Health is a positive idea. It is concerned with being fully alive.
We need to do much more than just avoid getting sick.
We waste the only life we have when we spend it solving problems. Every problem we solve only creates five new problems so that we end up further behind rather than further ahead. Auckland planning is a mess because the planners spend their time solving problems. At least that is what they tell us they are doing. They are sick.
We would do better to take advantage of opportunities. Move our lives from negative thinking to positive thinking. Move from always being on the back foot to stepping forward. Celebrate life. Celebrate spring. Allow ourselves to get lost in the wonder of life.
To lead a healthy life we need a healthy world and healthy architecture.
Everything is interconnected. We cannot be healthy on our own.
We cannot be healthy if those around us are sick. We cannot be healthy if we live in a world which is sick. We cannot be healthy if we live in a built environment which is sick. Beyond the obvious issues like using toxic chemicals and toxic materials there are also values which are sick, such as envy, greed or pride.
We hardly even have the language to talk about architecture. There is no dialogue and no intelligent discussion about the way we build or even why we build. Our newspapers and magazines have a fetish about food or wine but there is never a mention of architecture. Land agents form our values, and those values are sick.
Those who focus only on themselves will never be healthy. Those who work for the health of the environment effortlessly improve their own health. At first glance going to the gym is good for you. In the long run it leads to a sick society.
Nature wants to heal. We only need to give it a chance.
Doctors do not heal. They create an environment which makes healing possible.
A doctor brings bone or tissue into right relationships, but it is own bodies which do the healing. We put the plants in our gardens and we water them and tend them, but they do the growing.
It is a mistake however to assume that our bodies or our world will heal in spite of our actions. We need to give nature a chance. Our obsession with greed and money is killing the only world we have.
We need to create buildings which make healing possible.
We need to strengthen the relationship between the built environment and the natural environment.
Our buildings also need to create an environment which makes healing possible. Our buildings should not only heal our bodies and our minds but also our relationships, failures, doubts and fears.
The first broken relationship we need to heal is that between the built environment and the natural environment. We need to throw away our ideas about dominating the landscape. We also need to heal the broken relationship between living and dying. From time to time our houses need to be good places for dying.
A sailor who had cancer and could no be at sea once asked if he could come to my house to die. His needs were simple. The sound of the sea and the smell of a kerosene lamp. My crypt was enough. He died but he breathed life into my house.
Houses need to breath, just like our skin does.
If you want to kill yourself put your head either in a plastic bag, or a typical code-compliant house.
We put warning signs on plastic bags, but strangely we do not put similar signs on our houses. It is common sense to have houses which breathe. No great scientific knowledge is needed.
Unfortunately common sense is a very rare commodity among all the bureaucrats who control our built environment. It would be better if they all put theirs heads into plastic bags and let the rest of us get on with life.
Healthy buildings embrace the world.
Shower outside, or at least have a bath-house for all wet activities.
If your home has triple glazing, weather sealing and insulation it will probably become a leaky home.
Sometimes we need to change the way we think, and sometimes we just need to think. By habit we all do very foolish things. For all the debate about leaky homes, often by very intelligent people, the real mystery is why we are continuing to build them. Everyone has become obsessed with stopping the water getting in, because we see nature as an enemy rather than the source of our life. A simple change in our thinking could transform our built environment and save us billions of dollars.
We need to focus on getting moisture out of our houses, not just on stopping it getting in. Having a shower in the middle of our houses is a really stupid idea. Boiling a kettle in the kitchen fills a house with moisture. Even having friends around for dinner fills our houses with moisture. Sealing up our houses to stop all that moisture getting our will, quite naturally, cause our buildings to rot. We do not need to look for someone to blame. We are to blame.
Simply design changes like having a bath-house for wet activities might help to change our way of thinking. On a marae the ablutions are always set apart.
Healthy cities and houses strengthen relationships, offering endless possibilities.
In peaceful cities and houses no window would look into someone else’s window.
Just as we build leaky homes so we also build homes which foster anger, resentment, hatred and frustration. We do not mean to. It is just that we do not think very deeply about what we are doing. Our planners do not think at all, because it is someone else’s life they are destroying.
We take it for granted that we will spend most of our lives looking into other people’s properties. It is not healthy. Instead of changing our own lives we begin having opinions about everyone else. It gets worse when they do not do what we think they ought to do. It is unhealthy. We become tolerant of ourselves, but intolerant of others. Our built environment encourages domestic violence and suicide.
Individuals can make dramatic changes very quickly at almost no cost.
Institutions fear change because they see it as threat to their power.
No institution wants a revolution. Planners look backwards not forwards.
The Britomart station was built as a dead end. We all knew that it would be a disaster and it was. When it was all too late the council eventually agreed. However the new Manukau station now being built is also a dead end. We have learnt nothing. Manukau city was built under the flight path of the airport on land protected from development. This was planning stupidity at a monumental scale. The council is seeking legislation to prevent any objection to ongoing planning stupidity.
One problem is that institutions do not have a memory. They send their archives off to the tip. In contrast the communal memory is enshrined in stories, and people tell their own stories.
Concentrating power and responsibility with those unable to embrace change is moving the planet towards total collapse.
A healthy life begins with taking control of your own destiny.
Too little food is not good for your health. Nor is too much.
It is the same with buildings. Perfection lies in having just enough.
Changing your way of thinking is useless unless you have the power to also change your life. Knowing when to stop is critical for health or housing. We need just enough architecture. No more. Moving beyond that reduces our quality of life.
The art of being fully alive is the art of living at the peak of the curve of counterproductivity. Once at that peak we need to concentrate on quality, not quantity.
Empowering people is the first move towards good health.
Our political system is unhealthy. Our society is sick, like our buildings.
The need for government is not a given. Nuclear free New Zealand was a grass roots initiative. The aborigines survived for 100,000 years in Australia, without government. Even Auckland University had virtually no administration before it was corporatised.
Taking responsibility for yourself is not the easy alternative, but it is the only option for anyone seeking a healthy life and a healthy world.
An affordable, healthy house is the one you build yourself.
An affordable, healthy meal is the one you cook for yourself.
The government stops everyone from building their own houses because that provides profit for the construction industry.
Our endless regulations have no interest in healthy homes.
Our government is terrified of owner-building. The Productivity Commission was terrified of owner-building. The select committees listen to the building industry, but no one else has a voice. Those in power fear those who have no need of it.
The regulations only need to control those who are cooking for profit. We need two building acts. One which is concerned with consumer protection from the building industry, and another which is concerned with the creative art of building.
Owner-builders build healthy homes. That is their priority.
The construction industry makes a profit. That is their priority.
There is no point in knowing what you ought to do if someone else is controlling your life. The building industry has no interest in either affordable homes or healthy homes. If you can market and sell anything which makes a profit why should you care?
For all our regulations no one asks the really important questions. For example we label our food but not our buildings. A nutritionist once observed “If it has a label don’t eat it.” If we labelled our buildings we wouldn’t live in them.
Diversity and complexity are necessary foundations for sustaining our life and the life of the planet.
Fundamentalism is the greatest health threat in our time.
A survey last week revealed that more than 50% of “Licensed Building Practitioners” are “semi-literate”.
Fundamentalism is a bigger problem than climate change. Our council is deeply committed to fundamentalism. That is what the unitary plan is all about.
The idea of having an ignorant, ill-informed, incompetent public supplemented by “Licensed Building Practitioners” is a recipe for disaster. Dumbing down the whole community so that protest and creativity are not possible is the worst form of dictatorship.
“Liveability” for individuals means a garden where you can grow your own vegetables, a place to sit in the sun, everything you need within walking distance, laughter, friendship, a glass of good wine, somewhere to park, and a place you can call home.
“Liveability” for the Auckland Council means planners telling you how to live your life, apartments controlled by body corporates, buildings blocking your views of our volcanoes, clogged motorways going nowhere in particular, bread and circuses to offset the boring architecture, and individuals going quietly mad in isolation from nature.
The right to object to the unitary plan is being taken away because the plan is stupid. If it was not stupid everyone would agree with it and there would be no objections.
Alice in Wonderland correctly suggested that words like liveability “mean whatever I want them to mean”.
Our media presents confrontation between opinions rather than a search for truth.
Individuals left to their own resources build wonderful structures.
Most people want buildings which will set them free.
The problems with the built environment are systemic.
People become slaves to a mortgage and the economy.
The people who make decisions about our lives know nothing about life. They try to shut out change. There is a world of difference between a static world and a dynamic world.
The natural environment in New Zealand is very dynamic. Only the planners think that nothing will change. Earthquakes and tsunamis are normal. Even our sea levels have fluctuated wildly over the years.
The earth’s magnetic field fluctuates wildly. With a reversal the weakening could allow solar particles to get through. We do not know what might happen, but it seems that life has survived past reversals. If we embrace a dynamic world everything changes.
People learn from their mistakes. Institutions do not.
Warning. The Wynyard Quarter is an earthquake red zone. If we learnt nothing else from Christchurch we should have learnt not to build on a swamp.
When we build in the wrong places we create “disasters waiting to happen”. We say how foolish people are to have unreinforced masonry buildings, when the real question is why institutions never learn.
The NZIA has described the Wynyard Quarter as “democratic urban design”. The CCO threw out the fishing fleet, the slipways, and everything else, to replace the real with the synthetic. Architecture has become a word-game.
A healthy city is concerned about the safety of its citizens.
If we learnt nothing else from Fukushima we should have learnt not to build in the path of a tsunami.
One village in Japan, Aneyoshi, escaped the tsunami because it was built above the 1400 tsunami marker. We should be just as wise. The Wynyard Quarter is a tsunami red zone.
A fourteen-foot storm surge similar to the recent one in New York would completely destroy the Wynyard Quarter, killing everyone along the way. Party central they call it. Who will take responsibility? What good will that do? It would make more sense to have a Commission of Enquiry before the disaster.
If you make the decisions you take the risks. If someone else makes the decisions you still take the risks.
You have no input whatsoever into Council Controlled Organisations.
The council has 29 urban designers on a panel. Can you name one? The planners tell you how to run your life. Can you name one? The council has 9000 staff. What they all do is a complete mystery. You never see them until you begin doing something and then they appear to stop you, or at least to write a report. It is not healthy.
A home is a spiritual journey, not a consumer object. You cannot buy the journey from someone else.
How much do you care about your life? A lot, I hope.
How much do bureaucrats care about your life? Not at all.
A healthy home is a political issue rather than a design issue.
Telling you what you should do is a complete waste of time. You are not the doing person.
Neil Fergusson, in the 2012 Reith Lectures, spoke about the need to strengthen civil society rather than local government. Diversity is only possible with bottom up planning and urban design.
Taking responsibility for your own health may not be the easy option, but there is no alternative.
Getting someone else to build your house for you is like getting someone else to make love for you. No one else can lead a healthy life for you. Go for it and good luck.
There are plenty of things you can do tomorrow morning at no cost. Give your house a name and your children a number. Then think of your children as an investment and sell them. Ask yourself why not. When you change your thinking everything else changes.
A presentation entitled “Architecture as if it mattered.”
Given at the “Healthy living show”, 2pm, 3 November 2012, in the Viaduct Centre.
The format was “20 slides in 20 minutes”.
(The first time I had taken the health risk of going to the Viaduct Centre.)