Ultimately, sustainability and sustainable happiness means the same thing.  And design and architecture is the key.

In this project, Zen design, Zero design and architecture are discussed a lot.  Why is architecture and design so critical to tackle sustainability and the risk of resource depletion? How does it relate to mindful, sustainable satisfaction?

Zero = abundance is a pursuit to re-think how humans interact with nature because ultimately, our satisfaction, happiness and prosperity hinges on it. At the end of the day, the dilemma of “more” or “less” is all about the balance of available resources (which only nature can provide) and people who attempt to acquire them. 

There are two keywords that become critically important in thinking about the nature-human relationship: architecture and design. Anything that we place in-between nature and humans is some kind of architecture or design, and that starts shaping how we interact with nature, once in place.  Even plants and animals develop architecture and design, albeit not proactively: they design their own shape or their nests, and they architecturally develop their strategies to survive. Some form herds of a certain size; some choose specific areas/conditions to spawn or raise offspring. They do so because they are desperate to increase their odds of survival, and want to take advantage of nature whenever they can. 

Humans have developed much more sophisticated architecture and design. Buildings and houses have evolved tremendously, protecting our vulnerable body. Architectural systems such as agriculture, traffic, and education are everywhere, enhancing our lives. Products and services are designed using complex technologies to deliver comfort and joy, while minimizing our pain.  Architecture and design has been the primary driver for humans’ exponential progress and growth.     

Today, both architecture and design has become a highly specialized area of expertise. Vast majority of us, who are non-experts, usually just receive sophisticated and refined services the professionals deliver, and do not give much thought about it. We work in an intelligent building, and use super advanced machines to perform our work. But we don’t necessarily know how the building/machines work, or what it takes to operate them.  

By outsourcing the destiny-defining work of architecture and design, most of us lost the sense of how we collectively interact with nature.  Smart and highly skilled professionals, backed by powerful investors, have put huge architecture/system in between nature and us, capable of modifying and editing nature in our favor.  Shielded by those systems, we just enjoy the outputs coming from them without worrying about what’s happening behind the systems.

Clearly, we’ve became disconnected from nature – our resource base.

This disconnect is leading us to what many of us think is an “unsustainable” economy.  Instead of listening to the laws of nature, we apply our own theories, and assume that nature would accommodate our policies.  But unfortunately, it’s not the case.  The world has 7 billion people now. It is a tremendous population growth, but we still have only one Earth.  We don’t know how much more we can extract from it.  People are already feeling the pinch.

The notion of “Zero” is, in a sense, architecture and design. It’s a realization that nature is limited and we cannot withdraw everything we want from it, but more importantly, it is an enlightenment that humans have boundless potential to let beauty and happiness emerge from the limitation.  Whereas current sustainability tries to rely heavily on technology to solve our problems, Sustainability 0.0, or Sustainability Zen tries to re-discover our own potential and resilience to let beauty emerge from “less,” and feel deep, mindful satisfaction.

It’s a device we can place in-between nature and humans so that we can make the most without depleting our resources.  When Zero is applied to a system, it can be called Zero architecture. When Zero is applied to product/services, it can be called Zero design.  Zen played a critical role to visualize and crystallize Zero in the form of various arts. Therefore we still see many great Zen designs that profoundly embrace the essence of Zero.