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My Friend, the Architect (Part One of A Conversation)

Hometown[Who says instant messages can't be substantive?  My friend Andy and I began a significant (we think) discussion on Christian belief, urban design, and architecture.  We've only begun, but the talk was stimulating.  I hope you think so, too.  Stay tuned for Part Two.]

SW says: Hey -- ready to try this?

AO says: Hi SW - did you have something provocative to ask me?

SW says: You bet I do.

AO says: Bring it on.

SW says: First up: How did you decide to make a career in architecture?

AO says: Okay - I'd like to keep this two-sided. I may send some questions back to you.

SW says: Go right ahead!

AO says: I had a lot of jobs all through high school and when I started thinking about a career, I mostly had that idea about work being something we always do. That once you're out of school, this is the real world where your ideas and your faith perpetuate into the way to support yourself, that spiritually, continuing to work is a way of continuing to follow and obey and converse practically with God.

AO says: I've never written that sentence out before, but it starts to make sense about why Architecture makes sense to me.

SW says: Well, you were more spiritual than me. That's great! I just didn't know what to do with myself, so I went to law school.

AO says: Architecture has this profound and wonderful mix of the practical and absolutely tangible, the literally concrete elements of experience with perfect ideals of space and time that are so lofty that virtually every author I've ever read on architecture just sounds silly when trying to explain a work.

AO says: The best descriptions I heard and learned about architecture was were through these medieval drawings showing God the Creator with a compass in hand. The drawing I remember was called, "The Architect." Anyway, so it's this very cool loftiness and mysterious wonder mixed with the absolute physicality of basic shelter and place making. That's exciting to me. I didn't know that that's what this was about right away, of course, but I had notions of it, and it looked like enough fun to sustain me.

AO says: Law isn't altogether different, is it? You have those same ideals of bringing the cosmos of what is absolutely, divinely right down to the totally tangible of the guy with the parking ticket, right? A difference, I think, is that lawyers are better at expressing themselves.

SW says: Yes, I think you're right -- there a mix of the concrete, or particular, and the universal ideals -- I suppose that's important in every vocation. Writers deal with concrete, particular images, and yet they want to say something more universal. I think that's a part of our creatureliness, of how God made us.

SW says: It really hearkens back to the Incarnation -- meaning is incarnated in real, physical ways, as God took on human form.

SW says: But I like your idea that "continuing to work is a way of continuing to follow and obey and converse practically with God." I really like that. It's like the "tilling and keeping" that Adam was called to do while he walked in the Garden with God. We only know dimly what that is like.

AO says: Absolutely. That's what keeps this fascinating. That's what keeps us asking divine questions about physical things. That's how we know that we, who are a little lower than the angels, are important to and can communicate with the God who is above all - because the incarnate Christ made that connection.

AO says: A friend in high school gave me Brother Lawrence's "Practicing the Presence of God" about praying continually. That opened my heart to keeping our work as an open conversation with God.

SW says: Yes -- great book.

SW says: Amen. Hey, this is good -- the soundtrack for me now is the very mellow Mojave 3, on Spoon and Rafter. That helps. You listening to anything?

AO says: Kristen has NPR's "Fresh Air" on. I can hear that. I can also smell pasta cooking downstairs.

SW says: Hmmmm. OK. Next question.

SW says: As a Christian, do you view the design and construction of buildings any differently than someone who has merely a secular framework from with to operate?

AO says: There's the quick answer to that, something like "Well, yes, SW. I see buildings as more than just bricks and mortar. More than just form and function . . ." But I know Christian architects who think about architecture very plainly and I know plenty of heathen architects who know more than I do about what a building can be.

SW says: Same with lawyers.

AO says: This is a great question, but probably we should just take me out of it. As Christians, we do have a different perspective, and that does help. A start - we have Jesus' beautiful parables, and so many in the OT too about right foundations and the Cornerstone, and our bodies are temples, and the joy of ornament, and the gifts of craft, and golden streets and our mansions that are being prepared.

SW says: It's actually too big a question! There's too much to say.

AO says: it reminds us that our world here has sweet lessons for us, it reminds us of what we hope for.

AO says: Back to perspective, maybe I do look at architecture as a bigger deal than others. When I see a bad strip mall, I'm pretty quick to associate that with a moral sin, a wrong against humanity, and affront to the God of beauty.

SW says: It is interesting that our future hope is envisioned not as a return to the garden but a city.

SW says: I think that says a lot.

AO says: I don't always admit that to other people [about the immorality of, say, strip malls], but it goes through my mind.

AO says: That's one of those sweet parables. I don't know what that means [heaven as a city, that is]. If the garden was perfect, without any structures, why is the city more perfect? Has God changes his style after these years? Has he changed His archetype? But, yes, I'm better at cities than gardening, so I'm looking forward to it.

SW says: Well, it's certainly true that our morality or ideology is projected into what we do and what we build. I like what T.J. Gorringe says, that ""[t]he ideology of space is inescapable: we encounter it the moment we emerge from our front door, drive to the out of town shopping centre, or visit the local post office."

SW says: Back to the garden and the city -- well, I think it is indicative of cultural development, something God placed us here to do. He didn't mean for it to just stay in a pristine garden state!

AO says: Yes, but why? In the perfection of eternity, can you say that mankind, or God with mankind has made progress? It's a strange question.

SW says: Indeed!  But let's carry on tomorrow with this, OK?

AO says: OK.