer’s psyche seriously is Chris Travis.

"Mr. Travis runs Sentient Architecture, a firm that conducts in depth interviews that try to get to the heart of how his clients perceive the space they want him to design.

"His system matches psychological needs to physical spaces and the feelings they evoke.

"His architectural plans don’t have labels such as bedroom, dining room or living room. His labels denote the psychological space…the feeling each room evokes.

"This might be a great idea for your next presentation! “'We define 'home' as an ontological state – a state of being,’ says Travis on his blog - Architecture of Life. 'Being at home is the experience of living in a physical and psychological place that inspires and empowers a sustainable and fulfilling experience of life.”

Our thanks to Furniture World for spreading the word!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Information Wasteland

Is anyone out there as fed up as I am with the state of what is laughingly called "news" in broadcast media these days?

Is the public really so stupid that the majority of us really want to digest this biased, commercialized, over sensationalized pablum?

It's an information wasteland - and it seems to me people ought to be in rebellion.

My view is that economic incentives need to exist to stimulate deeper and more thoughtful coverage.

There's a market for it. PBS - though a bit fuddy duddy in it presentation - actually presents news in a deeper context and gets an audience. But where is a "hip" version of that outside of a few weekend news and analysis shows.

There is nothing for an intelligent audience on the 24 hour news channels - only cranks, partisans and feel good nonsense

The scary thing is that traditional sources for quality reporting and commentary about real issues like policy, culture and geopolitics are newspapers - and that industry is in disarray and failing.

The Internet and other media are disrupting the print business model and that is likely to continue. Though blogs and other new models certainly have their place - most don't have the resources and expertise of professional journalists.

There is no lack of people who can do a good job of providing information - just the unemployed professional journalists these days would be sufficient to the task.

The problem is in the marketplace and the lowest common denominator ethic that dominates the programming of the major networks. Money drives the bias and trivial coverage.

Broadcast news is about stimulating anxiety, promoting shallow positional thinking - the kind of news that ends up in National Inquirer.

It works as a business model...maybe because it's mind-numbing? Is that the secret? Is that why people watch TV with the automaticity of rats whose brains are wired to be overstimulated?

My guess is that many of the people who own and run broadcast media are up to exactly that. And even when they aren't, they're forced to play the same game because they will be unable to compete if they don't. Ethical news organizations lose market share and advertisers - so they adapt and we all lose.

Most of us are so overwhelmed by the insane amount of information out there we don't really care about what is going on - only about the status of our own dogmatic positions in the marketplace of ideas.

Stoking anxiety has become an art form both in the media and in politics - and it works. Hell, it is the better part of the Republican't political strategy. Republican political operatives aren't stupid. In fact, they always seem to put the Democrats back on their heels with the technique.

Note the disinformation spread about the curent health care debate. Whose winning? I would say the disinformation is likely to come out on top with the mob - if not with the intelligensia.

Bill Maher just got crucified by saying publicly "this is such a stupid country." Tough words, but show me the behavior that makes it a false statement.

The level of education of the average American is no where near the top of the world anymore. We really are less informed and less educated that people in many other countries and the trend is increasing not decreasing.

That fact is not the result of a poor system of education. American universities are still the best in the world. It is because the media are now an omnipresent source of sound bite style information without context - and every day it is training us all to think such information has value.

We are being systemically trained to react - not the think. So new business models need to be created around quality information set in an intelligent context - but who has the power or the determination to do it?

We can complain all we want but nothing will change until enough of us get fed up that we come up with a really profitable way to target what has to be a growing market of people who are fed up.

Millions of us can see the doddering old fake behind the curtain of the media Wizards of Oz - but we don't know what to do about it.

I've been on this high horse a long time. But short term - like everyone else - all I can do is complain.

Like most of the coverage on TV - my dream of meaningful broadcast media remains both a pretense and a fantasy.

In the meantime - Rome burns.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Living the Good Life

I found this article on the Internet and decided to reprint it because what people are really looking for when they change their living space is a better experience of life. This article was originally published in Medicine & Health.

Unfortunately for us, there is no formula for fulfillment or guide to life satisfaction; however, humans have turned to philosophy, religion and science time and again for answers to our existential questions.
We may have come a long way since Confucius and Plato, and science continues to piece together some of the answers, but what have we learned so far?

Psychologists Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson from the University of Michigan turned to their own field to ask, "What is a good life and how can we achieve and sustain it?"
In their article recently published in Perspectives in , a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the authors explored the many ways has contributed to, and continues to research, the science of living well.

So far we have learned from psychology that a good life includes experiencing more positive than , feeling like your life has been lived well, continually using your talents and strengths, having close interpersonal relationships, being engaged at work and other activities, being a part of a social community, perceiving that life has a meaning, and feeling healthy and safe.
And while these conclusions may seem like common sense, we as humans fall short on knowing just how to obtain and maintain these qualities.

Psychology still has a ways to go until the perfect formula for a good life is found. As Park and Peterson put it, "At present, psychology knows more about people's problems and how to solve them than it does about what it means to live well and how to encourage and maintain such a life."
They suggest researchers across all disciplines of psychology come together and collaborate on their findings, perhaps pulling together a more complete picture of the human experience.

"In speaking about the psychological good life, we are fond of saying that other people matter," the authors concluded, "It appears that other people matter in science as well."

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Nature of Home - II

Return to Nature of Home - I

If you want to find out what human beings really care about, follow the money.

Here are some eye opening statistics that will give you a sense of how profoundly important "home" is to those of us who live in the United States.

According to Realty Times, residential real estate in America peaked out in value in 2005 at about $23.5 trillion dollars. Single family homes are by far the biggest part of the pie, estimated at more than $11 trillion.

To put that in perspective, the market value of all New York Stock Exchange listed stocks at that time was about $11 trillion. The total value of all stocks traded made it to almost $16 trillion. $6.9 trillion in assets were held by commercial banks and the country's annual economic output was about $10 trillion.

Since then, in the recent collapse of real estate values, some estimate close to $5 trillion in value has been lost - equivalent to almost half the value of all public company's listed by the NYSE.

The U.S. Dept. of Energy estimated in 2007 that residential buildings consumed 22% of all energy used in America.

For most of us, buying a home is the single biggest investment of our lives. Roughly forty-four per cent of ALL wealth in the United States exists in the form of residential real estate.

Here is another interesting fact. The top source of consumer complaints by industry is - guess what - home improvement.

Home improvement is also the biggest highly fragmented market in the American economy. Can you think of a single name brand provider? You know suppliers and manufacturers like Home Depot, Sears and Pella - but can you think of a single branded remodeling contractor or custom home builder?

Unlike the factory style construction process used by large production home builders, most remodeling and high end custom homes are done by small local builders.

So why is that? Why hasn't some huge national builder created a franchise in this massive industry. After all, residential construction is a bigger market than domestic oil and mining combined!

Where is the home improvement McDonalds or Best Buy?

The reasons are complex and varied - just like the projects involved - but two of the biggest ones are that consumers don't know how to deal with money effectively. And professionals don't know how to deal with clients that don't know what they want - but think they do.

I have been working with clients for over thirty years in these industries and I have come to accept the fact that when it comes to an emotional project like a home, clients lose their minds!

Stable marriages topple like palm trees in the hurricane of home improvement. Pleasant, cooperative homemakers turn into Machiavellian harpies, combating husbands who vow to fight to the death on the ramparts of their own financial Alamos.

Practical, down-to-earth CPA’s suddenly realize they are the reincarnation of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Customers lie about their budgets, trying to bargain with the designer as though they were buying their house from a Tijuana sombrero salesman.

Perfectly reasonable people, who would never dream of telling their doctor how to treat a disease or their lawyer how to draft their will, think nothing of telling a professional architect how to design their home.

When people begin the process of designing a new home, they forget the basic laws of economics.

I long ago discovered that when customers who were over budget came to my office to “trim the fat,” they were actually going to add a Jacuzzi, upgrade the ceramic tile, change the plastic laminate counter tops to granite...and then expect the price to drop.

The simple fact is that the only people who can effectively manage their money when it comes to such projects are those who simply don't have the money to spend.

Every client I have wants more home than they want to pay for - and has a hard time accepting that the arbitrary budget they made up had nothing to do with the actual cost of construction.

In our architecture firm, we call this the "budget VS desire" issue. As far as I can tell it is universal - a fact of human nature. It's like we are some kind of automatic robots driven by our impulses when it comes to home related projects. (Exactly like that, as a matter of fact.)

So when almost everyone involved has a problem dealing with money in an industry that big, that emotional and that high priority - you have a mess.

That's why there are no large franchises in the remodeling services business. It is very hard to make money when all your clients expect you to read their minds - then to design and build a home for a number they made up out of thin air.

No one in architecture or construction has ever truly beaten that problem.

Those are two reasons why at Truehome, we think wellness pros and designers need to team up.

If our homes are in our heads - then we need to take human nature into account when we develop our design criteria.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Launching Sufficiency

On the heels of my last post about the Pachamama Alliance, I want to share another powerful initiative that is launching a global conversation for "sufficiency."

It is called the Global Sufficiency Network and I am honored to serve on the Advisory Committee for the organization along with some incredible people. They include Lynn Twist - who I talked about in my last post.

The group's Managing Director is a good friend - Marilyn Levin - whose vision for creating a powerful conversation for sufficiency is very inspiring.

If you think about it - a belief in scarcity lives under practically every persistent issue we face as human beings. We say their is not enough money, enough resources, enough jobs, enough opportunity, enough time, enough effective and responsible government, enough personal responsibility, enough love, enough freedom and enough quality programming on television.

Most of us turn this promotion of scarcity on ourselves. We are not good enough, smart enough, compassionate enough or sufficiently skilled to have the lives we want.

But this is just a position we share, an agreement in our world view - and it has almost no basis in fact. We face many challenges - and they are real - but if the history of our species and for that matter life on this planet - proves not only that nothing is impossible - but that life always finds a way.

So with those facts in mind - we are launching a movement for sufficiency - one that has actually been building for years - and we invite you to participate.

Coming soon, on Wednesday, July 29, the Global Sufficiency Network will host launching events all over the country. People from all over the world will gather to celebrate the message, the promise, and the possibility of a world working on behalf of all beings - a world grounded in sufficiency instead of scarcity, accumulation and never enough.

Here in Texas, we will be hosting an event in Austin. I invite everyone to join us in creating a powerful new conversation that has the power to change the world. To find out how you can support this work and become involved - RSVP here.

There will also be a live streaming video event at all locations featuring Lynne Twist. So join us in launching this powerful new conversation. The events are free, but bring your checkbook. Sufficiency begins within each of us - and becoming a founder of the Global Sufficiency Network is a powerful way to declare your own sufficiency.

In the meantime, take a look at this video explanation by Lynn Twist of what sufficiency as a conversation is - and learn how you can shift your own view of life in a powerful way by creating a conversation for abundance.

Here is another video by Miriam Hawley - CEO of Enlignment Inc. - sharing her own take on the "Power of Enough."

As a final resource - I offer my own series of posts about changing the conversation of scarcity associated with the global economy - Transformational Economics.

Pachamama Alliance

I want to share a powerful story - and a unique project - with my readers. It is the story of the Achuar people - an indigenous group living in the Amazon basin in southeastern Ecuador.

They are a nation of roughly 3,500 people who live in about 2 million acres of pristine rain forest accessible only by small airplanes that can land on dirt runways.

A few years ago, the Achuar began to realize that their remote area was not immune from the economic appetite and materialistic view of the modern world.

They put out a call for partners who might help them manage the threatening change they and the diverse eco-system in which they live were soon to face.

A small group of people from the developed world heard that call through mysterious circumstances - and traveled to meet the elders of the Achuar. From that meeting arose a group called the Pachamama Alliance.

Among them was a woman I had previously admired in the 1980's when I was a very active in an initiative called the Hunger Project.

Her name was Lynn Twist and she is an unstoppable force who has been a leader in creating the possibility of ending hunger, creating opportunity in the developing world and empowering sufficiency for over thirty years.

I was lucky enough to be a leader in the youth wing of the Hunger Project - Youth Ending Hunger - twenty years ago. I was honored to co-found, with a teenager from New Mexico named Eric Rutar, a transcontiniental bike ride called the Tour de YEH back in 1988 that began on the White House Lawn and ended when 60+ kids from all over the world rode into the opening ceremonites of the Goodwill Games.

Though the two of us began the project - its fulfillment was an incredible grassroots movement that grew far beyond my small early efforts. The experience utterly changed my life. Through the Hunger Project and the Tour de YEH, I learned the power of creating a powerful conversation.

Lynn Twist is also an author of a best selling book related to the sufficiency conversation called The Soul of Money. She co-founded the Pachamama Alliance. That group later spun off another initiative called the Awakening the Dream Initiative. Check out both these fine projects.

Lynn and her collaborators have done much good work since then. The Pachamama Alliance is seeing promising results from its first steps in the creation of a Green Plan for Ecuador, including endorsement of the plan from the country's newly elected President, Rafael Correa.

I strongly recommend my readers view the video linked here and support this powerful work.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Nature of Home - I

Copyright 2009 - Christopher K. Travis

Those who follow this blog know I run an architecture firm and an Internet technology startup at – both of which use a systematic approach to creating an “experience of feeling at home” for our clients and users.

This series of posts asks the question “what is the nature of home?”

I will explore “home” from many different views, asking that same question from a personal, cultural, financial, philosophical, psychological and multi-disciplinary scientific perspective.

My goal with each post is be concise rather than apply my typical – let’s be frank – verbose and rambling style of writing.

So this series will be an attempt to write in a more focused way about a very complex subject - one I have long studied. Wish me luck! I am not exactly known as a “man of few words” - but here goes.

The “Common Sense” View of Home

At one level – everyone knows what “home” is. It’s where you live and how you feel while you live there. Most of us see it as the building we inhabit but also know we “feel at home.” We know we come from a “home town” and go “home” to visit our past.

So we know home somehow involves emotional experiences associated with belonging, safety and personal claims to space or origin.

“Feeling at home” is something almost everyone wants to experience. In that way, home is a physical metaphor for the womb.

But the truth is that many people do not feel "at home" in their habitations at all.

You don’t feel safe and comfortable where you live if your parents are abusing you; your marriage is on the rocks; your children are driving you crazy; you have medical, psychological or financial problems - or if the neighborhood in which you live is dangerous, unhealthy or unfitting.

So the “home” that is a building - and the “experience of feeling at home” - are two different things. One is a physical structure – bricks and sticks – and the other is a complicated suite of emotions that impact how you see that building and those who live with you.

But most of us relate to our homes as the former - a building we inhabit. We enter, sit on the couch and watch TV, or play with the kids, or try to get some rest at the end of a hard day at work - and simply don't think about it.

We don’t see “home” as a complex, interdependent, physical, emotional and psychological eco-system created more by how its inhabitants view reality that by it physical components. We think it is a building we are familiar with and "already know."

But home is really in our perception - our view of reality. We all carry deeply ingrained historical views of reality – born in our past – about the nature of home.

We predict our future experience by looking backwards – both consciously and unconsciously – at our past experience. Most of us are not present to this fact. We think we are rationally choosing our experience - but in reality - our "experience of home" is in our heads.

Home is like water to the fish...just a given. Life goes on. We view the reality we experience each day as a result of our circumstances - something outside us - rather than a result of our points of view.

That is the “being of being human,” and it's universal with all people in all cultures. So even looking objectively at the “common sense” level, you can see that home is a very complicated subject - and one that is widely misunderstood.

These facts make it very hard to transform our "homes" into an environment that truly supports and inspires us - because remodeling an "experience of life" is much more complicated than remodeling a building.

Go to The Nature of Home - II

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Courage and Sacrifice in Iran

My heart goes out to all the brave people of Iran as they speak truth to power.

They are not just fighting for themselves. Like all people who place their bodies in harm's way for the cause of liberty - they fight for us all.

In this all religious people are united - Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and all the other myriad faiths of the world. Our spiritual teachers tell us that ultimately man is answerable only to God - not to nations or political systems.

In this, all people who place their faith in humanist ideals and values also unite. Those who will not place their faith in religion still seek civil liberty and free self expression naturally.

The courage and commitment of the Iranian people also holds a lesson for those of us in the West. We can see the unfair stereotypes of America that are promoted by Islamic extremists - but we are often blind to the stereotypes we hold ourselves about other cultures and faiths.

People are people. They long for freedom, self-expression and the opportunity to create a better life.

In the last few days we have seen a culture often demonized by our own politicians for what they really are.

They are human beings. They love their children, their country and their heritage just like us. Like us too, they must face the truth in the old axiom - "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

We in America have had to face down power many times. The liberty we have now was not won in the American Revolution. It has been wrested from the hands of the powerful and unjust time after time throughout our history. It's legacy was expressed in grassroots movements - from the women's movement to the civil rights movement and onward.

It was born in the labor movement, the environmental movement and still today - people must hit the streets to gain civil liberty for those condemned because of their choices in love. Truth be told - there is still much to be done in our country and in all nations on our planet.

All people have the right to civil liberty...but all people must remain vigilant so that their freedoms are not taken from them. Whatever disagreements we may have about other matters - those people in the street in Tehran are our brothers and sisters in their fight for freedom.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Truehome and Mindfulness

James Burns is a blogger who makes a living as an interactive designer, scrum master and technical writer.

His interests are eclectic - but center around what he refers to as "mindfulness".

He follows research on things like the social determinants of health, and the latest in neuroscience, particularly as it relates to the scientific study of mindfulness.

He also has some kind things to say about Truehome. Thanks for the shout out James.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mountaineer Heritage Park

I have to brag about a project our architecture firm is currently undertaking that involves several Texas landmark historic buildings.

It is newly called the Mountaineer Heritage Park - and involves a large compound in Mineral Wells, Texas that will become a local historical district in the near future and is being submitted to the national registry.

My career began over 30 years ago as a restoration builder. I was a lead designer for historic projects long before I began to design other projects simply because my mother - who is a historian - dragged me around with her to historic properties as a child. When I went into construction and design - I gravitated to old structures long before I began to design homes and other structures.

This current project is something really special. Mineral Wells has been through many ups and downs in its storied history so this new community center could be the spark that causes a wave of revitalization and pride for the entire community.

This particular site involves three buildings - a historic high school, the first "school house" built in the county in the 1800's and the first stand alone home economics building built in Texas.

It also includes - of all things - an amazing WPA outdoor stone amphitheater like those built in many state and national parks. This is the first time I have ever seen one on a school campus.

The old Mineral Wells High School building sports a unique indoor auditorium with a free standing curved balcony unlike anything I have ever seen - which will soon host plays, concerts and school activities.

Another unique thing about this particular non-profit project is that it is being sponsored by a really unique non-profit. It is called the 50 Year Club and to be a member you had to have graduated from Mineral Wells High School at least 50 years ago!

How about that! This is a group of "can do" senior citizens that are not satisfied lazing away the last decades of their lives - and are out to create a legacy. A very impressive group!

We used a variety of the adapted Truehome programming methods we employ when doing projects for organizations not only to inform the design - but to help them create a development campaign.

We also created an identity design plan to "brand" the project that fits who they are as an organization and a community. It is designed to empower and inspire them and the Mineral Wells community.

The whole thing has been a great experience. Congratulations to the 50 Year Club and Mineral Wells, Texas for having the courage to take on a new community center and unique historic venue. They are raising money right now and we encourage anyone with ties to that community to support their effort with enthusiasm!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Home for Truehome

I am excited to announce that Nidiant Corporation, the technology startup company we created that is developing the website, has moved into its new offices in Austin!

We have moved into the Tech Ranch startup incubator run by Kevin Koym and Jonas Lamis at 2311 W. Rundberg Lane, Suite 200 in Austin, TX 78758. Our business office remains in Round Top, Texas; and my architecture firm - Sentient Architecture - will also remain at its Austin office at 8th and San Antonio.

We are honored and excited to be part of the Tech Ranch community. Y'all come by and visit!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Your Brain on Architecture

I ran into an interesting article by Michael Cannell in Fast Company Magazine called This is Your Brain on Architecture.

It tells a story about Jonas Salk, stymied and discouraged while working on a cure for polio in the basement of his Pittsburg lab, deciding to visit a 13th century monastery in Assisi, Italy.

As Cannell tells it, "There, among the cloisters, he felt his mind unwind. Fresh lines of pursuit came to him, including the breakthrough that led to the vaccine."

He points out the following: "Neuroscientists are uncovering how the design of your home or office can make you smarter, faster, happier."

Then he asks a question that was dear to my heart. "Is brain science the next big design trend? Are we on the verge of a new field of emotionally intelligent design?" Anyone who reads this blog would know what I have to say about that.

It's a good article - listing a few of the many findings from evidence based design studies - but as always, what is missing is something to report from the halls of academic architecture. But that's not the author's fault.

I posted a snarky comment pointing out that we had been using human factors interviewing techniques that are informed by neuroscience and psychology for almost a decade in our architecture firm.

I couldn't resist pointing out that within a few months we will have a beta version of the same type of design criteria development tool on the Internet at

Almost all disciplines that involve designing things - with the exception of architecture and interior design - are informed by systematic applied methods that help designers create products and experiences that fit people. Examples are user experience and user interface in IT and ergonomics in product design.

These days design anthropologists are a normal hire at Microsoft and NASA. Human factors sciences informs organizational design.

Where are such methods in architecture?If it is possible to create buildings that are truly fitted to people - and it is - then why is the well-being of people not central to our ethics as designers?

Thanks to Fast Company for fighting the good fight.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Truehome Back to Work!

I am excited to announce that Nidiant Corporation, the company my son, Ben Travis and I formed almost three years ago to take the Truehome Workshop onto the Internet at - has recieved its first outside funding!

This means within the next month we will be back at work on the website and will able to make the changes and upgrades that are needed to take it to market.

Since our software has been complete for a while, our work will mainly involve improving the user interface and user experience of our online products and the logged in user areas that are currently offline.

We hope to have our first round of products available by early this Fall and we are very excited!

In the meantime we are looking for a lot of different types of partners as we begin our "company building" project. We will be looking for angels with strong web 2 management experience as Truehome is in part a place where people can collaborate with friends and professionals to work on their projects.

We are also looking for a couple of brilliant developers - someone great at dynamic flash development - and a front end developer with strong UI and UX skills and mastery of html and CSS.

Given the negative conversations going on out there about the economy, we are proud we are succeeding at "swimming against the tide."

Truehome is on the way home!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Partners In Human Centered Design

There are many voices out there who are committed to human-centered design. Most of them - with notable exceptions - are not practicing architecture. Since I tend to focus on my own ideas and activites on this blog, I thought I should send a shout out to a few of them who have particularly impressed me.

The first is a brilliant woman named Lauralee Alben who runs a design consultation called Alben Design.

I was introduced to her by another like-minded voice, Mark Rettig of FIT Associates.

Lauralee uses a process of her own - called the Sea Change Design Process - to impact organizational design. Like my work, hers is influenced strongly by systems science.

She is also a graphic designer. I had the chance to visit with her for almost an hour one day about our common vision and it was one of best conversations I have had in months.

Check out what she is doing.

The second shout out I want to give in this post is to Architecture for Humanity. It is a non-profit that was founded ten years ago by Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr - who are also the editors of a wonderful book called Design Like You Give a Damn.

As they describe it, "using design as a tool, we empower our partners to build a more sustainable future."

They are a well conceived organization doing breakthrough work and deserve support.

Architecture for Humanity has local chapters around the world including in Texas. Here is the link to the Austin chapter.

I also want to give props to Garry VanPatter and Elizabeth Pastor of the NextDesign Leadership Institute. GK VanPatter and his collaborators - most of whom are professional designers of various ilks or academics interested in design theory - offer a wealth of information to people like me.

They also host a Google group called Transforming Transformation. I have followed and participated in group for a couple of years. It is full of brilliant people working on the leading edge of their design disciplines.

Finally, I found an evolutionary neuroscientist of the tradition of John Morgan Allman. His book - Evolving Brains - was an early influence on my own ideas.

Her name is Peggy La Cerra and she is the past Director of the Center for Evolutionary Neuroscience. I found her by accident because a link to one of her old papers appeared in the daily Google Alert searches I use to keep up with one of my areas of interest - entropy and its realtionship with the evolution of living systems.

I began reading the paper - The First Law of Psychology is the Second Law of Thermodynamics - and was spellbound.

In a series of lectures that became a book called What Is Life? , one of the fathers of quantum physics - Erwin Schrodinger - posited in 1944 that a profound relationship may exist between the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the nature of life. It has been a hot topic ever since.

I sent Dr. La Cerra an e-mail lavish with praise and she was kind enough to reply. Later we were able to visit on the phone - a brilliant, busy woman.

Yesterday, a copy of her 2002 book - The Origin of Minds - co-written by Roger Bingham, arrived at my home. With it was a copy of the February 2009 issue of Spirtuality and Health.

The cover story of the magazine - The Creation of I - was written by Peggy. The issue also includes an article about the home she and her husband - a sculptor and healer with a Ph.D. in philosophy - built outside Ojai, California.

My impression is that Peggy La Cerra is one of those rare people - Einstein among them - who offered brilliant insights as a scientist and later as a spiritual leader.

I strongly recommend anyone interested in such subjects check into her varied career. Her work is edgy and goes beyond what some would consider reductionist science - but in the end - I bet she is right!

My congratulations and respect to all these innovative, far-sighted voices!

Truehome Declaration of Values

I run a startup technology company called Nidiant Corporation. It is the corporate entity that is taking our approach to design and implementing it as an internet based technology at

I met a venture banker recently who has a vision for positive social entrepreneurship. In our discussions - he discovered that we are a small group of people out to make a real difference in the world and were "hiding our light under a lampshade."

We have been avoiding making our "do-gooder tendencies" broadly public because we saw potential institutional investors - particularly VC's and most angel investors - as aversive to startup founders who are also social entrepreneurs.

But this guy - a 40+ year investment banker who had done a lot of venture banking - has launched an enterprise in which he intends to match sources of capital that are interested in making a difference with for profit enterprises with the same goals. He asked us to write a two page document describing our business goals and ethics.

We did so, and I must say, it feels good "coming out of the closet." We've decided our fears could keep us from finding investors that are actually compatible with what we are doing. Since we are just now starting to raise outside capital, we are thankful his correction was made just in time.

Here are Nidiant Corporation's Statement of Purpose and Declaration of Values.

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Nidiant Statement of Purpose

Nidiant means “about the nest.” A nest – like a home – is brought into being for an ancient purpose…the safety and survival of the young. The creation of shelter is an ancient and effective adaptive strategy throughout the animal kingdom. Thus, habitations that nurture the well-being of their inhabitants have essential value as a fact of nature.

We believe human beings can consciously design their experience of life in constructive ways. We believe environments can be built that support those life goals and values. Nidiant is committed to empowering that possibility.

We declare that buildings should be designed and built with those outcomes in mind. Built environments should fit, nurture and empower both the lives of people and the living ecosystems in which they are built.

We believe any viable sustainability ethos must include the physiological and psychological wellbeing of people.

We measure sustainable and “green” values not only by their impact on the non-human ecosystems of the planet, but by their value in the day to day lives of people and communities.

We define “home” as an ontological state – a state of being. “Being at home” is the experience of living in a physical and psychological place that inspires and empowers a sustainable and fulfilling experience of life. Creating a better “experience of home” for people and facilitating projects that fulfill that goal is the business of Nidiant Corporation.

Nidiant Corporation Declaration of Values

Nidiant Corporation, its officers, stockholders and employees uphold the following tenets.

All human beings share one planet. Myriad other living organisms share it with us and human activity impacts our mutual survival. With power comes responsibility. We declare ourselves responsible for the wellbeing of this living planet. We will partner with those who respect it and stand in opposition to those who exploit it. We take this position in defense of our selves, our children, our families and our communities.

All human beings can choose collaboration and partnership - or predation and parasitism. Nidiant chooses partnership and collaboration and will partner with those who value constructive relationships.

We declare peace and reconciliation provide the best path to a planet that works for everyone – so we will seek peace before confrontation. We will avoid those who prey upon others and exploit people or the planet without concern and when necessary, will stand in opposition to their actions.

A corporation is an interdependent assembly of human beings - a partnership between stockholders, employees, vendors and customers. We declare Nidiant products and services will be most successful when all partners experience well-being and success through cooperation, shared values and hard work.

In order to accomplish this, Nidiant Corporation must serve those who serve the Company – its employees, partners and customers. Nidiant Corporation resolves that it is dedicated to creating and delivering products and services that serve this core partnership – and the greater good.

All partners are responsible for maintaining this balance in a way that enhances the well-being of all other partners – and the planet as a whole.

Just as the Company serves those who purchase its products and services, it must serve the partners who create and provide them, those who invest in its efforts, the communities in which they live and the planet all share.
The Company has the right to expect investment, effort, responsibility and service from its partners in return.

Management is responsible for maintaining a fair parity in value between all partners in that relationship – a balance between return on investment, acknowledgement of contributions, price and quality of products, the work experience of those within the Company and the planet as a whole.

Nidiant is a “family company.” Management is responsible for finding a successful balance between service to those outside the organization and the wellbeing and work experience of families within it. We declare our commitment to a flexible, constructive, compassionate and highly productive workspace. We value excellence and are committed to rewarding it.

With these principles and tenets in mind, the stockholders and Board of Directors of Nidiant Corporation declare the following:

  • Nidiant Corporation hereby commits ten per cent of the Company’s pre-tax net profit to be dedicated to well-being of the planet and all that share its living environment.

  • Nidiant Corporation commits itself to the success and wellbeing of all partners in its endeavors.

  • Nidiant Corporation commits itself to the creation and delivery of products that make a real difference in the lives of people and the planet.

  • Nidiant Corporation declares that its corporate integrity is founded in the tenets of this Declaration of Values and commits itself to their fulfillment.