Placing the words “living” and “house” together may appear surprising at first glance, but it’s hardly the first time this has been done in the history of living beings. The juxtaposition refers not only to a relationship between matter and living beings, but to the living properties of matter. In fact, the further back in time we look the more evidence we see of the presence and strength of this concept, whether among ancient peoples or the builders of pyramids, temples, or cathedrals.
We see, however, a slow and progressive evolution away from references to the human body and its schematic representation that was characteristic of these long ago eras where Intuition reigned supreme. This perspective was gradually replaced by an ever more abstract and symbolic representation characteristic of the age of Reason and its far-reaching break with Nature. As Jean Proulx aptly said, “It was inevitable that the formidable and fascinating business of world domination be counterbalanced by a ‘decline,’ indeed relative, but nonetheless convincing in a symbolic sense that leads to a perspective on individual beings.”
The evidence is there, wherever we look. Human constructions have always reflected what we are and our relationship to the Universe. We are currently at a crucial point in our history where our own buildings have become a direct threat to the survival of numerous species, including our own.
The challenge is therefore enormous. As many scientists have noted again and again, there is an urgent need to integrate development with natural environments, and to reintroduce a basic respect for Life in all its forms.
We can appreciate the importance of re-establishing a respectful bond with nature, paving the way to a harmonious relationship between humans and the cosmos and the divine, and leading directly to the resanctificaton of Life.
The Concept of a Living House
Drawing on my thirty-plus-year experience as an architect designing residential and leisure homes, the concept of a “living house” takes the basic principles of bioclimatic architecture and adds the latest technological advances. In addition to ecological landscaping at the construction site, it promotes the use of non-polluting renewable energy sources — passive solar, geothermal, wind, heat recovery from exhaust air and wastewater — and the use of non-toxic renewable materials, as well as efficient water management.
According to this concept, space is seen not only as a physical structure, but also as a living structure.
Indeed, the home possesses certain characteristics of a living being. We think of key functions like respiration (the exchange of air and energy between inside and outside) and self-regulation of temperature and moisture (automatic control and utilization of thermal masses).
We also think about harnessing psychosomatic energy via the energy centers and networks, ideas put into practice both in Feng Shui and by the builders of cathedrals. Here we are talking about “revitalizing”
a space to promote a state of consciousness leading to peacefulness and spiritual replenishment.
Step One: Understanding our Innermost Needs
Even before putting ideas to paper, there is a very important step to be taken—defining the construction program. Another principle, that of “projection,” is especially effective in helping us identify our innermost needs: “We live inside our space as we live inside ourselves.”
In this regard, a careful reading of the history of our home helps us better understand successive changes, provided that we don’t look at our home with a consumerist eye, i.e., as an insignificant, soulless object that can be replaced at any time. When we change homes, it is because a transformation has taken hold within us which must be translated into matter. So all change arises from unmet needs, whether they arise from present or past emotions.
A Personal Story
Acupuncturist and Qi Gong instructor Martine Migaud selected me to design the house she was going to build in the Eastern Townships.
Here is her story:
“Christian’s ideas about how to live in a house are consistent with my line of work, which looks at how we live inside our body. I knew for a long time that I wanted him to design my house when the opportunity arose. When the time came, my spouse and I willingly accepted the path that Christian laid out for us. For example, he asked each of us to identify the rooms in our present apartment where we felt most or least comfortable. Then he asked us to do the same for our childhood homes. The effect was striking. After reflecting a bit, we began to experience all sorts of sensations and even emotions related to the places we lived in.
This exercise was the first important step in a process that eventually allowed us to design a house that fit us both. Of course, we are really pleased with the results.”
A home is a place where you should feel completely at ease and where you can relax, recharge, and feel fulfilled. The architect’s job is that of a guide, helping people to find their connection to themselves and their space. In this way, a home can be created in which they can better experience their transformations and discover a sense of well-being and happiness.
The first step therefore provides an opportunity to discover and reflect on “how we live inside ourselves” and make a connection with “how we live inside our space.” By welcoming and encouraging the successive transformations that mark our lives, we follow a path that helps us identify our innermost needs, those that clarify our life mission.
The second step (described in another article) is to discover the core elements around which each person constructs or reconstructs themselves. Each trial we face is both an opportunity for self-realization and a chance to let go of all that is not essential. This energizing work opens the door to creating a space that promotes knowing oneself and provides impetus for building a house with a soul.
The third step (also described in another article) tackles specific technical issues involved in energy efficient, environmentally friendly construction and provides a comparative summary with LEED methods.