The Architecture of Life: July 2009

The Architecture of Life - Christopher K. Travis

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.