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Architectural Harmonics
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Biome Design
By: Michael Bertin, Architect - © 2005

BIOME (according to Webster); A complex of communities characterized by a distinctive type of vegetation and maintained under the climatic conditions of the region.

BIOME, as a tool for Human sustainability, is herein defined as; A living, self sufficient ecosystem, which is fully adapted to it's climate and contains all of the necessary components, set in symbiotic balance, for a healthy and thriving existence for the whole system and all of its integral parts.


The Earth, in its pristine form, is one of the greatest examples of a Biome. Without the taxation that the human race, through our deficiency in understanding the whole system, has placed upon it, the Earth could, by self-regenerative symbiosis, sustain its own ecology indefinitely. It is a self-contained living system - a living entity unto itself.

This delicate balance of seasons and cycles is a peremptory reflection of Divine Order in the cosmos. It presents a pattern for harmonious living within any aspect of the natural environment and as such serves as a model of how the Sacred manifests in the physical world. The Earth is part of a continuum of pattern; per the Hermetic axiom: "As above, so below and as below, so above". Each bio-region on the planet has generated its own systems for the biome pattern to be complete, each pattern perfectly adapted to its own set of environmental conditions. If the human race is to fit into this continuum, and our very survival is dependant upon it, we must re-establish our respect for the sacredness of the living environment, recognizing our interdependence with it and start using it as a model in the creation of our built environment.

The Biome model is one of integration. This interactive approach can be applied to all levels of building design and environmental planning. It is a design generated from a comprehensive understanding of all of the components, systems, cycles and forces, both gross and subtle, acting upon the object of design. Each climatic biome will have its own set of environmental conditions and resources that should influence or even dictate the overall design criteria in that region.

A Biome building, or space, is a structure designed in the image of a living organism; it contains all of the necessary mechanical systems (organs) required to support the body of individuals (cellular) who dwell therein. The energy and nourishment needed by this organism will be self generating through dynamic interactions with the site's prevailing environmental forces, coupled with the work performed by the 'cellular' body. It then takes on the semblance of an organic entity that embraces and enhances all of these forces in a balanced symbiosis with the environment with the sole purpose of sustaining itself. The Biome approach to design embodies a holistic view of nature and the absolute interdependence of all its component parts, including the Human factor.

"Spirit moves through all things; to learn to live in harmony with that movement is the Way of the Wise." Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Priestess of Avalon


Shelter, one of the basic needs for human survival, has always been viewed as our protection from the environment. We build structures to shield ourselves from the extreme effects of the elements so we can live in comfort. This is of course as it should be. Without that protective shield humans would soon succumb to exposure. Without shelter we would not have evolved civilization and society, as we know it. Even amongst nomadic peoples their portable shelters are an intrinsic part of their culture and life style.

There is, however, in the very way that we regard shelter and have subsequently created it, a deeply profound effect on the fabric of our lives and of our social order. The built environment that we live in actually dictates the very way in which we live. The buildings and spaces around us have a profound affect on our psyches. This influence goes far beyond the physical layout constraints and the general functionality of enclosed spaces, with all its built in features, into the realm of subtle energies. These subtle energies are affected by such things as building materials, proportions, geometry, color and textures and, of course, the energy of the land itself and how the sun, wind and water act upon any site. All of these things must be accounted for if what we build is to be a sustainable part of the environment and if we are to blend the weave of our social fabric into the balanced web of nature. To the degree that they are accounted for, a building or place becomes more sustainable, more nurturing to its inhabitants and better integrated into the sacred landscape.

While we usually plan our buildings around convenience and personal preferences there is a general disregard for the not so obvious subtle influences. So we end up with shelter, but is that shelter fully serving us? We have protection, but without any consideration of these subtleties and the dynamics of the environment, that protection becomes more like a barrier cutting us off from the life force that surrounds us. We live our lives sequestered from nature, cut off from the vital energy of a growing outside world.

Most people can attest to the fact that there are some places that make them 'feel good' to be in while others are somehow discomforting. More typically there is not any tangible impression other then that of being inside or out. While it is important to realize the subtle dimension that spaces do have a feel about them the more pertinent point is to consider what it is that causes them to feel good, bad or indifferent to us. What is it that leads us to inspiration in some spaces and to apathy or even depression in others? In order to begin addressing this question we must first broaden the overview of our collective reality. We need a more comprehensive understanding of the total interdependence of all things in this created sphere of perception that we call home. We must acknowledge that we are an integral part of this Earthly ecosystem, not separate from it and certainly not in a position to abuse it without doing inexorable damage to ourselves and to future generations.


In the Biome model the first design criteria is to view the building as a living entity with specific needs intrinsic to its surrounding climatic environment. For a building complex to function as a living system it must have all of the mechanisms inherent to a living organism. It must breathe, take on nourishment and transmute that nourishment to fulfill its fuel and energy needs, process it's own waste in such a manner that the by-products also feed and nourish the system and, finally, it must have sensory perception to enhance dynamic interactions with its environment. That is to say it must have a comprehensive awareness of it's own functions and needs in order to effectively operate and maintain itself. It is the human inhabitants that induce the breath of life and cognition into this 'constructed' organism. This design approach embodies a holistic view of nature and the absolute interdependence of all its component aspects, including human sustenance. We can then utilize available and developing 'green' technologies to produce those necessary mechanisms.

The breath of a building happens in part by typical air infiltration through windows, doors, walls, etc. But there are methods, some very ancient, that enable the building to breathe 'more deeply'. By utilizing wind currents and thermal convection caused by solar gain a building can be well ventilated while the air is passively tempered to create comfortable indoor temperatures. The introduction of interior planting areas or at least many potted houseplants also contributes to the healthy breath of a structure. Plants produce oxygen while at the same time they absorb toxins from the air. Water is another an important consideration in achieving healthy breath, particularly in arid climates.

The nourishment of a building is that which meets its nutrition and energy requirements. Localized food production can be an integral part of the design criteria in greenhouses or sun-spaces and with 'edible landscaping' and gardens around the building. The power necessary for heating or cooling, for cooking and cleaning, appliances, entertainment and communication, etc. must come from renewable and sustainable sources like solar, wind and water, all of which are available technologies and need only to be applied.

Waste should be treated as the resource that it is. All organic kitchen and sewerage waste can be broken down and processed to produce bio-gas for cooking, compost for land fertilization and effluence to feed productive wetland habitats and aquaculture facilities. Appropriate recycling bins can be built right into the kitchen cabinets or storage areas.

Integration of interior and exterior spaces; bring nature inside and expand living outside as an essential part of a naturally balanced building environment. Interior planting areas, potted plants, water gardens, sun spaces, windows/views, day-lighting, ventilation convection, exterior living areas, decks, terraces, patios and porches are all means of achieving this. Buildings that are designed to include these things are less of a barrier to nature and serve to re-establish harmony between the natural and the built environments.

The two crucial factors in the Biome design process are;

  1. Program Development; defining the function of the structure, the required spaces and how they need to interact. This should also include a projection of future growth and uses.
  2. Inventory and assessment of the resources; after understanding what is present at a given site, buildings can be designed to utilize those existing resources and to supplement those which are not. Following are some of the many considerations and appropriate technologies to be regarded in the design process:
Site dynamics: Prevailing weather patterns and climatic conditions, topography, vegetation, indigenous species habitat, natural features, views, solar access.

Regional resources: Indigenous organic building materials,

Cultural Landscape: Traditional native wisdom and knowledge, cultural context.

Site harmonics: Geomancy, Feng Shui, Bau-Bologie, Permaculture, Geometry

Solar energy: Photovoltaics, concentrating solar collectors, solar convection, passive heat storage, solar cooling.

Other energies: Wind, water, geothermal energy potentials.


In nature, organic growth happens only when there is a reasonable balance between the elements. Trees and plants require earth, air, water and the fire of the sun for their survival and all animal life is dependent, directly or indirectly, on these same elements for their sustenance. It would follow that in order to create a healthy built environment we should strive to integrate the balance of these elements into the buildings we build and the landscaping that surrounds them.

Earth:Utilizing the flow of energy in the ground at and around the site. Energy lay lines are often coupled with underground water flows and energy 'hotspots' can occur at places of water columns, water domes or at converging lay lines. Designs should be generated so as not to impede the movement of energy through the site. They can, in fact, be created to enhance that movement, thereby bringing the vital aspects of the energy into the space and structure. The site's topography can be a factor in design. The landform itself may reflect a particular geometric shape or proportion. Buildings should be designed to fit into the landscape and not impose upon it. Views are significant, not only for their aesthetic qualities but also as links between interior spaces and the surrounding landscape.

Water:  It is important to realize that water flows not only in ocean and stream but also through the ground, through the air and even through our bodies. It is the one element that binds all life and should be acknowledged and integrated into our buildings and places. Understand and respect the flow of water in the ground at and around the site. Interior water elements: water gardens with streams or pools, table top fountains all increase humidity and embellish the flow of energy through interior spaces. Interior plantings are also an excellent means of enhancing indoor water cycling in the air and revitalizing interior air quality.

Fire:The fire element is significant to a building's interior vitality. Traditionally a fireplace or hearth was the heart center of a home. The place where family would gather for warmth, cooking meals and for comradery. If a fireplace is not part of the design program then some other form that symbolizes the heart energy, or spiritual center, should be integrated. Good solar design will also bring in the fire element and increased vitality to a space. It can be used for space heating, hot water, natural lighting, thermal convection and to aid interior plantings, which generate oxygen and help filter the air.

Air:Ventilation can be utilized for heating, cooling and refreshing air quality. It is essentially how a building breathes. Movement of the air element within the space is an important aspect of maintaining balanced interior energy and healthy air quality. Seasonal prevailing winds, temperature norms and general weather patterns are also important considerations for designing.


Harmonic Proportions refer to the consistent, tangible ratios that exist throughout our cosmos. They relate to and even regulate galactic mechanics, molecular structure and growth patterns in all life forms. The same proportions that exist throughout the human body can be found in the placement of planets around our sun and in the patterns found in seashells, flowers, seedpods, etc. These same numbers can also be found in the ancient ruins of most temples built around the world. The pyramids of both Egypt and Central America, Stonehenge, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Shinto temples and many of the early Gothic and Renaissance Cathedrals all have these proportions integrated into their dimensions in various ways. The common use of the same numerical systems by all of these different cultures, long before most of them ever communicated with each other, may be seen to imply some higher level of commonality that touches all of creation through the weave and geometry in the molecular matrix of matter itself and the way energy and our consciousness moves through it.

The most significant of these numbers is the Golden Means. That is the ratio between .618 and 1, as it is between 1 and 1.618. Derivations of this ratio give rise to most of the other numbers of significance utilized in Sacred Geometry. The progression also gives rise to the Fibonacci number series in which any two numbers in the series added together gives the next number; as in 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144,etc. All of these numbers (after 3) are in a Golden Means ratio to the next one. Fibonacci numbers are also quite prevalent in natural growth patterns. The ancient Greeks regarded the Golden Means with such importance that they endowed it a major constant in their mathematics, signified by the letter Phi. All of the ancient temple builders acknowledged a sacredness in the natural world around them and regarded it as part of the Divine Order of things. They understood that buildings, which utilized this Sacred Geometry, were more conducive to states of prayer, meditation and for communion with the Divine. These buildings and spaces were, in general, more in harmony with nature and the environment. Accordingly, this system of Harmonic Proportions becomes an essential augmentation to the Biome Design criteria.

Geometry is another important consideration. Can we call it mere coincidence that the vast matrix of our bureaucracies is housed in almost exclusively rectilinear spaces? They are all confined by square angles, which depict division, separation and differentiation. The very fact that right-angle geometry monopolizes our society has perhaps given rise to many of the prevalent separatist and oppressive attitudes, which so dominate our world political scenes. If one is prone to differentiating and holding oneself separate it becomes difficult to acknowledge, let alone honor, anyone or anything beyond those established boundaries. This is clearly the case with our collective demeanor towards nationalism, racism, religion, all the way down to egoism. This is another chicken and egg question. Did we build all of these squares because of square thinking or do we think 'square' because of the spaces that have been built around us?

There are other geometries, such as Curvilinear, Hexagonal, Octagonal and others that each bears their own energy dynamics and can be individually or collectively utilized to heighten the fullness of various human experiences and functions.


All materials have about them a subtle energy field. Depending on the nature of the material that field can be life enhancing, neutral, or in many instances toxic, or life depleting. With growing environmental consciousness and greater awareness toward indoor air pollution, the public is demanding more suitable building materials. Industry, which is typically slow to respond, has made some efforts, however, and there are now many more new products available which are made from renewable resources and recycled materials, but the majority of our commonly used building materials still are not. There has also been, due to a more particular market, allot of 'greenwashing' to make some products look more desirable. Plywood, for example, whether it is in panel form or in laminated joists and beams, is promoted by the manufacturing community as a 'green', or sustainable building product because it can be manufactured from smaller trees, sparing old growth forests. While the preservation of old growth trees is highly meritorious, what is not disclosed is the fact that the binders and adhesives used in the production of these products are themselves highly toxic and off-gas offensive fumes for many months after installation.

There is a growing number of viable building systems and materials that are readily available and totally organic. Some of them are very ancient; some are adaptations of old methods while many are totally new innovations. Adobe, rammed earth, cast earth, straw bale, pumice-crete, cobb, tabby, mud straw, to name a few; are typically not promoted by the professional community because they are not economically profitable products, they are things the common person can go and gather for themselves. There is no way to corner the market for mud (still the most commonly used building material in the world). All of these materials can substantially reduce the amount of wood used in the building. While wood is a renewable resource, deficient forestry policies, poor logging practices and generally over consumptive building techniques have made the issue of conserving our forest resources an imperative one relative to our planet's environmental health.

Transportation is an important factor in any conversation about sustainability. Locally available material and resources should be utilized wherever possible. The less energy used to produce and to move materials to a building site the better and local materials will, of course be more in harmony with the surroundings.


The biblical portrayal of Eden; the paradise created as the 'habitat' for a 'pure' minded Humanity, conveys the Biome concept fastidiously. The garden provides both beauty and sustenance for its occupants. As long as said occupants didn't try to exploit resources and control the cycles, all remains in balance. The 'eating from the Tree of Knowledge' is then a metaphor for exactly that; the start of exploitation and control. So the 'original sin' was more a matter of violating the 'Divine Balance', by trying to take control, then it was of a moral nature, given to it by a patriarchal religious overlay. This overlay is rooted in misogyny and fear (fear of the non-physical power and strength of the feminine, which seems to elude the un-integrated male mind). This first affront to Unity is what has begotten our separation from paradise.

We are now engaged in the process of re-creation (recreation) of the Garden; a return to Eden. The era-appropriate paradise is that Biome environment for humanity, and perhaps the culmination of this level of our evolutionary cycle is to apply our 'knowledge' and life affirming technology to create a built environment, and landscape, which re-creates the balance of paradise in our world environment.

It is the intention of the Biome Habitat, as reflective of sacred spaces, to enhance the well being of the individuals that occupy them and that of the Earth, which contains them.

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