The Architecture of Life: May 2009

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

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.