Friday, April 29, 2016


a four-part observation and design workshop

at Rimon School, Pardes Hana, Israel, November / December 2015

The Rimon Waldorf School was founded 8 years ago. After having been located in a different site for the first five years of its existence, the school was offered part of an agricultural school as its new premises. After the first three years of settling into the new location, the college of teachers felt that the time had come to engage in a more conscious effort of taking hold of the school environment and invited me to help them with this venture. I suggested a series of four ‘Consensus Design’ (1) workshops, which took place on four afternoons during November / December 2015. They were attended by a group of some 20 people,  including most of the  teachers, technical and maintenance staff and some engaged parents.

Rimon School - entrance gate


Aims of the workshops:

At the outset of the workshop I outlined the following aims:

  • looking afresh at the familiar school environment 
  • practicing collective observation skills, sharing, vision-making and creating together
  • penetrating the school environment with more consciousness and enhancing the aesthetic feeling of the place
  • looking at the whole campus as a totality in order to understand the potential of the site for future development
  • creating a master plan so that future initiatives can make their contributions in harmony with a commonly agreed overall picture
  • identify areas which need immediate attention and suggest possible solutions
  • by embarking on this collective venture of shaping the outer form of the educational initiative - touching upon the question of the inner identity - the ‘who are we?’ - of the initiative

The preconditions:

Doing this delicate process together requires from each participant an effort to assume a particular working attitude. The main features of this attitude are:

  • openness to look at the familiar environment in a unbiased fashion - as it were looking with the eyes of a complete stranger
  • listening to the contributions of other participants with openness and without judgement, based on the understanding that the voice of each and every person is important
  • patience in letting our observations settle in, until a more complete picture arises; avoiding premature judgements and conclusions


First practice: ‘First Impression and Gestural Sketch’

Participants were invited to join - as ‘casual first time visitors’ - a guided walk, leading from the outer perimeter of the school, through the entrance gate and following the approach road, into the school yard, finally arriving at the main (lower class) building. On the walk participants were asked to pay close attention to whatever sights meet the eye on the way.

After returning to the classroom, where the plenum sessions were housed, participants was asked to ‘summarise’ the impressions and experiences from the walk in a quick ‘gestural sketch’, which could be a free line, a colour gesture or a summary representation of a characteristic image.

These sketches provided a kind of patchwork of images betraying the complexity of the given situation. This also came to expression in a short verbal sharing of first impressions.

Second practice: creating an ‘inventory map’

The objective of this practice was to make an in-depth survey of the sense-perceptible inventory of the school, including visual features like borders, topography, buildings, paths, vegetation, play-equipment, agricultural and other structures, light and shade, important vistas as well as other striking sense impressions like smells and sounds. For this purpose the site was divided into five segments which were to be studied by five groups of participants. All the observations were to be entered into a outline map (not  necessarily on scale).

The results of this survey were shared in the plenum and a summary map of the whole site, containing the most important features and their spatial relationship, was created on the blackboard. 
As part of this summary participants also shared their observations of significant stations on the site. This included recurring visual forms like fences and walls, border situations and transitions and situations where a confusion of direction or spatial relationship was experienced.

Rimon School site - blackboard drawing based on participants' observation


First practice: ‘Snapshot Motifs’;

As a means of summarising their first impressions, participants were asked to verbally describe a ‘snapshot’ image, which for them represented a characteristic ‘motif’ of the school environment - something which they perhaps noticed for the first time, or which simply ‘got stuck’ in their mind. I simultaneously translated these verbal images into a visual form on the blackboard: 

Second practice: ‘Activity Maps’

As a preparation for this practice participants had been asked at the end of the previous session to observe how the skeletal spatial map we had created becomes filled with life, movement and activity in the course of the week. These observations included:

  • axes of movement (indoors/outdoors) of children/adults
  • bottlenecks / congestion
  • rest areas and meeting places
  • areas of free play
  • areas of ball games
  • outdoor teaching areas, including agriculture

Participants again split up into different groups - according to the designated areas. The various activities / movements were included as coloured lines or as symbols (according to an agreed code) into photocopies of the site map. 

activity symbols

'activity map' of school site

Observation and sharing:

As a result of this practice a number of problematic issues were identified, including activities which are lacking a designated space or activities which are taking place in unsuitable spaces.

Third Practice: ‘Mood Maps’:

In this practice we proceeded to giving expression to individual soul responses to different part of the site. I introduced the use of colour as a means of characterising experienceable qualities like ‘open/closed’, ‘active/passive’, ‘warm/cold’.  

Participants would work in couples and create a ‘mood map’ of a chosen area, using colours to represent the different ‘mood’ or ‘atmosphere’ of a specific area and how this changes from place to place. At the same time colours could be given form in order to characterise the gesture of a place: for instance a ‘protective’ or ‘focussing’ gesture.

Here are some of participants’ ‘mood maps’:


Observation and evaluation of the results:

Results of this practice were quite individual and different from each other. Nevertheless some common features could be identified, especially  concerning areas which are experienced as problematic or lacking definition. These included the entrance area

Fourth Practice: ‘Defining Potential and Shortcomings'

As a conclusion of this session and a summary of the whole observation process the attempt was made to highlight, on the one side, qualities which are considered assets or which are seen as constituting a valuable potential of the site; and on the other side to identify shortcomings or aspects which are experienced as compromising the realisation of the  potential or jeopardising a harmonious functioning of the school organism. 

potential and shortcomings
blackboard drawing

potential:                 (selection)                   shortcomings:

nice feeling in classrooms                           no relation between inside and outside
lots of open spaces                                     feeling of emptiness
feeling of wild, untamed area                      lack of order, definition and relationship
pleasant walk through eucalyptus avenue    entrance to school yard not inviting


In this session the transition was made from the exploration of the given state of the site to make the first steps towards changing / modifying / improving the site in a guided design process. As a first step we tried to engender and identify a shared will impulse for change.

First practice: ‘Identifying individual will impulses’:

Each person in the circle was asked to share his/her will for change by identifying one most important aspect or detail that he/she wishes to change and why this is seen as important in the pedagogical context.

All these will impulses were written on the blackboard. After considering these individual impulses it transpired that they can be ordered into four different categories:

    1. changes concerning the overall future vision of the school as a total organism
    2. changes concerning the flow of movement, in particular touching upon the way into the school
    3. changes concerning the organisation of space, the creation of more protection, shelter,  of areas of quietness and the articulation of larger spaces into smaller units
    4. changes concerning the design and definition of existing and new areas of (outdoor) activity

These categories were visually highlighted with different colours on the blackboard.

This gave rise of the creation of four groups which, in the following practice, would take on these four aspects of the design process.

list of individual will impulses for change - blackboard drawing

Second practice: ‘Dreaming the future’

Participants split up into four groups, each of which was given a mandate to begin ‘dreaming’ the future:

  • vision - creating a number of options for future use of the whole site
  • movement - reconsidering the movement of people into the site
  • spatial organisation - creating sheltered and varied outdoor spaces
  • activity - locating and designing outdoor activity spaces and their relationship 

As a first step of the design process, groups would create ‘modified mood maps’, which indicate the change of mood and the re/definition of spatial gestures. This would be achieved primarily through the use of colour, while any definition of concrete forms should be avoided at this stage.

Sharing and reflection:

The third session concluded with a sharing of the four groups’ ‘dreams’. Each group chose a representative who presented the maps as well as the group’s suggestions for change.

Here are some of the visual representations of the working groups:  

map of 'movement' working group
map of 'spatial organisation' group


The fourth and final session started with a summary of the whole process, which proceeded in an arch-like fashion, rising from the survey of sense-perceptible facts on the ground to identifying both the potential and the impeding factors of the site. This gave rise to a formulation of the individual/collective will for change which then gradually descended towards embodiment on the ground: 

First practice - ‘Consolidating Collective Will’:

In order to remind ourselves of the individual will impulses which were shared in the circle and in order to consolidate this into a share, collective will, participants were asked to recollect and repeat one of the will impulses and how this has been reflected in the initial ‘dreamt’ suggestions presented by the four working groups.

Second practice - ‘Giving Shape to Dreams’:


Taking further the initial ‘dream-like’ suggestions for change, participants split up into three groups in order to consolidate the two-dimensional proposals by giving them three-dimensional form in relationship to the given three-dimensional space. Axel had prepared two scale-models of different parts of the campus, which provided two of the groups with a basis for modelling onto, using a variety of materials like plasticine, wooden sticks, coloured sand, coloured steel wool, in order to suggest three-dimensional structures, paths, trees and vegetation. The first of the two groups took upon itself to redesign the whole entrance area to the main campus, while the second dealt with the outdoor areas of the lower and medium classes. 

The third group was given the task to consolidate a number of alternative  proposals for an extended use of the whole campus, which could accommodate both parallel classes for the lower school, kindergarten and/or high school classes. 


Eventually the three groups presented their collective creations. After  each presentation the other participants were asked to give their positive feedback by pointing out what they appreciated in the group’s creation.


Summary and reflection

The workshop project concluded with a reflective summary session, in which participants were invited to share experiences and comment on the workshop process and results. Here are some of their comments:

  • “this was the first time that I really became aware of the school buildings and the school environment.”

  • “it was amazing, how much I could identify with the perceptions and proposals of other members of staff, even if, at first sight, they seemed to be different from mine.”

  • “we have had many workshops with all kind of learned people who have shared their interesting knowledge with us. But we have not have had anything like this workshop, where you did not tell us anything of what you think about our school environment. Instead, you made us discover our school and develop and share our own ideas about how we would like to improve the physical appearance of our educational institution.”

(1) ‘Consensus Design’ was developed by ecological architect Christopher Day as a socially inclusive design process on the basis of Goethean phenomenology.  Christopher Day had become acquainted with Goethe’s approach while working with Dr. Margaret Colquhoun and myself on the architectural design of the Pishwanton Wood Project in East Lothian, Scotland.
Day, Christopher (2003): Consensus Design - socially inclusive process, Architectural Press, Oxford.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


young people from all over the world studying together for a more sustainable and peaceful world



Since October 2015 I have been involved with an exciting new initiative - the Eastern Mediterranean International School (EMIS) - which was initiated in 2014 in the 'Green Village' near Tel Aviv. More than 80 young people aged between 16 - 19 study together for their international Baccalaureate. Of the student body, 20% of the pupils are Jewish Israelis, 20% are Palestinians (from Israel or from the occupied territories) and the remaining 60% come from all over the world. Apart from the top level academic studies, students take part in and initiate an amazing range of artistic, social, ecological and political activities.


I was invited to teach a number of artistic subjects - sculpture and art history - as part of the school's extra-curricular activities. My sculpture class was attended by some twelve enthusiastic students, from Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Ecuador, China, Albania - to name just a few of their home countries.

In one of our sessions we did a group exercise of modelling a metamorphic sequence, which the students found very challenging and thought provoking.



I made a special connection to one of the sculpture class participants, Fayed from Ramalla. During dinner breaks, we had many conversations about art, and especially sculpture and architecture (Fayed is going to study architecture in the USA). In March 2016 Fayed presented his final art project that deals with his experience of being a minority Christian in a majority Muslim society.


Following my first meeting with EMIS through giving my art classes and ongoing conversations with the school's headmaster, Tamar Haviv, and other staff members, the idea of a long-term ecological, artistic and educational project was born: "The EMIS Green Campus". I teamed up with an ecology student and permaculture practitioner, Ruth Boasson, and we wrote up a proposal for how, with the ongoing involvement of the students, the school's site could be transformed into an inspiring, artistically designed, sustainable and constantly evolving campus.

Here is a link to the full project brochure


An Introduction to Goethean Phenomenology and its Integration with Art

One-day workshop at Schumacher College

Totnes, Devon, UK, 17.9.2015


The workshop was attended by 16 students of the Holistic Science MA program at Schumacher College and two of their tutors, D. Philip Franses and Dr. Stephen Harding. Schumacher College is an international centre for nature-based education, personal transformation and collective action

Morning Session


The workshop focussed on the tree as a wholeness. It was stressed that in order to approach the wholeness of a tree we shall attempt to utilise  the wholeness of our own being’s full potential. J.W. von Goethe stressed that 
we should not exclude any human faculties from our scientific endeavours: the depth of intuitive feeling, reliable and mindful observation, mathematical depth, physical exactness, exalted power of reason, penetrating intellect, mobile and yearning imagination, affectionate pleasure of the sensuous …”  (Goethe, 1995).
Goethe also stressed the overriding importance of relationships, and, above all, the relationship between the observer and the observed object. This workshop explored a number of different levels or modes of relationships.


Drawing from outside-in

For the first practice we chose a mature Sycamore tree as our object of observation. Participants were asked to scrutinise the tree from a distance. This allowed them to perceive the tree as an object in space, displaying a certain overall shape and being characterised by specific proportions. Following a few minutes of observation, participants were asked to draw the tree as a ‘negative’ shape, as it were, formed from the outside. The drawing was to be executed in charcoal, starting from the periphery and continuing by darkening the ‘empty’ space around the tree, until the dark charcoal surface meets the outer contour of the tree, which is left as a white space of paper. No lines were to be used. The whole process consisted in a continuous process of ‘closing in’ upon the tree, until its shape became clearly defined from without.

Reflection on the process 
Participants found this a challenging practice because it demanded from them to work in a ‘negative’ mode. On the other hand it allowed them to constantly be concerned with ‘the whole’ of the tree shape. This approach also helped them to make sure that the whole tree fits onto the page. The process facilitated entering a gradual shaping process, which all the time allowed for adjustments. Participants also commented that this way of drawing is like bringing the sense of touch into the act of seeing, as it were, touching the shape of the tree from the outside. This led us into a short consideration of the difference between the senses of sight and touch. Both the experience of executing this drawing as well as the observation of the results gave an experience of closing in on the form, as it were, bringing it to an end. 


In the second practice participants were asked to slowly walk towards the same tree they had drawn, constantly keeping the centre of the tree in focus. As they were approaching the tree, they were asked to pay attention to any change of perception and any change in their relationship to the tree, in particular the passing of any experienceable borders or ‘thresholds’. When coming very close to the tree they would start extending their gaze both upwards and downwards, paying attention to the trunk’s branching-off as well as its rooting in the ground below. Eventually they should touch the tree, using their sense of touch and any other sense in order to explore the width and texture of trunk as well as any other features. Participants were then asked to turn around, lean with their back against the tree and face the surrounding landscape - facing, as it were, the world ‘with the eyes of the tree’. While remaining in quiet contemplation for a little while, they would pay attention to any feelings or images which might arise.

Reflection on the process:
Participants commented, that the process of this practice was like turning inside-out. Instead of looking at the tree as an object from the outside, they gradually entered a mode of identification, becoming one with the tree. For some participants this was a very emotional experience. One person experienced the tree as an “old, wise sage”. Others spoke about their connection with the tree: “the tree gave me support, like a backbone” or they related how they experienced ‘tree-ness’ in themselves: “I am like a tree, I can feel my own roots in the earth”. I summarised this practice by pointing out that the transition between our two initial practices essentially represents the transition from Cartesian, ‘objective’ science to participatory Goethean science. Both are complementing each other by supplementing the objective, ‘detached’ observation of conventional science with the element of participation in and identification with the phenomenon. The intensified inner activity of the observer transforms the phenomenon from an ‘object’ into a living entity. The living entity of the tree can remind us of how we ourselves are rooted in the earth and how we grow. A tree may become a ‘friend’, a ‘teacher’ or even a ‘wise sage’.


While sitting below the canopy of the tree, participants were asked to again draw the tree, but this time not from observation of its outer shape. Rather, the drawing was to be created from memorising the inner experience of meeting the tree in close encounter, from the experience of how it has manifested itself in space. Participants were encouraged to close their eyes and imagine the tree growing, from its roots down in the earth, through its mighty trunk into its unfolding branches and foliage. Then, using any drawing tool and technique, people would put this growing movement of the tree ‘in becoming’ on paper.

Observation and evaluation of the results
Results of this practice were quite individual and we spent some time observing them. We attempted to identify the differences between different techniques and found that each technique points to a different underlying attitude.

The following video clip summarises the first three practices and their 'turning inside-out':


For this practice we chose a mature chestnut tree on the campus. We started by making some general observations about the shape of the tree and how, in its three-dimensionality, it relates to the environment. Then participants were asked to choose one of the lower branches accessible at eye level. They would attempt a quick line-drawing of the outermost branch section, including some leaves and the end-bud. This sketch was to be made by intensely looking at the branch and following its every articulation, while at the same time tracing these articulations with a continuous line drawing on paper. During the entire drawing process people were not supposed to look at their drawing. 


Observation and evaluation of the results

Participants found this approach to drawing challenging, as it involves ‘loosing control’. In looking at the sketches we could clearly distinguish between drawings made with and those made without looking at the drawing. Those sketches done without visual control of the drawing were less ‘proportional’ and somewhat ‘chaotic’, but displayed a much freer and dynamic line quality, capturing the rhythmical growth of the branch.


For this practice participants had to work in pairs and observe the final branch sections which had been drawn before. People were asked to look for sings of changes along the branch section up to the end-bud: How is the branch articulated? Are there any evident growth sections? What is happening between sections? Do these observations constitute sufficient ‘evidence’ for being able to argue for time processes having brought about the visible spatial shapes of the branch? Can we get any sense of the presence of past and future in what we see in this present manifestation?


Reflection and sharing of the findings:

Participants entered into a lively process of shared observation and conversation. Observations of participants included changes of colour and texture as well as the evident articulation of the branch into sections, which conveyed a sense of rhythmical growth and development together with a clear distinction between older and more recent parts.


The final practice of the morning session had been planned to consist in an attempt at mental picturing. Participants would imagine, with closed eyes, the gradual growth and development of the branch section they had observed, as it were, retracing its biography. Because of lack of time, this practice was briefly explained and left for participants to be performed individually at another time.

Afternoon Session


It was explained that in this practice we would move from a consideration of general ‘tree-ness’ to exploring individual tree ‘gestures’. ‘Gesture’ is understood as movement brought to rest in a spatial form carrying a certain emotional or spiritual meaning. We use this term in the human context as denoting one of the elements of our body language. Human beings can perform a great variety of corporeal gestures embodying specific emotions and messages. In the same sense we can speak of the ‘gesture of a tree’ as an embodiment of its individual character.
This practice, which lasted for two hours, consisted of several phases: 

  • careful observation of the chosen tree
  • moving from outside in and moving into time, following the morning’s practices 
  • attempting to embody the gesture of the tree in physical, bodily movement
  • embodying this gesture as a minimalistic linear ‘signature’ on paper
  • composing a short ‘Haiku-style’ poem, ‘giving the tree a voice’.

Final Reflection: 

The sharing of participants’ final creations, both in visual form and in the form of short poems, was a very rich ‘cultural’ experience, giving evidence of the individual connection participants managed to create with their tree. Some of the written creations were in the form of stories, touching on personal biographical motifs. Both students and teachers expressed their gratitude for having had the chance to encounter trees in this experiential way. 


Goethe, J. W. v. (1995) Scientific Studies. (12 vols). Princeton: Princeton University Press. Goethe's Collected Works.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


A creative observation workshop for farmers and beekeepers

conducted by Axel Ewald,
"Gan HaBeit"
- the organic vegetable garden
of Kibbutz Harduf,
March 2015

The workshop

was part of the first Biodynamic Beekeeping' conference in Israel, with biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk as main contributor.


The workshop started with a practice of fully exposing ourselves - with all ours senses - first to the quiet earth below, then to the depth of the sky above and finally to the green layer of vegetation between heaven and earth - meeting the plant kingdom on eye-level.

This was a very profound and emotional experience for many of the participants and created a mood of reverence and devotion to  the living world of plants. We continued by making pastel sketches summarising our experience of the plant realm between earth and heaven.


We then embarked on a detailed observation of an annual plant, including making sketches from memory and observing the metamorphic sequence of leaves.
This led us into a creative exploration of the movement 'in-between' the distinct stages of leaf development. To start with we explored this in movement. Standing in a circle, each participant was asked to express in a bodily gesture one of the metamorphic stages. Then we tried to turn this into a 'group choreography', performing the consecutive gestures together in developing relationship to each other.

This practice was a preparation for bringing the metamorphic development into a collective drawing process. Again, each person was to represent one of the stages of development, from simple to complicated, from rounded to pointed, in a improvisational charcoal sketch, The challenge was, that each person had to relate to his/her neighbours and their drawings, in order to enable a consequential form development to arise between the drawings of all participants.

The process, including the impressive results, can be seen in the following video clip:


Our next station was the closely observe the flowering stage of plant development, trying to come to an experience howk also here, 'the plant is, from beginning to end, only leaf', as Goethe exclaims. We then proceeded to processing our experience of 'flowering' by painting an individual flower in pastel.


Here are some of the results:


After careful observation of fruit development and the creation of the seeds we completed our journey by splitting up into groups of between three and four participants. Each group created, on large sheets of paper, a colourful representation of the whole life journey of the plant through the season.


Here is one of the collective creations:

finally, we took a group photograph of the participants with the facilitator: