Practice/Process Steps: Setting the Stage

 Practice/Process Steps: Setting the Stage

Dear Bill,

Thankyou for sharing your insights into how to produce more truly reflective design outcomes. The talk was dense in the best way and I would appreciate being able to further reflect on the content now that I am back in Australia. Can I take you up the offer you made of an emailed PDF of the your complete presentation at Westcoastgreen. I look forward to receiving this in due course.

Thankyou once again for your inspiration and energy.

- Michael Heffernan -
Heffernan Associates Pty. Ltd.

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Some Points to Consider on Regeneration

  1. Experiencing Whole Systems

  2. Sustaining Sustainability



Practice/Process Steps

Using the following methods, we work with stakeholders to develop an understanding of how buildings, habitat, and people can contribute to ‘the health of the whole’ over time. The objective is to align human activity with the nature of Place – the process asks how we can be participants with the Place – not limiting ourselves by assuming we can only do something to the Place.


  1. Setting the Stage – understanding and aligning human aspirations of a project

    To understand the objectives of a project, it is necessary to understand the core drivers of why the project is proposed in the first place and what people value and perceive as significant about the Place they inhabit. It is necessary to elicit from the participants the aspirations they have about this project and locale. Questions about what is driving this project, what is important to the client and design team are elicited in a dialogue process. It is significant to note the difference between the visions for a project and the aspirations of the participants.

    A vision, as it is used in planning processes today, is basically a wish list of desirable features or wants by the project constituents. These “visions” may amount to dozens of multi-paged flip chart lists. Sometimes there are contradictory issues that cause more disagreement among participants than alignment around a purpose.

    An aspiration is a deeper, heartfelt core purpose (aspire, breathe, spirit) that, if elicited in the course of the design process, becomes a fundamental objective of the project in very general terms. The generality gives the design process flexibility. The core purpose gives the design process the energy to find solutions that support both the aspirations and the nature of the place. There are likely only a dozen or two aspirations common to most everybody – readily available food, health, family, security, love, the opportunity to voice concerns and be heard, freedom to practice beliefs, healthy natural systems, honest relations with neighbors, and so on.

    With powerful and basic aspirations understood by the participants the way is open to begin exploring how these aspirations can be met within the opportunities and limitations of the nature of that Place. The aspirations open up the possibilities of rich and fruitful dialogue with the participants as opposed to laundry lists of ‘visions’ that may pit sides against each other. This process is useful for two reasons:


    1. by eliciting the core purpose of the project the many members of the client and design team have the opportunity to see beyond the simple building program and question assumptions;
    2. this has the potential of aligning the design team around the purpose of their work. When working on unique projects, in unique places and solving problems to realize authentic solutions requires that design teams break out of past practice patterns and expectations. Without this kind of process it is unlikely they will realize the deepest potential of a whole system solution. This work is preferably done before a site is selected or the design process has begun.


  2. Learning about the Place

  3. Frame/sketch/outline the story of Place

  4. Marrying story of Place with aspirations for future

  5. Identify indicators

  6. Integrative Design/Construction Process

  7. Ongoing Feedback