Shelburne Institute is a research environment in Shelburne, Vermont. Through our work, we seek to reimagine the stories, structures, and systems that shape our collective experience — seeding the future with new possibilities. Our rural campus is located at High Acres Farm, a 176-acre working farm within the larger campus of the educational nonprofit, Shelburne Farms. Over time, we hope to establish a community of living and learning here in this place, integrating craft, commerce, and culture.
In his book, The Nature of Order, architect Christopher Alexander describes what he calls “the unfolding process” — a way of responding to life from moment to moment, always doing “the next clear thing,” and trusting that the path that emerges will be the best possible path, without needing to know where it is going.
To follow such a process, you ask yourself three questions: first, given a particular context, what is the weakest part that could be improved; second, what is the strongest part that could be strengthened; third, what is the simplest way of doing these things? When these questions are asked repeatedly over thousands of iterations, places come to life, people fulfill their potential, and communities flourish and thrive.
Alexander offers the example of Venice, a city that never could have been planned as it is, but which “grew” organically over hundreds of years, through many small, individual actions, each responding to a specific imminent need — a bench here, a tree there, a fountain between them. The result is one of the most beloved cities on earth.
The unfolding process doesn’t always mean “don’t plan.” Sometimes, making a plan may be the next clear thing, but plans (like everything else) will always keep changing. By following this approach, we hope that our actions (and the systems and structures that grow from our actions) can be in greater alignment with the natural unfolding of life.
Our insignia depicts an archetypal stone from Lake Champlain — gray Iberville Shale bisected by a vein of white calcite, made from the shells of ancient sea creatures who lived in these waters five hundred million years ago, when Vermont was covered by a tropical ocean and located near the equator.
These so-called “linestones” provide an iconic connection to a deeper sense of space and time. When arranged side by side, so the white lines of each stone connect with those of its neighbors, a longer and collective line is formed, pointing to an underlying wholeness — forgotten, yet still within reach.
Shelburne Institute is directed by Jonathan Harris, in collaboration with many friends and partners who help to shape its evolution.