In order to establish the importance of architecture in our cities, it is important that we first establish some foundational beliefs.
A Latin phrase loosely translated as “in the presence of God,” this is a concept from Christian theology that summarizes the idea of living in the presence of, under the authority of, and to the honor and glory of God. This is primarily based on the idea that we are created beings; therefore, we can recognize that all activities of our lives can be God-honoring activities when they are seen as a form of worship. This includes all forms of our creative work. Accepting that we are God’s creation, made in his image, everything we create is a byproduct of the creator’s work. Thus, even in its imperfect reality, our creative works are God-honoring works of worship.
In Genesis 1:28, we were called to create culture and fulfill the creation mandate. This means we are called to care for and to cultivate the earth, making things with the materials and ingenuity we have been given. This creation mandate is fulfilled each day when we make our cities better places to live and dwell.
Many architects can come up with attractive ideas, but very few can design places or spaces that actually attract people or create a profound experience with the built realm. Enacted space refers to the dynamic interaction between people and artifacts in a place through time.
The living of your life is not only shaped by the built realm, but also shapes the built realm. We have been given the opportunity to engage and shape culture around us. Movies, literature, and music shape our cultural landscape, but architects and planners shape our physical realm of built space, and there is a great responsibility in doing so.
We should build as a response to place, context, climate, people, function, and use. It has long been said that “form follows function.” However, if form is a response to function and use, a response to climate and weather, a response to light and heat, a response to culture and people, then architecture becomes the physical space of culture-making.
An architecture of response—as opposed to an architecture of imposition—will always be the most lasting and timeless type of design in a city. An architecture of response employs materials that are true to the region and available locally. An architecture of response employs indigenous and local vegetation that is responsive to climate and celebrates the uniqueness of each place (such as saguaros in the desert or pine trees in the mountains). An architecture of response is shaped by its use and specific function, where each structure speaks of its use and tells the story of its people and their purpose.
An architecture of response always has a voice and is never neutral, as there are always so many forces of nature, people, place, and purpose that shape each unique building or structure that very few buildings would be identical. Therefore, an architecture of response is always unique and innovative. Our cities would be experientially rich and meaningful if the places and spaces within them were not impositions but responses to the rich culture of the people within them.
Note: Some of my thinking on this topic has been shaped by Eric O. Jacobsen, whose book The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment I highly recommend.
Header Photo: Power Parasol at ASU (Photo by Mike Nothum)
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