Designing with Presence: re-membering the design process of the built environment to emerge desired realities, by Elizabeth Graff

This paper investigates the significance of Presence in “good” architecture, and proposes methods to recognize and emerge presence in the process, and thus the potential experience, of our built environment. Based on the theoretical framework set forth in Presence, by Peter Senge, et. al., this study evaluates if presence is an accurate indicator of “good” building. Utilizing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West and Anne Whiston Spirn’s West Philadelphia Landscape Project as case studies of presence in design, the intention of analyzing both an architectural building complex and a community-design landscape project is to establish the necessity of presence among multiple design disciplines and processes, a nondual approach to building and landscape.

The Designing with Presence Process Framework, proposed herein, embodies the seven capacities of Senge’s Presence Theory: Suspending, Redirecting, Letting Go, Letting Come, Crystallizing, Prototyping, and Institutionalizing. Alongside current advancement outside of the design professions, this study aims to align the process of design with a philosophical perspective that potentially allows for greater inclusivity, connection and purpose, particularly as related to earth values. Referencing organizational systems thinking (Senge/Meadows), natureintegrated consciousness (Wright/Spirn), and quantum physics (Bohm/Bell), the study posits design thinking within a context of immanence (Spinoza) over reductionism (Descartes). Significant to learning, teaching, and practicing, the intent is to assemble a design framework to support adaptation during a time of deep complexity and desired positive change.

Meadows, Donella H., Thinking in Systems, Chelsea Green Publishing, River Junction, Vermont, 2008.
Senge, Peter,, Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society, Doubleday, New York, NY, 2005.
Spinoza, Baruch, author and Dagobert D. Runes, editor, The Road to Inner Freedom: The Ethics, Philosophical Library, New York, NY, 1957.
Spirn, Anne Whiston, Language of Landscape, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1998.
Wright, Frank Lloyd, author and Patrick Meehan, editor, Truth Against the World: Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks for an Organic Architecture, Preservation Press, US, 1998.

Elisabeth Graff, University of Idaho, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Graff, E. (2012) Designing with Presence: re-membering the design process of the built environment to emerge desired realities, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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