Considerations: Experiencing Whole Systems

 Experiencing Whole Systems

Hello Bill,

I wanted to tell you that your Integrative Design presentation today was the highlight of the conference for me. I found your points so refreshing—like a clear bell ringing in the midst of mass “green marketeering”. I would love to write about some of your concepts and share them with the readers of our healthy planet section of

The two slides that stand out for me are the one with the image of the Tetons and the aquaduct that has disappeared due to farming, and the chart that illustrates how “sustainable” isn’t enough...we need to get to restoration and regeneration. Actually, another wonderful point is the one that shows how native americans would tend to things b/c that shows what regeneration really means.

Would you be willing to send me a copy of your presentation so I can share and help get the word out on integrative design and integrative living? I will certainly cite you as the source of this information.

Thank you for your inspiring presentation!

- Rebecca Arora -

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Some Points to Consider on Regeneration


  1. Experiencing Whole Systems

    There is really no such thing as a regenerative project – nor can there be – an object by itself cannot be regenerative. It’s about the relationships between the objects and how they are continuously evolving that make them regenerative. Some hopefully clarifying thoughts - Regeneration is a process of engagement with the purpose of healing living systems (humans and “nature”) and birthing a new spirit to consciously participate in expanding the healing process. It does this in a way that enriches the possibilities for greater diversity living relationships. If a deeper potential for living relationships is not part of the story then it isn’t regeneration. Many designers use this word for photovoltaics but that is a subset of what it takes to make life occur on a continuing basis. There are two basic aspects to regeneration:

    There needs to be a process that helps participants experience the whole system they are part of.

    • I.e., the whole and complex relationship of culture, earth systems, biotic systems, technical systems – this can be done with keystone issues. It doesn’t require infinite knowledge.
    • This cannot be taught. This needs to be experienced. Facts and technologies can be taught, but facts are not ‘understanding’. Understanding comes from an awareness of patterns of relationships.
      • “To understand is to see the way things belong together, and to see why they are together as they are. Understanding relates to underlying patterns, relationship, meanings. If each thing of the world were different from everything else, we should have no hope of understanding. We would have to rely on knowing everything uniquely and piecemeal ” (Bennett).
      • An example. If I were given the exact bits of knowledge that tell me how to build a solar house, I could be given the knowledge to do so. But if I was told to apply these same facts to a different home in a colder climate I couldn’t use the same knowledge. I will need to understand the pattern of relationships – in this case the laws of heat transfer, thermodynamics, and material performance in a harsher latitude to determine the right kind of equipment to use. Now apply this same analogy to plants, microbes, human social systems and culture – it requires a different way of engaging the participants than simply recommending technologies.
    • The design process needs to ultimately become an experiential process based on the foundation of how life works in that place in order to hope to achieve a sustainable condition.
  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

  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