The Living Design Approach

A new way of thinking about the world has been emerging over the past 30 years and it’s having a profound impact on our approach to design. Systems thinking, and more recently living systems thinking are on their way to balancing the limited perspective of reductive / mechanistic thinking that has guided  human creativity + activity for almost 400 years.

We think of this balanced world view, in which systems thinking, mechanisticreductive thinking  and integrative thinking are combined as the “living design approach.”  The most powerful aspect of the living design approach is its capacity to simultaneously provide the vision + method for creating a world that is more alive, more equitable + more sustainable than the story of materialism, consumption and self-interest that is prevalent throughout our social and mental landscape today.



A shift in perspective from reductive, mechanistic thinking to inclusive, living thinking results in a new approach to problem solving. Unlike a reductively driven approach that strips the world and our problems of complexity, living design accepts and works with complexity as an essential ingredient to effective problem solving. However it’s not about throwing out reductive thinking. Living design actively weaves reductive thinking into the relational matrix of dynamic, living systems thinking in a way that effectively elevates our creative potential by mixing the two together.

The process of  Living Design is an emergent and iterative approach inspired by ecology, engineering, science, the humanities and the fine arts. Living design is emerging through the pioneering efforts of restorative, resilient + regenerative thinkers who are creating a new story for the world. The ideas  imprinted  by  Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language), Fritjof Capra (The Web of Life) and Lewis Mumford (Technics and Civilization) are central to its expression. 

The C3 Living Design Project (C3LD) is actively  imprinting this new approach by collaboratively creating, connecting and curating the patterns of life. Inspired by the concept of eco-system scales, we are organizing the living world of ideas and patterns into nine scaled categories or ‘Channels’ and three classes or ‘Dimensions.’ From here, the information is used to inform + inspire the development of living patterns, concepts, indicators and metrics. For ease of communication, we frequently refer to all of these simply as ‘patterns.’  The patterns are then used as the ‘structure’ to catalyze an emergent whole systems design solution that is in itself, an integrated pattern.  Our website includes a Pattern Library drawing extensively from existing patterns developed by a wide range of organizations and individuals. It also houses new patterns that we are collaboratively developing through our C3LD Incubator and our field work with real-world projects, universities, organizations + individuals.

Consider each pattern to be adaptable and blendable with other patterns that have already been developed or with patterns that are unique to your project and need to be created.

You may participate or enter the the living design approach + dialogue at any scale, channel or dimension that fits your project, your skills or your interest. You can work up, down or laterally from there. We often find that looking through one scale beyond your point of entry, in both directions (larger and smaller), is the minimum amount of scale jumping needed to bring out the active relationship dialogue inherent in living thinking.

Like the compounds in a chemistry set, living patterns are reactive with other living patterns and combining them spins-off new compounds or new patterns.

Unlike a tried and true chemistry formula, the results are not predictable. They are the result of creativity, imagination and integrative thinking. Selecting and combining patterns that are alive with collaborative energy and vitality is essential to creating living designs and living solutions. Dead patterns are ultimately non-collaborative and they expand the anti-vital forces at work in the world leading to stagnation and sterility.

C3 Living Design Project scaled Channels

  • 01  DT | Design + Thinking
  • 02  LP | Life + Planet
  • 03  RB | Region + Bio-region
  • 04  CW | Community + Watershed
  • 05   NS | Neigborhood + Site
  • 06   OF | Organization + Facility
  • 07   PM | People* + Products
  • 08   SW| Soil + Water
  • 09   ME| Matter + Energy
*Includes Animals + Insects
C3 Living Design Project panoramic Dimensions
  • Society + Equity
  • Nature + Environment
  • Capital + Economics
Through the use of pattern thinking, the C3LD project seeks to integrate vision + method into a seamless stream of action + results.

At its core, the C3 Living Design Project (C3LD) has embraced a pattern thinking approach because it uniquely and simultaneously embodies vision + method. In pattern thinking, vision + method become fundamentally inseparable.  The combination works like this: Patterns describe actions, solutions and ideas (vision). Multiple patterns are created, combined and adapted to solve problems across multiple scales + issues (method). The method of creating, combining and adapting patterns can be used to develop unique, wholistic design solutions, generating new and ever larger patterns (vision). Because the knowledge embodied by a pattern can be easily made available to others, the pattern (vision) can be easily shared (method). Documenting patterns and sharing them represents a form of collaborative vision sharing and the vision(s) represented by patterns, as noted previously, can be be blended and adapted to a specific context (vision + method).

The theoretical basis of the C3 Living Design Project seeks to integratively bring together living systems thinking + mechanistic reductive thinking

As discussed above, simultaneously applying living systems thinking + mechanistic reductive thinking + integrative thinking can create an empowered design approach that elevates the human potential to create and to solve problems of ever increasing complexity with elegant solutions.

Over the past 1,000 years, technological, mechanistic thinking has been become the dominant vehicle our society uses to channel the human capacity for creative enterprise. Mechanistic thinking has captured our minds and structures our society. Through the dominate use of mechanistic thinking, with little or no inclusion of living thinking, humankind has become an overwhelming influence on planet earth. Unfortunately our focus on mechanistic thinking has biased our development as species towards dis-aggregated solutions that are degenerative to living systems. Our mechanistic worldview is void of significant purpose, beyond consumption, as the means to maintain a mechanistic economy based on extraction.  It is essential that we rapidly develop the intellectual and societal capacity to organize + manage our reductive, mechanistic capacity for tool-making, artifact development and manipulation of the landscape for the betterment of the present and the future. While mechanistic, linear thinking is considered an important part of living design, it is recognized that it must reside in dynamic, integrative balance with living systems thinking. We must error to the side of life and vitality, not to the side of machines and spiraling degradation.

We consider Living Design to be a shift of emphasis from the mechanistic, object oriented thinking that dominates our current mental lens to one that is primarily informed by  living systems oriented thinking and the frequently intangible, emergent properties that are created by interactive relationships

This represents a fundamental reorientation of our ontological perspective, our view of the world and the way we solve problems. As noted above, the Living Design Approach embodies the conscious use of (3) epistemologies to inform thinking + problem solving:

Ecology + Systems (Complexity)

Science + Analysis (Reduction)

Integration + Polarity

All of these thinking approaches have overlapping characteristics, some more than others.  They can be highly compatible if approached with an adaptive, integrative attitude. With practice, their blended use can result in a creative process that embodies grounded vision + inspired method. When combined with the stock of available green design patterns, good research skills and an attitude of innovation – a single designer or an entire team can develop inspired + purposeful living solutions that go well beyond the visual manipulation of form, space, texture, color and light that are the central preoccupation of modern design.

 **We define Natural Design as the evolutionary process of life that creates and recreates our world on a daily basis.

 • • •

 Creating . Connecting . Curating the Patterns of Life
Connective Information for this Post:
C3LD Scaled Channel: Design + Thinking | DT 
C3LD Panoramic Dimension: Society + Equity



Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is is missing a few factors, for one you do not use all three H tags in your post, also I notice that you are not using bold or italics properly in your SEO optimization. On-Page SEO means more now than ever since the new Google update: Panda. No longer are backlinks and simply pinging or sending out a RSS feed the key to getting Google PageRank or Alexa Rankings, You now NEED On-Page SEO. So what is good On-Page SEO?First your keyword must appear in the title.Then it must appear in the URL.You have to optimize your keyword and make sure that it has a nice keyword density of 3-5% in your article with relevant LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing). Then you should spread all H1,H2,H3 tags in your article.Your Keyword should appear in your first paragraph and in the last sentence of the page. You should have relevant usage of Bold and italics of your keyword.There should be one internal link to a page on your blog and you should have one image with an alt tag that has your keyword….wait there’s even more Now what if i told you there was a simple WordPress plugin that does all the On-Page SEO, and automatically for you? That’s right AUTOMATICALLY, just watch this 4minute video for more information at. Seo Plugin

I was just looking at your The Living Design Approach | The C3 Living Design Project website and see that your site has the potential to become very popular. I just want to tell you, In case you don’t already know… There is a website service which already has more than 16 million users, and the majority of the users are looking for topics like yours. By getting your website on this network you have a chance to get your site more popular than you can imagine. It is free to sign up and you can read more about it here: – Now, let me ask you… Do you need your website to be successful to maintain your way of life? Do you need targeted visitors who are interested in the services and products you offer? Are looking for exposure, to increase sales, and to quickly develop awareness for your site? If your answer is YES, you can achieve these things only if you get your site on the service I am talking about. This traffic service advertises you to thousands, while also giving you a chance to test the network before paying anything at all. All the popular sites are using this service to boost their traffic and ad revenue! Why aren’t you? And what is better than traffic? It’s recurring traffic! That’s how running a successful site works… Here’s to your success! Find out more here:


“ mechanistic, as if nature functioned as a clock – you take it apart, reduce it to a number of small simple pieces, easy to understand… analyze them, put them all back together again and then you understand the whole” -Sonia, Mindwalk

“ was at a time when what was known, you could know” -Atul Gawande, Checklists

complexity, autonomy, humility, discipline

The two quotes both relate a mode of being in the world. They describe how a previous way of thinking – reductive and mechanistic – was previously valid in many areas. At the infancy of modern science and medicine, these understandings served people well. However, the present state of science, medicine and other fields is a different landscape, with more knowledge and complexity than we can fully take in. As Atul Gawande relates – we have crossed over into a time “when we can’t know it all”. This is a good problem to have – there is so much knowledge at our disposal – but we need to develop new modes of understanding and using it. The checklist is a way of regulating this with humility and discipline.


A checklist such as LEED brings together a wide array of issues and team members to handle complexity. It is not a recipe for putting together a building, but a reminder of issues. Each issue has its own complexity and details, but LEED brings these together, weighting them and balancing issues with a greater purpose.

I agree that we have entered a time where “when we can’t know it all” as seen as a good problem. That we have a lot to continue forward with and ultimately to understand and learn about. As time goes on, we will continue to search for the meaning of new knowledge or insight which will change the way we think all together. Also, that the checklist will benefit from this, that we be more accepting of these changes and will structure a more reliable transition for the changes from the new knowledge that is acquired.

Theory: Atul gawande claims that ” making systems work, whether in health care, education, climate change, making a pathway out of poverty, is the great task of our generation as a whole. In every field, knowledge has exploded, but it has brought complexity, it has brought specialization”. The human development in every area has occurred last few hundred years but it not not make the world a better place. It looks like the mechanistic thinking that led us to go further in science also let human become disconnected from the whole and ignore interactive relationships. The reductive thinking lead to specialization and discarded that each act has effect on whole system. s Sophia claim at Mindwalk episode, we can not solve the problems that reductive thinking created in the environment by simply trying to fix parts. Instead we need to shift wholistic thinking and cover everything at the same time. She claims we need to focus in prevention instead of intervention.To create and make system thinking work, Dr Atul Gawande propose checklist system need to be applied to any area. A check list is not going to replace the knowledge and skills but it is a security to make sure that key point to make the system work not get forgotten or missed. The idea is to replace independence, self-sufficiency, autonomy by humility, discipline, teamwork. Living Design Approach suggests systems thinking, mechanistic thinking and integrative thinking must combined to successively solved today’s complex problems. The Living Design Approach integrated thinking ,methods sounds complex. It suggest to look at to a project through channels that covers many disciplines such as ecology, sociology, science, economics. The approach aims to serve as a checklist of broad area that all requires specialized knowledge. A pilot who flew a plan use a checklist but he has the knowledge and skills to fly a plane. A designer can use and apply a checklist but does he/she also has to possess knowledge in all those disciplines in order to derive reasonable solutions?

It is interesting that you suggest the world has not been made a better place over the last few hundred years. I would probably agree with this inquiry – though we have gained scientific knowledge in many areas, is our overall quality of life improved? If we take a mechanistic worldview (which may be legitimate), we should consider what types of opportunities for seeing the world does this leave out? (i.e. phenomenology)

Leave a Reply