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"Be the change
you wish to see
in the world..."
            -M. Gandhi

t a k i n g   g r e e n   t o   t h e   e x t r e m e


Any designer you collaborate with on your upcoming project will need to understand your goals and range of aesthetic preferences in order to capture your spirit within the design solution.  The exercises below will help to communicate your goals and desires to whomever you work with.  You can engage with these exercises in any order or simultaneously.  It is recommended to spread your effort out over several days, or even weeks and months.  I recommend that everyone who will have a stake in the project participates to some degree in these exercises.  Remember that there is no right or wrong with any of these exercises.  They are meant to be enjoyable and not judged in any way.

1. Collect inspiring images

This exercise involves collecting images from books and magazines that inspire you about your upcoming project.  The images can include anything…spatial relationships, materials or textures, the quality of light in a space, a beautiful color, storage ideas…really any image that speaks to you in some way, even if you can't describe why.  The objective is to communicate your range of aesthetic tastes.  Try not to edit or judge what you select.  (Note that it is equally informative to include photos of things you react strongly against.)  A copy of each image will be added to your project file, so please “collect” in any of the following ways:

  • color copy

  • scan and save on cd (max image size 1MB please)

  • or mark books with sticky notes (and we will scan them)

As a next step, jot down what you are drawn to in each image as much as you can. We will review everything you have collected at our project kick-off meeting.  Below are some recommended resources to begin your exploration.  These are suggestions only, so please do not feel limited by this list.  Magazines and internet searches can also be helpful.

Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, and Barbara Winslow.  ( Newtown , CT : Taunton Press, 2002.)  ISBN 1-56158-533-5.

Living Homes: Sustainable Architecture and Design by Suzi Moore McGregor and Nora Burba Trulsson.  ( San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 2001.)  ISBN 0-8118-2469-1.

Home by Design: Transform Your House into Home by Sarah Susanka. ( Newtown , CT : Taunton Press, 2004.)  ISBN 1-56158-618-8.

The New Strawbale Home by Catherine Wanek.  ( Layton , UT : Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 2003.)  ISBN 1-58685-203-5.

Natural Home and Garden Magazine (www.naturalhomemagazine.com)


Write a personal vision of “home”


This exercise involves envisioning that your project is complete and wildly successful!  Close your eyes and try to visualize your new space.  What do you see?  Feel?  Smell?  Experience?  What is the light quality like?  There are no rules to how you tackle this exercise or what you write!  However you feel most comfortable expressing your vision is perfect.  You may want to include memories, a description of walking through the completed spaces, the qualities at different times of day or year, etc.  Feel free to include any notions you have about the design and/or construction process.

Try not to get bogged down with writing something perfect…the goal is to have fun with this!


Create a list of “Key Patterns”


Review one (or both) of the following books and identify key patterns that summarize the functional and aesthetic goals for your project.  Instructions on this exercising below...


A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein.  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.)  ISBN 0-19-501919-9

I recommend looking for the book in your local library first to see if this exercise will be of interest to you.  Don’t be intimidated by the size of the book!  You won’t need to read the whole thing (though feel free to).  Pattern Language is broken into 3 sections: Towns, Buildings, and Construction.  This exercise focuses primarily on the middle section, Buildings.  I recommend starting with the Introduction ("Using this Book") to understand how the book is organized and how best to navigate its contents.

You will then review the Summary of the Language, starting on page xviii.  (You may want to copy this section so you can make notes.)  The summary is a list of all of the patterns listed in the book.  Review this list and take note of those patterns that catch your interest.  Then go to the section in the book where that pattern is described in full.  Each description includes a photo, some sketches, and the fundamentals of what benefits that pattern provides.  There will also be a list of related patterns that you may also want to explore.  In the end, you will end up with a list of 8 to 12 (or more) core patterns that together will create a language or coherent picture for your total project.  You may also keep a list of secondary patterns that peaked your interest but that have secondary importance.


Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, and Barbara Winslow.  ( Newtown , CT : Taunton Press, 2002.)  ISBN 1-56158-533-5

This exercise is similar to the one above, except in this case I recommend reviewing the entire book.  This book is actually created based on A Pattern Language though it condenses the number of patterns.  Review each of the 10 basic patterns listed and select those that are the most in line with your project priorities. This book has the added benefit of color photos, and you may want to tag any that you find particularly inspiring.

Down to Earth Design
Sigi Koko, principal
215.540.2694 PA
202.302.3055 DC

©2000 Sigi Koko & Down to Earth