How Little Is Enough?: Building The Life of a Place

I’m suspicious of most Rumi quotes that you find floating around the internet because of this article and ones like it with a serious critique that most English translations take out serious content and context from the writing. That said, there is a Rumi quote floating around the internet that says “There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” So I don’t know if Rumi said that at all or if Rumi said anything like that but let’s just take the quote for what it is – a generous A+ grade stamped on the top of your devotional paper. However you want to bend your head in the direction of all the tender mercies that have done all the heavy lifting for you…it’ll do. Now, this is a complete guess but I’d venture that the original would have been more explicitly Islamic. But again, I can’t really speak for the security of the translation of this particular verse done by Coleman Barks.

But more than even than the general devotional thumbs up from the quote there is a specific reference to kissing the ground. And I’ll take the chance to make this quite literal. Loving the earth. The actual ground. The soil. The gritty fleck that finds it’s way onto your lip when you are transplanting a seedling and that tastes not of food but of darkness. That earth.

Now when you think of architecture that harmonizes with nature or emerges from loving the earth you may think of modern designs like this
Or maybe straw bale or cob houses like this
Or hill build-ins like this
Or maybe log cabins or indigenous huts or all sorts of designs. Indeed there are hundreds of ways to kiss the earth with your architecture, to push the already likely inaccurate quote even further.

But I recently came across the design work of Tormod Amundsen, an avid bird watcher, who also designs “invisible architecture” with his team at a company called Biotope, which is a combination of two Greek words “bio” meaning life and “tope” meaning place. But these buildings are not designed for long term habitation. They are designed to be magnetic locations where a person can be drawn to and sit and be with nature and observe all that unfolds being a little protected from the elements but not too much. Amundsen designs with the landscape in mind. The sight lines of each structure mirror the location, the wildlife, the wind. All for close access to witnessing birds and land as the veiled but golden sun is sunning on silver ice.

Amundsen and his team consider that building this way – following the lines of a place to be integral to a structure belonging in the place and makes in more sustainable. But for him the sustainability of a building is not solely the CO2 emissions alone (though important) but the capacity of building to not only be in relationship to the place but to draw the humans into greater relationship to the place as well. This birding shelters are the beginning of a greater architectural wondering. And so these qualitative capacities matter just as much as the quantitative ones.

But the guiding principle that Biotope designers use for their buildings is “how little is enough?”

I love this question. I’m all for extravagance in its place but I love the notion of minimal effective dose. Sometimes scrubbing a pot with full weight and maximum arm torque doesn’t get the pot cleaner any faster but just taxes your energy. This notion of “how little is enough?” extended has beautiful life affirming qualities to it. For me it was a question I asked and answered for Primal Derma. I could put in more – ingredients, processing, marketing, promise. But all of that asks more of the world when so much is already given. So I find great virtue in this kind of humble build.

May such a path  be more available to be walked on gently. And if you find yourself in Norway check out these buildings. Or start to wonder about how such a thing might be possible in your corner of the world. However that might manifest.

Thanks so much for your steady support and reading.

If this brings up any questions or comments. Please send them along. They will be happily received and responded to.

Until next time.


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