On an organic level, architecture affects one’s nervous system, then personality, and ultimately one’s image of self.


From teachers to artists to architects, creativity is transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. Savvy people — who hire design professionals with advanced knowledge and a holistic understanding of healthy people, places and planet — stand to influence building development strategies that nourish life rather than just maintain it.

Modern design requires an organic approach to integrating the built, social and natural environments together.  What can be called an ‘Organic Modernism’ allies itself with sustainable social and design practices to become an investment strategy for our personal nourishment and overall cultural survival.

One hundred years ago, the Industrial Revolution restructured the built environment around the invention of steel refined into the machined precision of the internal-combustion engine. Today, a similar revolution is seen centered in the restructuring of creativity into a refined organic social and culture environment, that sustains the means of production, not just disposes of it. Today design includes not only the means to create and provide physical products while reusing their byproducts, it also interconnects the process of innovation and production through forms of relationships created within a global knowledge economy.

In this knowledge economy, three key concepts influence our future in the built, social, and political environment: creativity, social responsibility, and health of the body, spirit and place.


Creativity as the driver

The creativity of an Organic Modernism is challenging the traditional structures of previous generations.  Scientists, architects, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and all other self-motivated people who anticipate change in a greater social participation of the future are posed to benefit from their adaptability to that future.

 “I assume” life as I know it will continue, as I know it, and so because of my assumptions, I will continue a life strategy of just waiting to see what will happen, … is not a sustainable reality.

In the book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Richard Florida portrays the values and lifestyles that drive the 21st century economy, its technologies and social structures as a need for fluidity. Florida talks about how the success of humanity relies on people and their dynamic relationships; both with each other, and with their social and natural environments. Survival depends on our ability to creatively remove barriers to change and encourage sustainable creative practices across every domain that affects our lives and our environment.

To this end, and as an example of things going on here in Seattle.  The city of Seattle and a network of local organizations and businesses have taken on this creative problem solving in realizing our place globally.

Visionary leadership within the city government, most notably in adopting LEED Standards, revising the City Building & Zoning Code, and providing for easy Recycling Accommodations, have set a pace for others to follow.

The Master Builders Association of Washington has taken on this pace setting collaboration, and in partnership with King and Snohomish counties, provide affordable and environmentally friendly housing incentives through the Built Green certification program. This program benefits a developer or home owner in providing a value added component to a project’s resale potential.

Retail, 'Environmental Home Centers' have become distributors for green building supplies and household products.   Seattle residents have seen the seeds of change planted for their own ability to easily adapt their lives to a sustainable, socially inclusive awareness, through gestures of global responsibility within our community.


Social responsibility a must

Today with everything from fair-trade coffee to biodegradable plastic, many people recognize that we cannot continue to survive as a disposable, consumer-based society.  The future exists in sustaining each other.  The era of giving the few with knowledge, the  power to lead, supported by the many others, is changing within a knowledge economy.

In the early 1900s, modernism evolved from the idea of a building as a machine for living and working. Today, the whole built environment is seen an organism of infinite opportunities for living and working. Creative and skilled people are bringing social responsibility consciously to the environment and to the community, in creating a sense of place with spirit, not just shelter or a location for commerce.

At Joseph Greif Architects, we see a trend emerging in residential architecture as our clients ask us to build homes, to not only shelter them, but also nourish their lives as well as future generations of their family’s lives. When a house is planned for future generations, the idea of a home as a disposable shelter changes. Housing that is built for a life span of generations, generates payback to families and the environment by conserving and utilizing social and natural resources otherwise consumed and replaced continuously.

Sustainable buildings, built as a generational investment, offer economic shelters and become socially responsible additions to the community and our natural environment.


Health of the body, spirit, & place

In the 1920s, architect and philosopher Rudolph Steiner introduced the concept of Organic as the use of measurable and non-measurable resources in systems needed for the healthy function of human spaces and the environment.

The word organic speaks not only to form and function but also to a global and cosmic environmental interconnectedness needed for our survival.

In an example, Steiner initiated Organic/Biodynamic agriculture in response to the worldwide use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers, which were a by-product of unused WWI weapons, and needed to be disposed of, (ideally at a profit by their manufacturing corporations), and so to that end, nitrogen was marketed, and in many ways forced into farming practices, for convenient and shortsighted corporate profits.

Looking at architecture in this way, housing is more than the mass sheltering of a population, seen as laborers and consumers. Architecture can be seen socially and experienced physically in its design ability in directly affecting one’s nervous system, one’s personality, and one’s sense of self.  As architects, we have the capabilities to create buildings that addresses one’s ability and responsibility to stand up and say “I am an individual with purpose”. In this responsibility the architect’s role can be seen in the planting of seeds, of ideas, as thought forms that stimulates, excites, amazes and inspires connections to life experienced above, below and around our daily routines.

To this end the masterful use of light, shadow, color, and materials create immediate physical responses.  The health of our bodies, spirit, social, and natural environment are directly affected in how they respond to the movement of the sun, how they adapt to natural influences of climate, such as the flow of air, rain, heat and cold, and also those thoughts which move our global social and culture forward into the future.

As an example, architects can boost the comfort, health and productivity of a design, by optimizing daylight, harnessing the sun’s ability to provide heating and cooling designed into natural heating and ventilation systems, without the exclusive use of mechanical systems.  These same ideals of interconnectedness can be extended out into the social, personal, and natural environment, in supporting and making connections through inclusive relationships, not in separation or isolation from the local environment and global social community.


“Architecture, Ritual Practice and Co-Determination in the Swedish Office.”

One of the highest standards of living in the world has been created in Sweden through a conscious integration of social rituals that help one feel connected and nourished in the workplace as an extension of home and community life.

Professor Dennis Doxtater PhD, from the University of Arizona, describes this interconnectedness of Swedish work and home life as a nourishment of the body, spirit, and sense of place, in his book, “Architecture, Ritual Practice and Co-Determination in the Swedish Office.” In the book, Doxtater documents examples of Swedish office design that weave together the built environment, the social environment, natural environment, their cultural history, and home life into a nourishing interconnected life experience. He discusses how individuals can feel physically and spiritually connected to their office environment through social rituals that invite participation within the office, which reflect those same experiences experienced as an extension of home and community.

The individual is not lost within a linear hierarchical management system, experienced opposite to their personal experience of a shared co-existing, co-determining, home life with spouse and family.  When the work place environment reflects an ideal of a home and social life environment, individuals are nourished and encouraged from within their office life to express their creativity and productivity. Doxtater explains Co-determinism in examples of 'Quality Circles'. These circles interconnect with other quality circles throughout a company,  extending in their responsibility back into supporting rituals of cultural, social, and home life.

In extending this idea of quality circles to social systems outside of the work place, Doxtater identifies a change within companies, in an overall increase of innovation and production within the company environment.

In this management model, the old concept of a few managing supported by the many others, changes to the many taking on the shared responsibilities required to sustainably increase creativity and productivity.  

Examples of co-determinism can also be seen in new living environments that foster a sharing in the balancing of co-existing amenities, that support greater opportunities for individuals to experience their own individuality, creativity and productivity. People living as individuals in co-determined environments and communities stand out in direct contrast to the current community and business models of hierarchical leadership and linear management, or as seen in the many housing subdivisions of gridded streets and unknown neighbors.

Just as kings and leaders of history, once lead through their inherited right to access the information of the world of their time, today unbounded opportunities of accessing information, and making connections with others, presents new forms of leadership, realized in those individuals that can think inclusively, making connections globally, rather than exclusively, by eliminating variables locally.


A living example

In the Madison neighborhood of Seattle, we are designing a new urban place to live, based on a definition of a 'co-determined', 'organic modernism', in an expression of 'quality circles'. This urban place is comprised of 11 homes on a four-lot inter-urban parcel, each dwelling unit is approximately 750 square feet. The site, itself, and its inter-connections to the City, are designed as an extension of each house, where each dwelling is conceived as a room within the entire home and city site. Shared areas include an outdoor fireplace, gathering areas, site landscape garden, community center rooms, electric car charging stations, recycling station, underground residence parking, city access car parking, and storage facilities.

The planned development departs from the limitations of building the biggest single-family house possible, set in rows with garages taking up most of the front with unknown neighbors living around you.  This development is a conscious attempt by the developer to create a living environment through inclusion, beginning with the site, one’s neighbors, and one’s community.  In a larger architectural sense, all the amenities of the entire city are perceived as extensions of each small house, in expressions of quality circles. 

With the information of the world accessible to most everyone today, the basis of creativity becomes organic in its branching out in insights shared by all, not just attainable by a few. As more individuals see themselves connected to the whole of existence, through their access to information, not isolated from it, a new consciousness of living begins reshaping how we view our selves in our living and working environments.  Housing created as an extension of our social living experience, reflects a trend of co-existence and sharing of knowledge, resources, and productivity. Whether one sees this in life as a physical or spiritual process, a process of inclusion rather than exclusion, to solve problems, shows the reality of our current path forward. A path balanced in an experience of a creative organic process of existence, seen as the beginnings of an ‘Organic Modernism’ of consciousness.