Proust Nature Questionnaire – Brian MacKay-Lyons

BRIAN MACKAY-LYONS received his Bachelor of Architecture from the Technical University of Nova Scotia in 1978 where he was awarded the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Medal. He received his Master of Architecture and Urban Design at U.C.L.A., and was awarded the Dean’s Award for Design. In 1985, he founded the firm Brian MacKay-Lyons Architecture Urban Design in Halifax. Twenty years later, Brian partnered with Talbot Sweetapple to form MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Limited.

The firm has built an international reputation for design excellence confirmed by over 125+ awards, including the Royal Institute of British Architects International Fellowship in 2016, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal in 2015 and Firm Award in 2014, six Governor General Medals, two American Institute of Architects National Honor Awards for Architecture, thirteen Lieutenant Governor’s Medals of Excellence, eight Canadian Architect Awards, four Architectural Record Houses Awards, eight North American Wood Design Awards and in 2017 the firm received the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture. Also in 2017, the firm has been shortlisted for the prestigious Moriyama Award (result pending). A fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (FRAIC), and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA), Brian was named Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (Hon FAIA) in 2001 and International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Int. FRIBA) in 2016.

He is a Professor of Architecture at Dalhousie University where he has taught for over thirty years and has held seventeen endowed academic chairs and given 200+ lectures internationally. In 2004 he was visiting professor for the Ruth and Norman Moore Professorship at Washington University in St. Louis.

Ghost (1994-2011) was a series of international Architectural Research Laboratories that took place on the MacKay-Lyons farm. Ghost was founded by Brian as a meeting place for an international ‘school’ of architects who shared a commitment to: landscape, making, and community. The final installment of Ghost took the form of a three-day historic gathering where the twenty-five invited guests and speakers commiserated over these shared values and their ‘resistance’ to the globalization of Architecture.

The work of the firm has been recognized in 330+ publications including six monographs: Seven Stories from a Village Architect (1996); Brian MacKay-Lyons: Selected Works 1986-1997 (1998); Plain Modern: The Architecture of Brian MacKay-Lyons by Malcolm Quantrill (2005); Ghost: Building an Architectural Vision (2008); Local Architecture: Building Place, Craft, and Community (2014); and Economy as Ethic: The Work of MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, authored by Historian Robert McCarter, published April 2017. In addition to these monographs, the work of the firm has been featured in 100+ exhibitions internationally.

3 words to describe Nature?

As a fellow Canadian, Nature is IMMENSE. But, as a Nova Scotian, all Nature is a mixture of both CULTURAL and natural landscapes. As an architect, Nature is the ultimate design MODEL.

3 things Nature taught you?

NATURE WINS. Any attempt to beat nature loses.

ELEGANCE = economy of means.

RYTHM of the seasons.

We learn our manners at home, then take them out into the world. As a child, I have been imprinted by the landscape where my ancestors have dwelled for thousands of years.

3 most treasured Nature spots?

EDGE, where the land meets the sea.

ACADIE, the local Micmac word for the ecologically rich tidal estuaries around the Bay of Fundy, where I hunted and fished as a youth.

DRUMLIN, a hill that points in the direction of the retreating glaciers in the last ice age.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

I feel connected to the INFINITE. (Prospect)

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

I am ALONE. (Refuge)

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

I see a PORTAL to the center of the earth.

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

A sunrise or sunset is a seasonal CLOCK.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Thunder, universally inspires TERROR.

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

The wind is the weather FORECAST.

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Clearly an OCEAN person.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

Nature connection is essential to my/our well-being, or GROUNDING, so it is a 10.

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

Dip netting spawning gaspereaux at dusk on spring evenings with friends, in the rapids, where the fresh water from the forest drops into the salt tidal estuary water. This is only one of the seasonal RITUALS that marked my PLACE in the world.

Nature Meditation – HYGGE

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“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Little Prince

There are thousands of them, sparks of ember rising from the fire and flying into the night sky. Their incandescence leaves traces against the darkness – erratic tapestry of temporary glowing streaks. My stare, previously locked on the burning logs, starts moving up. It picks up on a particular spark and follows it as it ascends and reaches to the stars. My imaginary mind can’t hold itself and creatively realizes that it has figured out where stars come from – millions of tiny embers from millions of campfires, over millions of years, that have flown high into the universe and settled. Once, these tiny Beings of Fire warmed our hearts, bodies, hands and skin; but now, hanging up above and out of reach, they warm our souls and make us dream about the infinite possibilities that lie beyond.

Around the campfire, friends are gathered. Through the grapevines, I hear many conversations. To my right, people are talking about the fish caught earlier, the same fish that we are now cooking on hot stones just inches away from the fire. There is a salty and crispy barbecue aroma lingering around that is tantalizing and torturing our hungry stomachs.

To my left, I can hear the excitement in recounting the day paddle of discovery, exploring two nearby bays – there was a great heron that was croaking at us, annoyed at having his secret stash of food disturbed. There was also the sight of a marauding mink, nearby rocks that were covered with seaweed and barnacles, sometimes going for a swim and diving for crabs. A family of deer grazing on a field, tucked between trees, was looking at us probably wondering why would any creature wear so many bright different colors and carry such a distinct plasticky scent.

In front of me across the fire, I can’t hear what the other people are talking about. I might not be able to hear their words but their bodies are speaking loud and clear. I can see the happiness on their faces. I see the glow of Life in their eyes. Their hands waving in the air with excitement.

For a minute, I contemplate at the impact fire has had on our evolution, not only transforming our eating habits, but also  – and I would argue even more importantly – transforming the way we interact. Beyond the purpose of hunting and security, it brought people together. Fire staged the birth for storytelling and laid the foundation to building communities. It created a place in time for people to bond, share, and connect. Here, in the outdoors, surrounded by a world that pre-existed me, I am connecting and bonding to my fellow humans and to nature in the same way that my ancestors did a million years ago.

The Danish have a word for the overall emotion that runs within my body: Hygge (pronounced ‘hYOOguh’), a deep satisfying state of well-being, a happiness that is rooted in being with others, enjoying life, living in the moment, eating, celebrating, and conversing. Looking around the campfire and seeing all of this love and happiness flowing, I come to understand how this word has become a cultural pride and the core of their identity.

Christmas and the holidays are a time to be Hygge. It is a time to stop and reconnect. A time to leave behind the worries and to celebrate life and the people that surround us.

This week, as we prepare ourselves to visit or receive our families and friends, lets take a moment to meditate on the joy and laughs these people have brought us, these memories of happiness that have happened over a good dinner or by a crackling fire in the chimney.

“Just living isn’t enough,” said the butterfly. “One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” Hans Christian Andersen, Danish Author

Read more about Hygge on NPR or BBC

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


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Nature Meditation – BREATHING IN, BREATHING OUT

“Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.” David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

My diaphragm contracts creating a vacuum within my lungs that sucks in the air, bringing in the molecules of oxygen on which my survival depends. These two organs, each the size of a football, protected under my rib cage, contain more than 1500 miles of airways. This intricate system of organic conduits in various sizes carries the Earth’s gas all the way to 700 million plus microscopic look alike broccoli head called alveoli. These anatomical structures, in turn, perform an action that has defined the very nature of life since the beginning of time: they take and give back. Oxygen is stripped away from the air, and carbon dioxide is returned. As my diaphragm relaxes, it forces the lungs to release a breath of equal proportion but now of a different composition. My exhale will feed a different kind of organism which will proceed in a reverse manner; delivering oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide.

The output of one is the input of another. And the output from the other is the very same input to the first one.

Every time I inhale, every time I exhale, I am reminded of my interdependence in a reciprocal cycle that has been going on for millions of years. Each molecule that enters my body, has been recycled billions of times, breathed in and breathed out by living and past species for eons, and will be for eons more.

My lungs are the embodiment of this reciprocity. Their main purpose is to connect me with the universe, and with nature. To take from it and give back. As much as one would want this to be a one-way relationship, it is simply impossible to exist without participating. Breathing in is taking from nature, and breathing out is giving back to nature. The more I breathe in, the more I breathe out. The more I take, the more I give back.

“There is one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life — reciprocity.” Confucius

In our existence, if our bodies are a product of reciprocity, what then will happen if we isolate and disconnect ourselves from the natural world? If the brain has evolved in face of challenges to solve, if our capacity to learn exists only because of our necessity to adapt, then what will we become if we let technology do everything for us? If we forgo the sensuous realm of our senses, are we consequently setting the stage for their disappearance?

This week, lets meditate on our breath and its transcending dynamic. Let’s reflect on our senses and their reciprocal existence. Are we breathing in more than we are breathing out? Is it time for us to let go of our breathe and give back?

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

WEEKLY DISCOUNT 15%. 

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FEEL THE WILD – eBOOK!

$9.75, plus shipping

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10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

DOWNLOAD NOW

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Smart Phone SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

$8.75

A set of 30 photos to use as a screen saver for your iPhone or Android.

Resolution: 1334 x 750, 100dpi

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

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Desktop SCREEN SAVERS – Bundle

$9.75

A set of 40 photos to use as a screen saver for your computer, desktop or laptop.

Resolution: 2560 x 1440, 100dpi, each

10% of the sales go to the W.I.L.D. Scholarship Fund, a program that sends inner city youth to month long wilderness immersion camp.

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Nature Meditation – INNER FIRE

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“When you know who you are; when your mission is clear and you burn with the inner fire of unbreakable will; no cold can touch your heart; no deluge can dampen your purpose. You know that you are alive.” Chief Seattle, Duwamish (1780-1866)

I am sitting in front of a campfire, staring. My eyes are locked onto an invisible place just above the burning logs. My mind is lost with wonder, mesmerized by this magical display of nature. Of all the Fundamental Elements (Air, Earth, Fire, Water), Fire is the only one that has the power to molecularly transform the nature of things. It is the only one that doesn’t exist unless it is created. It is the only one that consumes so that it can live. Its benefits emerge only when it is controlled and contained. Left to its own devices, it grows, spreads, ravages, and consumes. It is a power that can bring lost ones back to safety yet it can turn to ashes the biggest of castles. Since the beginning of time, its flames have inspired and terrified, cleansed and scorched, built and destroyed. It is easy to understand why in Hindu mythology, the the God of Fire, Agni, represents the essential energy of life in the universe.

And this essential energy is within ourselves too – our Inner Fire.

The People of Tibet believe that Tummo (translation for inner fire) truly exist and can be controlled through a breathing meditation – a practice that increases and manipulates the body’s temperature. That fire is said to live within, below the navel chakra. A fact that even our science-based culture recognizes daily without always realizing it. The expression “Fire in the Belly” is more than having ambition, stamina, vigor, and passion, it is that primal energy that fuels everything. By connecting with our Tummo, by meditating on our Inner Fire, one can activate its power of transformation. As our flame grows and expands, it rises and spreads, reaching throughout all other chakras, cleansing our body from all energy blockages, warming our hearts and bringing along love and compassion. But as with the element of Fire, our Inner Fire demands balance and control. Too much Fire within and we are over reaching, if it is always on, our body dries up and our mind burns away. If we don’t have enough then we lack the desire to move, live and stand up for our beliefs.

How is your Inner Fire? Is it flowing? Raging? Dormant? Is it leading you to safety or burning your castle? Is it inspiring you or terrifying you? Is it cleansing you or scorching you? Building or destroying? Take a moment to STOP BREATHE RELAX and LISTEN to your Tummo, what is it telling you?


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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