Bill Hutchins, AIA, at a project in Kathmandu, Nepal. Bill leads teams of volunteers to build structures for the community using natural materials and waste products–like the embedded bottles that illuminate the interior of the building beyond.

Anyone who follows this blog knows my tendency to veer off into a technical weed patch. So I am all the more fortunate to have Bill Hutchins as a friend, to help pull me back to a more profound perspective. Whereas I can lapse into an account of our homes as mere systems, Bill clearly sees that our homes are living, breathing organisms.

If our homes are organisms, then for the most part, they are on life support. Bill’s firm, Helicon Works is passionately dedicated to creating healthy home organisms. Dwelling in such homes engenders a deep connection with nature. The contrast is a home clogged with features that isolate us from the natural world–faux materials, palatial closets, sybaritic bathtubs, media centers.

Bill also devotes enormous amounts of time and effort to pro bono architecture. He is a key partner with the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation, which offers a wide range of programs to improve the lives of the Nepalese. Several times a year he rallies a crew of volunteers to help construct small scale buildings such as schools and orphanages. These humble but beautiful structures are built with simple, natural materials–and empty wine and liquor bottles–of which there seems to be a boundless supply.

Here is an article by Bill that develops these concepts:

A Few Healthful Ways We Can Live in Our Homes

Our home is an organism, which can breath with and be in rhythm with the life-force of the earth.  Our home is our next layer of enclosure beyond our skin, and, as our skin, our home is an organ that is essential to our well-being.  Our home can be healthful – feed our health – if we consider it as we do our skin, the membrane of our body, mind and soul.  What follows are a few ways we can so consider, and live through, our home.

Membranes unite the two sides they border, forming a woven dialogue.  Our home is a vessel (with exterior membrane-walls) that can put us in relationship with place.  Further, our physical home and inner self mirror each other: As we live through our home, we give form to our soul; as we deepen our inner journey, we’re more open to the world in which our home unites us.  Let’s call this process dwelling.

Central to dwelling is an awareness that we can live in our home as a sailboat.  We tend to live in buildings as when riding a powerboat – we unconsciously flip on/off switches, triggering various mysterious machines, go where we want as fast as possible, and are hermetically sealed from the natural world.  We can live in our home as when sailing – we can pay attention to the wind and currents, adjust our home to respond to the flow of nature, engage with the ocean – breath the fresh air!  While sitting in front of a TV deadens our senses, deactivates us, we can vitalize our health by engaging, reaching out, and forming relationship.

Bill's home in Takoma Park, MD

Bill’s home in Takoma Park, MD

Our home can provide a place for the many selves that we are, providing us a balanced life (or, yin-yang).  Our home can offer – expansive spaces which takes us out of ourselves; intimate nooks where we can be inward and reflective; gathering spaces to be with friends and family; comforting rooms for when we’re especially in need of healing; darker spaces to retreat from the hustle and bustle of life.

Nothing is more healing than being IN nature, and our home can put us in relationship with the natural world.  This can happen spatially, as places in our home can – be in intimate relationship with our garden, or a tree (or forest); capture summer breezes; provide sunny places to take in the earth’s warmth; or track the arc of the moon.  It can also happen via the materials we build with. Just as we want to eat food that is as close to its natural state as possible, as it holds more nutrients, so do we want to build with recognizable materials – earth, wood, stone – as they hold a deep resonance.

Relatedly, the uncomplicated act of tending a (even a small) garden is perhaps the simplest yet deepest way our living through our home can nurture us.  This dialogue is completely reciprocal – as we tend our garden and reap a harvest, so does the earth nurture us.

Light!  We are light, seeking light.  Much of my work as an architect is cracking homes open to receive light, or designing new homes that act as a sundial, capturing light throughout the day, as appropriate to each room.

As with acupuncture, opening pathways in our home is vital to our health.  The first act we can do in making our homes more healthful is to weed all clutter, prune all dead branches to make way for new life.  And, then, intentionally place all objects; be aware of how they are part of an energetic dialogue uniting all things (including the stars).  We can engage with all objects in our home, see them as living beings, not just inert, dust-collecting remnants of past lives.  You can develop such thinking by studying Feng Shui – don’t just call in an expert to align your home for you, understand these principles and engage.

Just as our body needs care and attention, so does our home.  We tend to see maintenance as a distraction from our busy lives, where it can be seen as a respite, a working-meditation, a chance to get out of our heads (we live far too much in our heads, inside, sitting).

There is a lot of literature on healthy homes, most of which focuses on concerns such as non-toxic finishes and furnishings, and ventilating noxious fumes.  All of that is important, but those don’t get to the core issue.  I offer we receive the most healing when we work from the inside-out, which only comes through our conscious engagement. The pot drips what’s in it: The primary work is always a shift in awareness or consciousness.  With fresh eyes – and an open heart – we can live in the world through our homes in a way that feeds and nurtures all parts of ourselves.
Bill Hutchins, AIA