A Living Space Is A Living Place
Fēng Shuǐ is a term made from the Chinese words for water and wind. It is a system that regards the spatial arrangement and orientation of a living space as influencing the flow of energy (chi). Proponents of it take into account favourable or unfavourable effects when siting and designing buildings.
Although I had heard of it, it wasn’t something that I employed when building my first yurt. What was palpable though was how good it felt to be inside the yurt space.
I wasn’t alone in finding it to have a distinctive feel. My clients noticed it too as did the friends they invited over.
Perhaps the ancient Chinese were onto something - a living space is more than just a collection of building materials.
My clients had the space built in order to facilitate workshops and activities designed to help people with personal growth.
A couple of weeks after completing the build, I attended a workshop they ran in the space.
Perhaps it was being nestled in the bushland with the silhouettes of the trees or having the moon peer into the skylight or just being in the yurt during the evening.
Whatever it was, the space felt alive and vitalising.
Enveloped in nature with a warming tea, candlelight, conversation and connection. What more could one ask for?
A couple of weeks later it became clearer to me why the space felt so animated.
I had just read an interview about Dave Martin, a mindful builder based in Melbourne.
Dave began his career as a carpenter but over time he widened his perspective of what building is.
Today he is not so much interested in building stuff as he is in emphasising the relational in his work and deep respect for nature. In explaining his ethos he said:
We build homes that inspire and connect the inhabitant with nature. And really the idea is being able to subtly help people feel more present in their lives—’cause having nature around you has some kind of unconscious impact. It opens up those questions of, “Why are we here?”
So the idea was to have a structure, which is a building or your cocoon, your nest, that you can go into a really supportive, beautiful environment that’s comfortable, warm, loving and connects with nature. And then also the understanding of living with nature through the environment, through food production, through engaging with sunlight. Understanding different seasons, predominant wind paths.
And with that, you gain this knowledge which you need to know to live with the building and evolve with the building to its maximum capability. So it’s almost like your haven or cocoon grows with you. It’s almost like a seed’s getting planted where you’re engaging and then you’re starting to think about yourself, the planet, nature.
I hadn’t been able to articulate what it was about building these yurts they meant so much to me and appreciated reading about someone who was on the same page, seeing building as something that could be done with a bigger intention and motivation than simply earning a living.
The interview went on to talk about Dave’s mantra, “Built to Belong,” how his values translate into his work and how connection is at the heart of his business - something missing in a lot of contemporary design and construction.
The interviewer then posed the question, “How does the construction of a home, the way it’s designed, directly affect the individual in this way?”
I think the sun’s a massive part of it, and in life itself. If you look at the sun, it really inspires all of nature. It’s free energy, free heat. Some people say humans are sun worshippers. We need vitamin D. It makes us healthy as well. We bring in some food production so people are actually putting their hands in the soil, connecting with the earth. They’re learning a basic cycle of life, which is its own conscious thing of your food waste becoming compost, your compost then is used in the garden which feeds the new plants’ growth, so it creates this kind of life cycle as well. Then I think there’s also the designing sense of having particular windows in different locations that allow you to connect with the external environment. So it’s simply just connecting the inside with out as seamlessly as possible.
Building to last, eco-design principles, positive intention from the builder - Stargazing Yurts are greater than the sum of its parts.
I also think it’s looking at where our water comes from, where our energy comes from, looking at what we actually need in a home. There’s a general thinking that bigger is better, but people are realising that we don’t need a 50-square mansion. We can live in a 10- to 20-square home that has minimal impact and footprint on the environment, still have as much beautiful outdoor space, and still have the same amount of rooms inside. With smart design we can lift ceiling spaces or allow light in so it doesn’t feel as small and poky.
Talk about capturing what the yurt design had achieved!
A much lower footprint and yet it felt so spacious, healthy and cosy.
Further confirmation that I was on the right track came when Dave brought up the idea that the attitude and state of mind a builder brings with them, has a big influence on the space itself.
Every day that I worked on the yurt I had begun with a centring meditation, unaware that it would do more than help me calmly work through daily challenges but would enhance the feel of the area. As David explained:
I remember discussing a project for a Qui Gong master up in Queensland, and he wanted to build a dojo. So I’m like, “Wow! Is it curved? Is it steel? Is it timber? What is it?” And he said, “It doesn’t matter what the material is, it matters about the energy that’s built on the site and throughout the building.” I’m like, “Whoa!”
So I look at our building sites in this way, which brings in building biology and feng shui.
[interviewer] So there’s a spiritual discipline to building?
Absolutely. But I know myself, I can walk into a space and you can feel it. “This is amazing! I feel so calm and warm!” Or, “It’s so inspiring!” So you’re trying to build this amazing structure that shifts people. Below that structure, as a foundation, is all this negative or positive energy. Which surely affects the inhabitants for who knows how long.
And then also on a superficial level in that the blokes are doing a half-arsed job because they’re in a crappy mindset. So on that level as well!
We have this beautiful amazing structure to build. Let’s come together as a team and get to know each other, connect and work transparently.
Fascinating to read that and reflect on other people reiterating this, as mentioned on our website page What Makes Yurts So Special.
Since reading that interview and having a period of time pass, I’ve witnessed the owner of the yurt become more connected with the rhythms of nature - harvesting rainwater, building a chicken coop, planting flowers, gardens, composting etc.
Employing a builder with a mindful approach in both design and implementation just might have a bigger impact than you’d think.
And who knows how much having a yurt might do to influence how you live and how connected you are to your surrounds?