The Living Design Approach

Systems thinking unveils the deep interconnections in our world, providing a transformative perspective on cause, effect and emergence.

The C3 Living Design Poiètic Method transforms how we Innovate, Create and Develop Solutions.

The Poiètic Method synergizes four powerful mental models of thinking: Systems, Reduction, Pattern, and Integration.

A new way of thinking about the world has emerged over the past century. It is profoundly impacting our collective approach to innovation, design, creativity, and solutioning. It is reframing the way we see the world. Systems Thinking and, more recently, Living Systems Thinking are on their way to balancing the powerful but limited perspective of Reductive Mechanistic Thinking that has guided human creativity and activity for almost 400 years. This balanced worldview uses four forms of thought including SystemsReduction, Pattern, and Integrative thinking. These powerful forms of thought intersect in a concept we call the “Poiètic Method.” The Poiètic Method offers a ground-up, applied theory approach to executing paradigm shifting perspectives including, but not limited to Sustainability, Resilience, Regeneration, Health and Diversity.

The most potent aspect of the approach is its capacity to simultaneously provide vision and method to human creativity because Patterns can integratively carry both. The widespread use of the Poiètic Method could bring forth a much more alive, equitable, and resilient world than the paradigm of reductive knowledge, narrow self-interest, and over-specialization prevalent throughout our social and mental landscape today. It could bring about a world centered on fostering life’s poiètic beauty in all its forms.

Systems thinking offers an unparalleled potential for transformation, allowing humanity to recognize the intricate tapestry of cause and effect in our interconnected world

The Shift in Creative Perspective

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 focused, Reductive Thinking. Living design actively weaves Reductive Thinking with Systems Thinking in a way that effectively elevates our creative potential as a profession, and a creative species.

The approach to Living Design, i.e. the Poiètic Method is an emergent and iterative approach inspired by ecology, engineering, science, humanities, and the fine arts. Living Design and the Poiètic Method are emergent through the pioneering efforts of sustainable, resilient, regenerative, and inclusive thinkers 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) along with others are central to its expression. 

Authentically engaging with the complexity present in a living world is inspiring and evocative. Living thinking challenges everyone’s design and problem-solving skills. In many ways, it requires new perspectives on how we interpret the world around us. Living design requires inventive ways of organizing our thoughts and generating order. We want to share our view on Poiètic Method as it may be a helpful mental tool for those exploring Terramodern philosophy and Living Design.

Our essential perspective on Living Design and Poiètic Method is adapted and substantively expanded from The Nature of Order, Book I, The Phenomenon of Life by C. Alexander.

Outline of The Living Design Poiètic Perspective

Life implies a functioning “wholeness,” which may be more or less complete. Functioning wholes are comprised of influencing “Centers.” Some Centers are “explicit, obvious they are not all spatial. Other centers – some hidden, some hardly visible in the space, but latent, or biological, or social – also control the behavior of the world” (Alexander). An influencing Center is defined as a coherent entity. Examples of Centers:

  • Door
  • Kitchen Sink
  • Tree
  • Building
  • Forest
  • City
  • Community

Living Design unfolds through the work of Alexander with three Living Design Meta-Centers (Pierce):

  • Spatial – 2 Dimensions, 3 Dimensions, 4 Dimensions (space and time)
  • Flows – Thought, energy, water, materials, social relationships, knowledge (and more)
  • Realms – Interconnected collections of all kinds that inform, influence, embody or create a Center or Whole.

The Core Principles of the Living Design Poiètic Perspective

Nested Entities: As a general principle of Living Poiètics, an Influencing Center is a recognizable moment, entity, or Whole;  a Whole can be nested with and within ever-greater Wholes, creating Realms. Realms can nest with other Realms until they form a Universe. And Universes can nest with other Universes to form the great Wholeness of Life.

Integrated Wholeness: As a general principle of Living Poiètics is that wholes are (more) complete and vital when more centers are woven together. Designers, innovators, and creators must use this principle thoughtfully. They must be vigilant not to combine centers or wholes together in ways that create clutter, chaos, or confusion. There is a subjective balance between excess without integrity, and simplicity without life. Centers, Wholes, and Realms become vital moments in time and space when they achieve a balance between too much, and not enough.

Net Positive: As a general principle of Living Poiètics, centers must provide a net positive influence on and with other centers and wholes to extend vitality or positive energy. Otherwise, they are a net negative and contribute to decline or death.

Structure + Method

The C3 Living Design Project (C3LD) imprints this new approach by collaboratively creating, connecting, and curating life patterns. Inspired by eco-system scales, we organize 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 and 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 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 we develop collaboratively through our C3LD Incubator and fieldwork with real-world projects, universities, organizations, and individuals.

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

You may participate or enter the living design approach and dialogue at any scale, channel, or dimension that fits your project, skills, or 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 patterns.

Unlike a tried and true chemistry formula, the results are unpredictable. 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, expanding 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 | Neighborhood + Site
  • 06 OF | Organization + Facility
  • 07 PM | People* + Products (Includes Animals + Insects)
  • 08 SW | Soil + Water
  • 09 ME | Matter + Energy

Vision + Method through Pattern Thinking

Through the use of pattern thinking, the C3LD project seeks to integrate vision + method into a seamless stream of action and results.

At its core, the C3 Living Design Project (C3LD) has embraced a pattern thinking approach because it uniquely and simultaneously embodies vision and method. In pattern thinking, vision and 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 various scales and issues (method). Creating, combining, and adapting patterns can be used to develop unique, holistic design solutions, generating new and ever-larger patterns (vision). The knowledge embodied by a pattern can be easily made available to others, and the pattern (a vision) can be easily shared (a method). Documenting patterns and sharing them represents a form of collaborative vision sharing. As noted, the vision(s) represented by patterns can be blended and adapted to a specific context (vision and method).

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

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

A Fundamental Shift in Human Perspective – From Mechanistic to Living

Over the past 1,000 years, technological, mechanistic thinking has become our society’s dominant vehicle to channel the human capacity for creative enterprise. Mechanistic thinking has captured our minds and structured our society. Through the predominant 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 a species towards disaggregated 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 and exploitation. We must 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 essential part of living design, it is recognized that it must reside in dynamic, integrative balance with living systems thinking. We must err on the side of life and vitality, not on 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

Living Systems Thinking 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

The “About the C3 Living Design” page outlines a New Story for a Living World.


Our world, which is now influenced heavily by human ingenuity and creativity, is clearly at risk. We must re-channel our native capacity for creativity and adaptation through technology + physical objects to be in balance with the whole of life. Our approach to designing our world requires profound transformation.

The design + thinking tools above can be part of that transformation. All of the 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.

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