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Commentary: Create healing work, biz environments

Source: Northeren Colorado Business Report 12/13/2002
Author: Terrence Schlesinger

Do you recognize that your energy level, your physical and emotional well-being, your productivity and financial success all are influenced by exposure to sunlight and colors and shapes, time spent in natural settings, exposure to ambient sounds and silence, contact with toxic and allergenic substances, and exposure to microwave and computer radiation?

Many of these elements have much more impact than is commonly recognized. We take for granted that office buildings, cubicles and furniture are square; walls are neutral pale colors; lighting is adequate as long as it is bright enough; and artificial materials are unavoidable in new and renovated buildings.

Even with all the publicity about sick-building syndrome, our building and interior-design cultural norms have not become appreciably healthier, nor more responsive to individual sensitivities or to a value system that says that personal well-being is important to productivity and interpersonal harmony.

As an architectural consultant, I see gratifying improvements from simple, often inexpensive changes in lighting and paint colors. I have years of construction experience, and know what is possible with building, electrical, mechanical and landscaping materials.

Being very intuitive, I know beyond logic the changes that can upgrade environments. With a history of allergies, I believe people when they say they feel awful in certain environments and cannot work well. Increasingly, I can pinpoint how environmental factors enhance or detract from productivity, energy levels, morale and health. I can see how new buildings should be laid out in harmony with the land and with the function of the buildings. I balance priorities and organize renovations so the greatest improvements occur with the initial changes. This helps clients to budget and make effective, realistic commitments.

The underlying premise that guides my vision is that nature creates balance between all its elements: plants, animals, soil, water, weather and light. When all these elements are in balance, harmony and synergy prevail. When we human animals live and work and learn in natural, balanced environments, then harmony and synergy prevail, as well. The more our buildings and landscapes mimic natural situations, materials and processes, the healthier, happier and more productive we are. It's inevitable. People will want to frequent your restaurant or store if they feel comfortable, enthusiastic and expansive there. And naturally they will spend more money. Clients will feel safe and in good hands at your dental office, chiropractic clinic or massage-therapy space if you create a soothing, yet competent, ambience. You will go home at night with energy to spare if you have less exposure to toxins and more pleasant interactions with employees, co-workers, customers and vendors.

How can you begin to upgrade your environment, especially in a sick building full of toxins, an old building with mold, a cramped space you have outgrown or a leased space where you are limited in the changes that can be made? Holistic solutions exist. Naturally, some problems are more challenging and expensive to deal with than others, but through an initial consultation a realistic and honest appraisal can be offered, along with an estimate of cost and time investment. Many decisions can be made without my having to visit your environment at all. I have worked with clients via e-mail, Internet and phone, using photos and drawings. Clients choose the level of involvement they are able to afford and feel comfortable with.

Here is a possible scenario for redesigning an existing environment. In the initial consultation the basic concepts and client requirements are established. Next to be considered, based on problems with the space, are: Color and lighting schemes; ideas about reorganizing and opening up spaces and radiusing (curving) wall corners; plants and outdoor landscaping; indoor and outdoor water features; air cleaning systems; acoustic treatments; the subtle but powerful balancing of energetic elements of earth, air, water, fire, wood and metal; and the visual impact of embedded graphics like I Ching symbols or runes, your business logo, and sacred geometry proportions.

I provide suggestions and the client chooses what appears feasible, attractive and "right." Often the changes are instituted a step at a time.

How do you know if changes in your environment would help? Let me give a few examples from a recent trip where I know changes would help. I visited a huge atrium of one of the most expensive office buildings in a large and moneyed city. Everything was brown, gray and taupe except for the $8,000 of real and silk plants that looked equally lifeless in this dead environment. The building is only half occupied and the atrium was empty and silent except for a bored security guard.

Next example: I went into a new restaurant because it was convenient and I was in a hurry. The owner had designed the environment himself, I suspect. The walls were gold, spring green and red-purple, a combination not enhanced by black and white photos. The ceiling was high and black with exposed metal girders. The cement floor had a folksy design hand-painted on it in gold and brown. I had to sit at three tables before I found one where the ceiling lights were not glaring straight into my eyes. I could not wait to eat and get out, the place felt so hard and inhospitable. I won't go back there.

Also, it was empty throughout my visit.

Third example: I stay with a friend when I go to this city. A month ago we cut down a dying evergreen with black bark and prickly, bare branches. It opened up her front entrance amazingly. She had been having some problems, she said, with the neighbors, and I felt the problems would disappear with this hostile, prickly guardian of the house gone. Well, I returned to find she had placed by her front door a black wrought iron spiral-shaped shelf stacked with fat, spiky aloe vera plants. I had to walk around the arrangement to get to the front door, while having a startle response that my eyes were going to be poked out. She recreated the energy of that dying tree without, I'm sure, any awareness.

Each of the creators of these environments did the best they could and had hopeful intentions. But they were not skilled at environmental design, and their choices are going to cost them more than the money outlaid. Designing healing environments takes practice, intuition, objectivity and wide experience with materials and buildings. With nature as my model, the elements I use have an energetic integrity independent of temporary styles.



Terrence Schlesinger is an architectural consultant living in New Mexico. He can be reached at 520 445 4800 or by e-mail at balance@LightYears2.com.

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