Contemplation, Planning and the Elements of Design

By Doug Hanna, Principal, S+H Construction, Inc.

Last night I looked out over a frozen pond with the full moon above. The shadows of the trees were beautifully etched in the snow. As I surveyed the landscape of the winter-that- never-ends, I've been thinking about the Native-Americans who lived here for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. They lived through winters like this, but spent the long winter nights in hide-covered wigwams. It certainly must have affected the mindset of these people, to live four or five months of the year inside structures made of saplings covered with animal hide, with the natural world locked away in the ice and snow.

Contemplation, Planning and the Elements of Design

What many consider to be a primitive existence actually was a marvel of planning and management. The seasons were very symbolic, and the work required in each season became vitally important to each family or each group's existence. As the snow began to melt and life returned to the fields and forest, there was no time to lose in preparing for survival the following winter. Imagine having to hunt animals for their skins to waterproof your dwelling, make your clothes, shoes and bedding. Imagine cutting trees for firewood and structures using stone axes. Besides clearing fields for slash and burn agriculture and growing and harvesting corn, the people spent their time gathering and storing berries and root vegetables, fishing and hunting animals for meat. These activities were curtailed but not abandoned in the winter, when hunting and fishing continued. 

But what strikes me is the amount of planning involved in a so-called primitive existence. Of course, these people had many, many hours to sit and plan and focus on the tasks at hand. They also had the benefit of hundreds of generations of collective knowledge of all aspects of survival in the natural world. This type of knowledge had been known by Europeans, and at some point in time by every other culture on earth. It had just been gradually lost over the previous few thousand years. And now this knowledge has mostly been lost here as well. One lesson that remains however is that silence and solitude can give the mind and the ability to carefully plan. 

We are so distracted by the modern world, and so softened by modern convenience, that in great part we have lost our ability to have a vision, or properly plan for the future. This is true on both the macro to the micro level. Whether we are talking about planning for improvements to your home, or the planning necessary for balancing the national budget, time for contemplation and planning is one of the best tools for success. 

In my world, the world of home renovation, planning is also critical to a successful result. Assembling a team consisting of architect, designer, contractor and owner is the first step. Allowing enough time for the creation of a thorough and well thought out set of plans and specs is step two. Execution of the plan by a high quality, efficient contractor is the final step.   

Hats off to the people who walked this land when it was still a pristine natural wonder. They worshiped and lived in harmony with the earth. They planned well and they lived well.