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Volume 11, Issue 3: Poetics

Questions on Architecture

Daniel Lee

Daniel Lee, RA, NCARB, first explored architecture in Paris, France, as the son of Protestant missionaries. He studied with noted classicists Allan Greenberg and the Prince of Wales, and discovered Reformed theology through Francis Schaeffer. He is passionate about the Western Classical Tradition and is assisting CEF with its architectural plans. His practice is located in Alexandria, Virginia - 703-836-6006. We asked him several questions for this issue of Credenda.

Q. Why should Christians reflect more upon architecture?
A. The Creation Mandate in Genesis invites us to create a righteous civilization, which includes works of artistry and architecture. As the queen of the arts, architecture provides shelter but also serves an artistic and civic role expressing through metaphor and symbol the nature of the institutions contained within its walls. It establishes their place in the landscape of our lives. It forms a stage set for our nation's most important ceremonies and events, and the places where we work, rest, play and worship. All great visionary cultures use architecture to communicate their vision of what constitutes the `good society.' We as Christians must recognize anew the way architecture powerfully influences and shapes the development and transmission of our own cultural vision. To be obedient in our day, we must reflect more on the nature of this gift of God, and begin using it rightly and for His glory.
Q. How does an architect begin to think about creativity?
A. Creativity springs from the well of our love for someone or something. Being motivated by love, it is also an act of stewardship. It is a stepping out from a secure place into an engagement with a new and beautiful possibility that only our love and imagination can see. The application of this principle carries across all of life. A stone mason takes a neglected field stone and crafts it into a handsome keystone of a noble destiny. A homemaker takes ground wheat seed from a shelf, a little yeast and water and with heat and a little more ingenuity produces a surprise birthday cake, to a child's utter delight-an act of love. A pastor takes God's Word, and by the inspiration of God's Spirit and the application of his gifts, draws forth Living Water for thirsty people.
As an architect, I give my heart to the needs of those I serve and, from the seed of their need, birth a new creation, a beautiful and appropriate architecture that is God's provision and blessing for them.
Q. How do you answer the pietistic objection that spending time on architecture is laying up "treasures upon earth, where moth and rust corrupt"?
A. Jesus followed the remark you have quoted by declaring "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." He was teaching the crowds following Him that their very deepest needs and desires could only be satisfied by a relationship with God alone. Created things will never satisfy our deepest needs. But Jesus never condemned the created order, the making or enjoying of things, or the keeping of them. He did not teach a Gnostic theology. He was a carpenter by trade and the Scriptures are replete with examples of His enjoying life as a man. Many people fail to understand the incarnation and the broad scope of redemption. Christ's incarnation is the proof of God's love and affection for the whole cosmos. We should lay up an inheritance for our children, and our children's children. And, one such treasure is noble architecture.
Q. Are there any distinctive aesthetic values of Protestantism, especially the Reformed tradition, which might shape an architectural style or vision?
A. The Westminster Catechism declares boldly our Chief End. It is to glorify God! For me, to study God's glory is to engage in the study of a true aesthetic. God's glory is `the beauty of His manifold perfections' and therein an artist or architect finds the full inspiration and direction for his work. Beauty, perfection, and excellence of form and design are the high values of any artist consecrating his work to God. We need, like Bezalel, son of Uri, to be filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge. But how does God impart to us such skill, ability, and knowledge of true beauty, excellence, and perfection? We must study His artistic work, the universum itself. Before us lie patterns, rules, and principles of design which spring directly from His manifold perfections. Dorothy Sayers observed "As the mind of the maker has been made manifest in a work, a way of communication is established between our mind and his." The mind of our Maker is manifest in the creation. When we draw from the ordering principles of the architect of the cosmos, we establish a setting in which beauty can emerge.
Alas, these principles have been abandoned in our generation. But our buildings, whether in our cities or countryside must again quake with intimations of God's great Glory through their magnificent beauty, embodiment of eternal principles in fine proportions, a sublime harmony of parts, and carefully crafted, appropriate materials. These are so deeply rooted in the stunning beauty of the created order, they will either serve God's purposes for the redemption or condemnation of those who suppress the truth of His eternal nature and power.
Do we have a passion for God's Glory like Nehemiah did, who upon hearing of the shameful condition of Jerusalem, sat down and wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed over its condition? With Nehemiah, let us rise up and repair our ruined cities, in the face of mockery and opposition if necessary. "He is the King of Glory, He is the King of Glory!" Bring in eternity with cultural artifacts of glory, even architecture.

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