What does it mean to have an integrated east-west approach to architectural design?

For me, it means having a foundational understanding of both eastern and western design philosophies and responding to design challenges in a way that is true to both perspectives. Finding this balance isn’t always easy, but it is possible. It took me over 10 years to develop an integrated east-west approach to architectural design. The beauty of this approach is that you don’t have to chose one way of thinking over another, the integrated design provides universal harmony and balance.

My journey began with my formal studies of western architecture in 1992 at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. The philosophy of the school was “learn by doing” so the curriculum cultivated an interactive and hands-on approach to architectural design and practice. Upon receiving my degree, I felt excited and ready to began practicing architecture.

Initially, I found myself leading design efforts for urban development and mixed-use projects, with a strong focus on the beautification of outdoor space. After a few years, my focus shifted to whole building design with an emphasis on community based buildings. This work allowed me to deepen the purpose of my work by giving back to the community and connecting with the building occupants who would experience my architecture on a regular basis. I enjoyed working on community centers and libraries because the work was dynamic, interactive, and full of functional and sustainable challenges.

After working on community oriented projects for about 8 years, I decided to deepen the sustainable focus and spirit of my work with explorations into eastern perspectives on design aesthetics and building traditions. In 2010 I began my formal studies of classical feng shui to broaden my design sensibilities and re-inspire my creativity in preparation for working with residential clients.

As I deepened my studies of classical feng shui, I started to see a multitude of connections and crossover between western design ideals and eastern methods of designing for balance and harmony. These connections lead me to develop an integrated approach to design that takes into account both the eastern and western perspectives.

Climate Change Update

Listen to science journalist Michael Lemonick discuss the effects of climate change on environments and ecosystems around the world (via NPR).

Listen to Terry Gross interview Heidi Cullen on Fresh Air (July 22, 2012). Cullen is the author of the book The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet, which has just been published in paperback. She’s a senior research scientist with Climate Central, a journalism and research organization.

Feng Shui Cures

Before you try to figure out what feng shui ‘cure’ will work best for you, I advise you to read this blog post from the Feng Shui Architect that explains how good feng shui adjustments incorporate physical changes rather than simply adding dissonant objects to a space.

“If we can understand the true meaning of “Hua Sha”, then instead of buying some expensive and curiously looking object, we can use our understanding to transform the quality of our environment…” Howard Choy

I’ve always wanted to be an architect for the people, to focus on human needs and desires rather than the politics of building, so in 2012 I decided to expand the services of Harmonious Home to incorporate custom residential design in addition to feng shui.

Over the last few of months I have been providing architectural consulting services to residential architects in San Francisco. This has given me the opportunity to work on smaller residential remodels and begin to integrate my holistic design sensibilities into residential planning and design.

I really enjoy working on residential projects because my clients are also the building occupants. It’s exciting to work with people who already understand how much their environment affects their quality of life. I love meeting my clients in their homes and seeing the world through their eyes. I like helping my clients find more sustainable materials while bringing form to their dreams. It is my wish that all my clients may experience the joy of living in a beautifully designed space that looks and feels healthy, inviting, and uplifting.

Blessed with Work

It is early January and once again I’m feeling blessed with work. In the last few weeks I’ve had 3 clients contact me for feng shui consultations. After a 3 month hiatus, it feels good to get back to doing what I love –  helping people make the most of their living and working environments.

Last year business was a bit up and down. Some months I was busy working with 3-4 clients at a time, while other months things were very quiet. Along the way I struggled with how to talk about what I do without loosing my clients in feng shui jargon or scientific explanations. While I enjoy research and report writing, I found that – in this economy – many clients prefer a verbal consultation which can be very cost effective because all the work is done in-person and on-site.

Another thing I learned last year is that people will call when they are ready to transition or make a change in their life. Every time I receive a consultation inquiry, my heart leaps for joy at the opportunity to help someone set themselves up for success as they step into the next phase of their life. Last year I was able to help a variety of people through life transitions including: an empty nesting couple optimize the use of their 4 bedroom home; two small business owners setup home offices; and a number of families select new homes. I feel very fortunate to have met and worked with wonderful people last year, and I’m looking forward to growing these relationships and building new ones this year.

As an architect driven to create beauty in the environment, I combine sustainable design, classical feng shui, and the aesthetics of beauty in every consultation.

Winter Reflections

As 2011 comes to a close, I’m grateful to my clients and my partner for the many opportunities and blessings of 2011. This year has been full and rewarding, but there is still much to do and more to be revealed in the months ahead as we transition from a Metal Rabbit year to a Water Dragon year.

Winter is a time of contraction and shedding of things that are no longer useful. As the weather continues to cool and we sink into the coldest and darkest time of the year, it’s important to remember how we are all connected and dependent on the health of the earth.

While I’ve enjoyed many sunny December days, I was recently reminded that without abundant rain the salmon will not be able to swim up river to spawn, the moss and ferns will wither in the forest, and our drinking water reserves will be severely diminished.

This Winter Solstice, I invite you to join me in envisioning a wet winter to replenish our rivers, bless our mountains with snow, and support all life that is dependent on fresh water.

With deep gratitude… Jaiya Alamia

Indigenous Wisdom

In October, I attended the 2nd Annual Earth Medicine Conference in San Francisco. At the conference I was reminded that by examining my ancestral roots, I can better understand myself and have more compassion and understanding for others. The conference deepened my understanding of indigenous wisdom and the power of cultural traditions.

As an architect, I’ve studied indigenous architecture, but this conference was my introduction to the broader concept of indigenous wisdom. Similar to indigenous architecture, indigenous wisdom develops in small tribal communities. This wisdom arises out of the community’s relationship to life, their respect for the environment, and their relationship with their ancestors. For me, this notion of indigenous wisdom set a foundation for reflection and exploration of my own ancestral history and cultural traditions.

Because I’m the 3rd generation living in the US, I’m somewhat removed from my European roots, but I know that there is deep suffering and displacement on both sides of my family. My father’s grandfather sent his 5 sons to the US and Israel to escape WWII, while his daughters remained in Poland to care for their extended family and ultimately perish in the holocaust. My mother’s grandfather on the other hand, immigrated to the US from Sicily to establish an Italian import business and build a better life for himself, his wife and their 7 children.

When I was 22, I took a trip to Villabate, Sicily, where my mother’s grandparents lived and where my great grandmother’s bothers’ and sisters’ families still live today. At that time, I met over 50 living relatives over the course of 2 weeks who welcomed me into their homes and  helped me reconnect with my Sicilian roots. When I was there something within me re-awakened. It was as if a cellular imprint or genetic code had been activated, and for the first time in my life I felt like I was home. Everything was familiar and easy to navigate, from interpersonal interactions and body language to the local diet and food preparation.

By learning more about my mother’s extended family and drawing out my family tree with the help of my Sicilian relatives, I deepened my connection with my extended family and developed a deep appreciation for the history and traditions of my maternal lineage.

I still have much to learn about my father’s side of the family. The stories are vague at best and I have yet to visit Warsaw and experience the land that holds the story of my father’s ancestors.

While many of us may not have a strong connection with our ancestors or a strong sense of place in this world, we all have the capacity to learn indigenous wisdom, become more conscious, and develop a good relationship with our environment. But before we can begin to understand others and restore our relationship to the earth, we must first develop an understanding of – and appreciation for – our own ancestral history.

Most of our ancestors have suffered at one time or another…. In order for us to live peacefully and coherently in this world, it is up to us to clear up the past both for ourselves and for our ancestors. We can do this through family research and ritual ceremony. Research helps us understand what happened to our ancestors and ritual helps us let go of their pain and suffering. Rituals are partly for us and partly for the spirits. For this reason, it is important to consider how we honor our ancestors and to ensure that the rituals we perform are effective and sincere.

Some of the ritual work that I did while attending the Earth Medicine Conference included working within the Dagara tradition to connect with the spirit of Water and release some of the deep suffering and sadness that I’ve carried forward on behalf of my ancestors. This was a powerful experience for me and it opened a portal to a new way of dealing with profound unexpressed sadness. I have deep gratitude to the ritual leaders Ukumbwa and Rebecca deGraw for creating a safe space to connect and release.

If you would like to learn more, I encourage you explore the Earth Medicine Alliance and check out the interview below with Daniel Foor.

Understanding the Lo Shu

lo shu feng shui magic squareIn Classical Feng Shui, we use many different tools and techniques to assess and measure the energy of the environment. Each one of these techniques is like a portal to the world of invisible energy. Some techniques are more complex than others. Understanding the Lo Shu and how time changes the numeric pattern helps us understand how time affects energies in our environment.

If you draw a line through the square – horizontal, vertical or diagonal – the numbers will always add up to 15. The number 15 is considered a powerful number because it corresponds to the number of days in each of the 24 cycles of Chinese solar year. It is also the the number of days in the cycle of the new moon to the full moon.

The Lo Shu (or Feng Shui Magic Square) is the foundation for many feng shui tools and calculations. The numbers create a pattern in space and give form to the movement of energy over time.

The base pattern of the Lo Shu has the number 5 (tai chi) in the center. The number 5 is a very powerful in Feng Shui, it represents yin-yang, earth energy, wealth and property.

As time passes, the numbers of the Lo Shu move forward or backwards along this pattern, and different energies (represented by numbers) become more or less influential within the environment.

If you study the Lo Shu, you’ll notice that the numbers correspond to the 8 mansions of the Bagua. Each number has an energetic quality that correspond to the cardinal and inter-cardinal directions, and the 5 phases of qi – water, wood, fire, earth, and metal. Number 1 represents water energy and number 9 represents fire energy.

The Lo Shu numbers are referred to as stars in the Flying Stars School of Feng Shui (Xuan Kong). The movement of these stars can be charted yearly to reveal the timely and untimely energies acting within different areas of building. By understanding the pattern of movement and the complex relationship between the period, facing, sitting, and yearly stars, we can bring more balance and harmony to the environment.

Want to learn more? Email me your questions!


Wabi-sabi is not only an aesthetic, it is also a philosophy born out of a Japanese world-view based on Taoism and Zen Buddhism.

In Taoist cosmology, it is believed that all things that are manifest in the world come from the great void know as the Tao, and eventually everything shall return to the Tao. We are all part of an inter-connected system of life and everything is in a perpetual state of change. As time passes, new things come into being and old things depart. Nature dances with time and offers us the opportunity to appreciate her beauty as time changes her physical appearance.

Wabi-sabi philosophy and aesthetics are derived from observations of nature that have been nurtured and refined over many centuries by the Zen monks of Japan. The word “wabi” was originally used to describe the lonely lifestyle of a Monk, who had given up all worldly possessions in favor of an austere, simple, and disciplined life. Today it implies a rustic simplicity, quietness, attention to detail, and understated beauty. “Sabi” is used to convey a sense of desolation and wilderness – like reeds after a frost. It it is associated with the notion that all sentient being will eventually die. It is used today to express the physical beauty that is revealed when an object starts to show its age. These two words were combined in the 13th century by Zen Monks to describe an aesthetic philosophy that grew out of their humble efforts to express their love of life balanced against the backdrop of life’s impermanence.

Wabi-Sabi aesthetics go beyond conventional beauty, seeking to arouse deeper emotions within us that resonate with our intuition and early childhood experiences. In the Zen tradition true beauty is experienced when we allow ourselves to be curious and open to change and when we approach life without judgment. Beauty is neither prescriptive nor formulaic.

Wabi-sabi aesthetics have deep roots in Japanese culture and are exemplified in the art of tea where every last detail is thoughtfully considered. By attending to beauty through the art of tea, we are able to deepen our appreciation, connection, and reverence for life.

Wabi-sabi is always approached with humility and sincerity. It is modest, imperfect, and unrefined. It has the qualities of nature and humanity and is the colors of autumn. It savors the moment, and accents the beauty of age in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world.

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