Once Modernism and Relativism showed us that pattern and meaning were a matter of choice, and once the White Box got boring, the world of design was plagued by this challenge:
If I can choose to evoke anything in the design and decoration of the man-made environment, what would I choose?
Confronting this challenge early in my career, I found the answer in the ancient science of archeo-astronomy: the tradition of integrating into the built environment the unique patterns of the movement of sun, moon and cosmos around a chosen location.
It seemed to me that this design tradition pointed us towards a powerful paradox, one that might serve as a gateway for connecting folk with the patterns of life both local and global. I call it The Paradox of the Universal and the Unique. When one chooses a very intimate location, a point on the globe, and unfolds around it the pattern of sun, moon, stars, weather, and the comings and going of life forms, one is instantly connected to the larger patterns of life, far beyond one’s location.
It seemed to me that we can all agree to the wonder of sunrises and sunsets, the cycle of the seasons. We can also see that these wonders happen everyplace, but are different everywhere.
For example, look at the eight Sun-Path Glyphs surrounding this mandala.
This folio shows some of my work exploring this paradox over the past 38 years, striving to create those gateways where folk can connect with the patterns which connect us to all life on this earth.
Football Floor Mandala – 1981
My Mandala of the Seasons and the Days
Naked Eye Observatory Dome – 1984
Solar Meridian Arcs – 1987
MIANUS BIOREGIONAL PLANNING PROJECT - 1990 -1992
The patterns of life are in our geography as well as in the sky.
To see these aspects of the pattern we must choose a frame of reference.
For some years I have been working with the frame of reference of Bioregions, a simple, powerful idea: Underlying all the gerrymandered domains and jurisdictions we have overlaid on our earth rest biologically defined regions that have tangible eco-systems we can mindfully inhabit.
This is the context within which we might think globally and act locally.
This idea grabbed me in the late 1980s. It offers a framework for relating to Place. Realized, it provides a gateway for connecting with the pattern of life wherever we find ourselves.
At that time I became an Associate of the Westchester land Trust. Working with it's founder Louis McCagg we undertook the Mianus Bioregional Planning project. The Mianus Watershed is 36 square miles. 60 different human jurisdictions control portions of it, each within their own frame of reference.
Using early Geographic Information System software we assembled the mapping of many of those 60 jurisdictions into a watershed frame of reference. Folk could see the whole. It caused the formation of a watershed council, joining the many jurisdictions in one context.
The project was later chosen as an exemplar of the use of mapping to engender social change by the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design for their exhibition "The Power of Maps". I also received an American Institute of Architects Urban Design award for the work.
Here's a link to an article I wrote describing the project and the exhibit:
THE MERIDIAN MUSIC PROJECT, OR, SO - HOW'S IT BY YOU?
No date on this one. It's my life's work. Been going on, will go on.
Imagine your community chooses a spot in the commons where, over generations, they unfold the Pattern, starting with a naked eye observatory. Once a spot is chosen as the center, the axis mundi and equinoctal line found, a place moment sculpture is created. This sculpture sits patiently all the time, as the sun first sees it in the morning, then rises until, at High Noon, the sculpture knows the sun is as over-head as it will be that day, and causes a bell to ring, an image is captured and shared, and a burst of geo-data (collected by local students of Place) goes up on the web, adding to a living map composed of data tiles from all the places, east and west, that have similar installations.
A PLACE TO SIT- 2010
A 6' x 6' canvas mandala with a zabuton and zafu (zen sitting cushions) on it. Radiating out from it's diamond center are the planes of Longitude and Latitude intersecting just where you are sitting. The mandala shows the places on the horizon where you can expect to see the sun rise, reach High Noon and set on the days of the exhibit.
Many sat there, some for quite a while. And as folk often do in these settings, when they GOT IT, their shoulders relaxed, they smiled, and they would say "Oh, yeah, I knew that", or something to that effect.
A PLACE TO SIT - 2013
In the Bronx River Art Center's temporary gallery, a 6' x 6' paper, felt and string mandala, with sitting cushions, casts that place's longitude and latitude across the floor, up the walls and across the ceiling. No sky to be seen, only my promise that, if the city wasn't there, and you sat on the cushion, you would see the sun rise, reach noon and set at the marked places on the horizon circle.