The future of harmony and cities #architecture

During the past month, Venezuelan architect Ana Manzo @anammanzo hosted a series about harmony on her blog The Place of Dreams. Mine was the 14th post. Who knew that architects, designers, contractors, and related folks could find so much richness in one word? You can read the entire series here.    

What is harmony?

My blogging friends defined harmony beautifully onAna’s blog. They found harmony in rock and roll, poetry, nature, relationships, ancient sacred ground, and architecture. Diverse elements cooperate into a completely new sound, different and more complex than the individual notes. Harmony is not a state or condition; it’s a perfect balance achieved by coordinating diversity. Through complexity, we find unity.

Ana said harmony is love. I think that’s right. Love sees us and accepts us as we are. The Greeks agreed. They invented the word – harmonia – to mean joint agreement or accord. It’s compromise, joining, and fitting together. 

My question is: are we becoming more harmonious? And how do we find harmony in cities? First, I want to add one more idea to harmony – rebellion.

Is harmony always good?

Are there times we prefer life beyond accord?  Foucault fretted over harmony, which he saw as oppression, pressure to conform. That’s the rebel’s voice. I would call that pushing limits, testing the edges of conformity. In harmony, the notes desire each other, respect difference, and create a new sound, unlike any single note. They seek a community of notes, joining the most extreme, and all are transformed, transcendent, into a richer, more complex voice.   

We need single notes too. They come first, the ingredients of harmony. And the further they push, the more complex, varied, intriguing harmonies emerge. Individual notes must be celebrated. Sometimes I wantMonk.   

How does harmony work in architecture?

Architects argue about harmony. Christopher Alexander believes that great towns and cities blend the parts into the whole. “When you actually get all those elements correct, at a certain point you begin to feel that they are in harmony.” Peter Eisenman claims that disharmony and harmony exist in the cosmos; we need both. He fights for individual expression.

Is it possible that these opposites are two sides of the same coin? These modern lions fight over the same terms. Disharmony and incongruity aim at order, as does harmony. Some choose to conform and others fight. That is a mindset, the either/or way of 20th century thinking.


Here’s true harmony to me – both/and.

Both compatible buildings and buildings that contrast. Exceptions prove the rule. Are Bilbao’s historical buildings more memorable next to Calatrava’s Zubizuri footbridge?


Do you

feel greater attraction to the Nelson-Atkins Museum thanks to Holl’s ultra-modern addition?


Does the

Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial open your eyes to the heroics of the neo-classical monuments? To me, thats the role of harmony to celebrate difference. And we still need powerful, single notes.

Too much conformity, you get suburbs or Disney-fake, like a one-dimensional painting. Too much clashing, you get single notes competing, Las Vegas-style. If single voices are never heard, if remarkable buildings are never seen, the city goes flat. 

What is harmony in society?

Harmony, you might say, begins inside of us and informs our relationship with the universe. It works through me to we, to things, to nature, to cosmos.

Claire Graves invented a developmental model of humans, societies, even civilization calledSpiral Dynamics. The nine tiers of self-awareness (color -coded) ormemes move towards greater harmony and connectivity – instinctive (beige), animistic (purple), egocentric (red), authoritative (blue), achiever (orange), consensual (green), integral (yellow), holistic (turquoise), next? (coral).

With more people, interconnectivity expands – or needs to. So we learn and adopt better models. It’s also what gives us hope – belief in a better future. With environmental problems and planet limits, our technological and social developments are barely staying ahead of our need to live together, our urge for harmony. Sometimes we fail catastrophically.

Plus you never forget those former memes; you incorporate them and add more parts, more skills and choices. You become more fully human. As societies, we are more connected than we possibly imagined. In short, we continually strive for greater harmony.


What is greater harmony in cities?

We started with caves and we ended in suburbs? Be still my heart! Surely we can improve on that. These one-note communities were just a stop on the way, an orange meme. Sometimes we really blow it, given too much power too soon, a baby with matches. And then we are forced to fix our errors, where the hardest part may be admitting it.

Jane Jacobs claimed, “Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination.”

Here’s how I see these memes in cities. Beige – caves. Purple – primitive tribal villages. Red – Ancient Greece, Rome. Blue – fortressed cities, castles, cathedrals. Orange – industrialization, skyscrapers, suburbs. Green – new urbanism, sustainable design, revitalization. Yellow – living cities, restorative. Turquoise – adaptive, co-creating, biomimicry. Coral – too soon to know; biogenetics, nano, neurotech, transhumanism, singularity?


Harmony Tattoos

We are re-calculating, re-examining our lifestyles. How to become more harmonious, to live with seven, eight, or nine billion people? How to be in balance with the planet, to replenish resources rather than deplete them? And how to cultivate quality.

How do you love life? How do your clothes, home, city, your tattoos express that and feed your spirit?

The moderns (not in design, but in thinking) believe in an oppositional blue/orange mindset. My way or no way. Green thinkers want to cooperate, create communities, and build sustainably. Yellows adapt on the fly, see wholes and parts, and are comfortable with constant change, in other words, harmony. Different notes combine to express entirely new sounds while still celebrating you. 

Our cities need to be that way. I’d say the first harmonious cities will be yellow.  

Harmony is love and we grow towards it. Not harmony all sugar and sweet, pastoral utopias, but with all the tangs and twists of human nature wound together as separate strands for resilience. It’s the tattooed city, visibly expressing who we are and who we want to be.

  • What color is your city? What’s harmony to you?

Images, videos:  Thelonious MonkRound About Midnight; CalatravaZubizuri Foot Bridge, Bilbao, Spain; HollNelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, USA; Maya LinVietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington DC.


Where do you find happiness? Holl’s Museum Add’n in Kansas City, guest post for @Antony_DiMase #architecture

Antony DiMase of DiMase Architects  in North Fitzroy, Australia invited me to sharea place that makes me happy. Their blog series  Places That Make Me Happy was inspired by my Hilarious Cities essay. His firm does beautiful work, check them out. They constantly explore ways to help people see architecture differently and be a bit braver about design. You can find my original post here.


For decades, I grumbled about the complete lack of world class modern architecture in Kansas City. Great places make us better humans. When we see it and experience it every day, we become more creative, even visionary. Excellence breeds more excellence.  Call it the reverse of the “broken window theory.”

When the Board of Trustees for the 1933 Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art initiated an international competition to select the architect for the new Bloch addition, I leaped for joy. Of the six star architects, only Steven Holl defied the committee’s instructions to connect with the broad Beaux Arts entrance façade. Instead, his addition attached to the short eastern end of the building. Even more compelling, instead of an above-grade structure that would diminish the park-like setting, Holl buried the addition and mounted five channel glass “lenses” on the roof for daylight. His radical originality springs from these two acts of rebellion.

Those five lenses are among the most ingenious inventions of the last decade. Holl defines their counterpoint with the existing building as the stone and the feather. The massive heft of the original limestone structure sits solidly on the ground while the white channel-glass boxes seem to dance lightly down the sloped landscape. Their glow at night is pure architecture magic.

My favorite space, the Naguchi Gallery near the extreme end of the building, opens directly onto the main lawn. After experiencing a series ramps and underground galleries, a panorama of the original building bursts into your view, framed by an expansive window panel. The effect is sublime; it always brings tingles to my skin.

When I seek inspiration, I skip to the Nelson and visit Holl’s masterpiece. I am happy now.

  • What places make you happy?  

Images: interior, south lawn, distance shot Steven Holl Architects; connection detail Goldberger inThe New Yorker; at night w/ trees Washington Post. 

Big Lessons for Working from Home – Guest Post on Building Moxie


You’ve finally wrangled a few days of work-at-home from the boss. Or you’re now the boss and the grunt too. Like 47% of the population who want to work from home, you’ve found your freedom and now you’re faced with your first workday at home.

The freedom is terrifying.

To get you past that first Monday morning scream, you might want a few tips. Because at this point I’ve done it all. I’ve drudged through waiting tables, selling soap, sewing uniforms, and cubicle work; and I’ve owned the office. Now I gleefully occupy a corner of my house, having conquered the fears of the liberty-challenged.

  1. Setting the Pace. You are the boss and the employee. We all know at the office, one or the other can be stupid but never both. Figure out when you hit your stride during the day and dedicate those hours to employee jobs, the real productivity, the “big rock” projects. The rest of the time, you can be the boss.
  2. Home Alone. You are working alone. That is, unless you count the dog, fish, or couch. To kick my collaboration addictions, I create journal conversations, draw diagrams, take long runs and walks, post trial ideas on my blog, check the twitter clan, and have built a network of worthy reviewers and co-conspirators. You really are not alone. You just work alone far more than before.
  3. Imaginary Time. You no longer participate in daily rituals like rush hour, water cooler chats, lunches with the gang, commutes, or even normal dress-up routines. All told, that’s easily four hours of saved time per day, right? That’s like going to Macy’s sale of 30% off, spending $100, and expecting $30 cash. Not in your wallet, is it? Same deal: that four hours a day is gone, poof! You will never know where it went. There is no savings; there’s only convenience.
  4. Power Door. You are going to need a door. Or a crystal clear sign. I have an upstairs room with no external connections where I seriously work. Then I have a downstairs desk where I do everything else and quasi-connect to family life. So I see both situations. The door solves everything. If you don’t have your separate space, make a truly obnoxious sign that says: “Do Not Interrupt the Interrupter in Chief.”
  5. Double Used Home. You’ll be buying more groceries, toilet paper, and electricity. Call these purchases work-at-home expenses. It also means that your house gets a little dirtier with more dishes to wash. Unless of course, you never notice dust bunnies anyway. Then it’s just normal. Will a future buyer ask: has this house been driven hard or been a ‘Sunday drive’ kind of house? Mine’s 24/7 now, so is my neighborhood; it’s like meeting a whole new place.
  6. Real Clothes Wednesday. More laundry, less dry cleaning. More tennies, fewer hard heels. More pony tails, fewer blow dries. As I sit here in my running shorts and hoodie, I remember when I thought I would always wear suits to work, even at home. *laugh* Trips are bundled to minimize days in full regalia. Hey, I’ll be in real clothes on Wednesday; lunch then?
  7. No is Beautiful. I guard my time like I never did when I was working in a team. Saying no to a project was tantamount to putting people out hungry. We aimed for yes. Yes to that new police station, school renovation, downtown planning project, the neighborhood group, design juries, and various boards or committees. Now I monitor promises because I’m it. You’ll learn yes-with-limits and, sometimes painfully, no.
  8. Structure or Not. We skipped the apprenticeship program for at-home work, didn’t we? You are making it up. What time to start, stop, and take breaks? When is something ready to go? In project teams and schedules, the rhythm set the office mood. Now the rhythm is my rhythm. At the same time, the family has a different drum beat. Two tips: put your major due dates and meetings on the family calendar. And don’t start the laundry on a work day. It will wait.
  9. Not-Spent Money. Live-work at home is cheaper. Lunch at home, slouch clothes, minimal dry cleaning, less gas, parking, wear-and-tear on the car (or dump the car) will soon offset the added desk, computer, power, and groceries. Shall you splurge? The first check: scan it, frame the copy, and then go back to work. The first $100,000: nice dinner, then back to work. And start figuring out when you should sell the business – 2 years, 10 years, longer? Make a plan; build your assets. Even if you keep it longer, do it by choice. Invest in freedom.

Every day that you get up and work in your hoodie and tennis shoes is a good one. When you pick up your kids from school or stop for an hour to shoot a game of hoops or take a run, be happy.

Working from home just shrank your ecological footprint dramatically. No office waiting for you all night, no house sitting empty all day. It’s full occupancy.

Work in a team telecommuting from home or work alone gives life new balance and, if you love your work, new meaning. You are the boss. And you are the grunt. Relish it.


True Green: What Is Sustainable Design Anyway? | on Construction Law Musings #LEED

Written on July 30, 2010 for Christopher G. Hill’s blog in Green Building, Guest Post Friday

 Noisette Rose

This week, Musings welcomes Cindy Frewen Wuellner, PhD, FAIA, architect, urban analyst, and founder of Frewen Architects Inc. Cindy teaches at the University of Houston Futures Studies Graduate Program. She is currently writing a book on the influence of social technologies on the design, construction, and use of 21st century cities. She can be reached at 913-961-1702 or on twitter as @.urbanverse

The Noisette Rose – A Triple Bottom Line Approach

For the Noisette Development in North Charleston, SC, in a collaboration of BNIM and Burt Hill Architects, we created a framework called the Noisette Rose. Based on the Triple Bottom Line concept, project goals combined concerns for Prosperity and People as well as the Planet. The Rose designates the qualifications and rates the success in meeting those criteria as radial arms around the circle.

The Noisette Rose effectively illustrates the complexity of sustainable design. While LEED and other models establish minimum standards for energy use, waste management, and so on, many experts consider sustainability environmental criteria alone will not achieve sustainable development. The Noisette Rose and Triple Bottom Line method describe that larger vision.

What is Sustainable Design?

Several organizations have defined sustainability in the spirit of the Triple Bottom Line.

  • United Nations: Development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” They added the three mutually reinforcing pillars of economic development, social development, and environmental protection.
  • US Office of Federal Environmental Executive: “The practice of 1) increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials, and 2) reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal — the complete building life cycle.”
  • USGBC: Certification defines “green building” as primarily environmental components and identifies five areas – site, water, energy, materials, and indoor environmental quality.
  • Cascadia Green Building Council: “A built environment that is social just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.”

In other words, while USGBC has focused on environmental “green building,” several other organizations embrace social and economic terms as well. Consequently, it seems likely that sustainable development in coming years will extend beyond strictly environmental concerns and include all three areas of the Triple Bottom Line.

What Will That Mean to Our Practices?

The broadened goals warrant even greater clarity and precision in metrics, and ultimately to establish appropriate jurisdictions for compliance. Like the Noisette Rose, the value of each goal will be judged by how carefully we define excellence and track performance, and how effectively the combined criteria create true sustainability.

If environmental performance, being the most readily measured, is covered by building codes and regulations, it removes the question of the short-term marketplace. Similar to other life safety mandates that are the foundation of building codes, everyone plays to the same minimum standards. While individual heroics suffice for pushing knowledge during innovation, only mass adoption creates true environmental change. Voluntary efforts will always fall short.

As building owners, design professionals and users are discovering, we no longer can imagine sustainable design is achieved at occupancy.

The built environment no longer sits passively as a collection of boxes for shelter; experts, owners, and users collaborate with buildings and cities everyday to achieve environmental, social, and economic goals. The aggregation of individual choices determines performance.

True Green

Based my sustainable design work, research, and analysis, I am writing a series called True Green. A number of public challenges highlight the shortcomings of our current practices. Those questions range from inadequate energy performance and design conflicts to green washing and user complaints. These reactions are healthy so long as we respond and improve our practices. In particular, better data and improved education emerge as weaknesses.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.” It’s our collective job to make certain the well remains full. If we can do it forever, it’s sustainable.

Cindy and I welcome your comments below.  Also, please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Friday Musings.


Trust: The New Golden Handcuffs | Life at HOK

Mike Plotnik, HOK, invited me to be the first guest blogger on HOKLife. Here’s the verbatim post. Thanks to Mike and HOK for sharing their incredible platform, one of the most socially engaging architectural sites.

I invited Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, FAIA, an accomplished architect, educator, researcher and blogger, to share some insights on the value and potential of online communities like ours. Prepare to be inspired, challenged and enriched…


How do you build your professional reputation? There’s an old way and a new way.

In the old way, you work for a star firm, build expertise, cultivate relationships, get recognition, awards, advancement, grab a couple of friends, and bolt for the door. Voila, the birth of a next-generation firm where you can spread your wings, design, lead, and develop your expertise.

The cost to the mother ship is enormous. They lose their best people. Project knowledge vanishes, as do friendships, clients, and projects. In short, the most talented people outgrow the firm. In the old way, influence was finite.

There’s a new scenario developing. You can see it at HOKLife. While inside the firm, you build your own brand. You express your views using the firm’s resources. Your brilliance appears on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. People come to HOK specifically to find you, ask your opinion, and seek your expertise. Your influence can literally extend globally; you are limited only by the strength of your ideas. When your influence grows, so does HOK’s.

From HOK and Me to We’

Paradoxically, by giving you freedom to express your ideas, HOK increases the stickiness of its network. Trust is the new golden handcuffs. You stay with a company because they allow you to directly shape that collective persona. Rather than a monolithic top-down message, HOK becomes an aggregation of many voices and moves the relationship from the firm and me, to we. Those voices bloom every day on HOKLife and change the public face of the business.

Freedom of expression generates greater resilience for the firm and breeds a new type of brand, more inventive and diverse through multiple voices. While HOK benefits by drawing more deeply on the resources of individuals, each blogger gains the HOK presence which lends immediate credibility. The public, including clients, experience the vast levels of knowledge and resources that comprise the entire organization.

HOKLife offers a megaphone to cultivate stronger bonds with the firm’s most precious resource – you. It’s a gamble. Yet I wager that no field benefits more from high-performing social technologies and open leadership approach than the design professions. Because each firm member is a professional expert, it generates a competitive advantage previously constrained by the limits of specific project roles. Digital territory offers every person infinite free space for engagement and consequently influence.

Models for Social Engagement



I recently met one of the leading social technology analysts, Jeremiah Owyang of The Altimeter Group. He identifies five organizational models for social engagement: centralized, organic, coordinated, hub and spoke, and holistic or “honeycombed.” From what I see, HOK works as a coordinated or multiple hub and spoke model. People from Hong Kong to St. Louis across disciplines and interests contribute. Most comments come from inside, with a few external comments on blogs and Facebook. Those blog posts and comments begin the conversation.


HOKLife may evolve to the holistic “honeycombed” approach. Each employee is empowered to experiment. The social portion of the website grows according to each action and becomes the firm’s voice. The result is a seamlessly integrated engagement between employees and clients. Eventually, HOK’s website can merge with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. Known as a Freemium business approach, general research knowledge is shared openly to grow influence while clients pay for customized design services. The industry, HOK, and you as an influential expert benefit.

Building Influence and Trust Communities

In some ways, websites didn’t do professional design firms any favors. They set the stage for static sites centrally controlled which freezes social potential. At one time merely having a web presence represented a leap of innovation. Not now. It’s the difference between walking into an empty room versus a room full of engaged people.

Rather than merely broadcasting, social technologies enable dialogue and let the site ebb and flow based on the energy of the conversation. The visitor’s experience shifts from an online brochure to an ongoing roundtable discussion. Firms who still believe in the brochure model will be left behind.

In the new social engagement model, clients and the public don’t visit just to become familiar with HOK. People return repeatedly as though it’s a combination of coffee shop conversation, resource library, television broadcasting, and newspaper stand. You create a must-stop location. While building careers and reputation, you’re cultivating relationships and developing communities based on trust. When people want an expert opinion, they will come to HOK to find you.

What’s Next?

HOK people already blogging are brave scouts; you opened new territory. Here’s some thoughts about your next opportunities to expand your influence and relevance.

  1. Comment, comment, comment. Create a commenting frenzy that builds high quality dialog. That energy and vitality will attract others to the table.
  2. More firm leaders join the conversation by writing and commenting on others’ postings.
  3. Highlight particularly vital conversations so others join in.
  4. Find your clients online; share information at those sites.
  5. Link clients and colleagues to specific blog posts and conversations.
  6. Expose projects on the boards or under construction, which truly are social as much as they are technology.
  7. Think in terms of: what do our clients need to know? What keeps them up at night? Write about that.

The work that HOK does is thrilling; you plan, design, and build cities every day. A website can have the energy and vitality of a job site or design studio. When people begin to frequent the site simply to engage and find expertise, HOK will have a valuable asset. So will each committed person that built it. Using HOKLife to engage people and blur the boundaries of the firm brings richness and experience unique in the design and planning professions.

Instead of bricks and mortar storefronts, the new geography is digital; space is free. Consequently, time becomes the most precious commodity. Can you attract the attention of influencers? Moreover, can you gain their trust? You attract people through intriguing ideas; you capture their hearts and minds by developing real relationships.

Owyang, Jeremiah. “Four Laws of Social Business.” Presentation Slides from Smash Summit, May 2010. (image source for social engagement models)

More Links at key words: socialmedia, socialmediabiz, twitterstories

Image credit: Cadenhead, Rogers, Rcade. “Newseum: Do You Trust Blogs.” Uploaded 19 Feb 2009, Flickr Creative Commons.


Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, FAIA, LEED AP, founded and operated an architecture firm for 20 years before merging it with another design firm in order to shift her focus to long-term strategies for designing and building cities. Example projects are Kansas City Downtown Civic Mall Master Plan for 60 blocks of the central business district; Kansas City, Missouri Police Department Facilities Master Plan; Charles E. Whittaker United States Courthouse Interiors; and the Ilus W. Davis Park, a civic park in downtown Kansas City. She teaches in the Graduate Program in Futures Studies at the University of Houston as an adjunct professor and at the University of Kansas. Frewen Wuellner is currently writing a book on how social technologies are transforming the ways we use and build cities. Web site:; Connect at Twitter and LinkedIn.