Sunday, 28 December 2008

how should we then wear?

"I wondered if you came across in your time at L'abri anyone exploring Christianity and fashion? is art and what we wear functions as a work of art ... it relates back to your question about what place physical beauty has. Any further thoughts on that? The industry as a whole clearly has a lot of faults - but stripping that away do you think there is anything biblical there?" (Also see

There weren't any explicitly in the fashion industry this term at L'Abri, there were photographers and related artists, and generally fashionable people.. Artisan Initiatives at St Mary’s tends to have a gaggle of fashion industry types and they link to MFC in their publication, I haven’t followed it before.

Slowly I am preparing for the blog my thoughts on Christians, Craft and Image, and trying to take in idolatry and the environment all in one, it is a convoluted piece. So for fashion, just as with architecture, we cannot say a piece of clothing is inherently wrong, God made us creative, we are fallen, everything is a mixed bag.

However, I do think some fashion is virtually irredeemable, though I feel that about some architectures, and it is possibly an unhealthy black and white approach. But some systems of deceit and illusion, of slavery and production, of shallowness and addiction, leave in their wake such a slew of victims and offer such fleeting happiness to the consumer as to demand that Christians demonstrate that a more joyful way of clothing oneself is possible, even if that means making them yourself, Gandhi did, Shane Claiborne does..

But calling things ‘bad’ is relatively easy compared with affirming the ‘good’, where in post-structuralist, hyper-environmentalist architecture school ‘beauty’ is considered unnecessary or arbitrary or even damaging. There is a borderline pharasaical legalism around ornament, tradition and story. It is spilt perfume all over again.

Doing and wearing fashion as an expression of something within a language that is both meaningful and redemptive is so hard in a context where we often do not share signifiers (a guy wears a rainbow t-shirt to denote peace in one community, which means something else in another language community), and where we do not have sufficient information, indeed there are vested (pun intended meh) interests by companies in keeping us from knowing the means of production (so ‘fairtrade’ ‘sweatshop-free’ ‘green’ become sloganised and make a mockery of our petty morals).

It is difficult, the fashionable Christians too quickly pull the, God-made-me-creative-to-express-who-I-am-Stop-with-your-Puritanism, the less fashionable Christians too quickly assume some bizarre moral high ground, based on flawed theology that is anti-the-physical-body.. This is the same conversation as Christians and food, Christians and architecture etc, and my stock response leans heavily on a return to locality, to community, and to traditional creativity, which requires that I for the sake of argument eschew many of the fruits of a hyper-specialised, technology-enabled modern life; this is a noble hope, but is not an adequate compromise and comes with its own list of theological short-comings…

The efficiency of a machine age has been used a trumph card justify all means of production, to supply all confected 'needs'. When that which formerly was a legible meaningful expression, or 'art' as you have called it, becomes a fashion 'industry,' clothes become consumer goods, their meaning becomes impoverished and there comes a disconnect between producer and consumer, the gifts of nature - cottons, leathers etc - and the joy of using them, the creator and the creature. Out of this we struggle to live in meaningful gratitude, which almost inevitably reduces the entire transaction to the sum of its vices. Vitally the role of christians should be affirming relevent art and craft at every level, shifting people's default state from consuming to creating. The fashion born out of vanity, insecurity and bare greed is easy to throw stones at, a braver move is to consider the process of production and the language of decoration and how we can integrate these in contemporary life, in redemptive and joyful ways. Catherine knitted a pair of socks for Anna in the last week of term, it was a deep joy just to watch, as were all the hats knitted, songs written and pictures painted, the socks just seemed more fiddly. This sort of physical work should be a spiritual discipline, this sort of personal expression constitutes the sort of truly Good Work that we would do without being paid, it is redeemed work. And so for the joy set before us... I have not yet seen a theology defending the 'art' of shopping, it is not inherently wrong, but it is opted for on the basis of expediency, consuming rather than creating is complicit in fracturing community and cheapening the value of work and people.

There is another area to be explored, that of festivity, of parades and carnivals as sabbath time and their associated attire, playful wear and colourful story, and ways in which this should trickle down to the every day, if we only did not consider ourselves too sophisticated to play like that in any but an ironic fashion.

Here I am again filling cyberspace with unfootnoted opinion, tenuously strung together argument, self-evident truths mixed polemically with spurious conjecture.. and no Bible.. The question we're asking is How Should We Then Wear? And I would point people chiefly to AF's lecture on "Intentional Community as a Subversion of Modernity" and CSL's essay on "Good Work".

Sunday, 9 November 2008

rachel: creation and hospitality?

(I'm not dead, and I've not left this blog to become a forgotten piece of cyberspace clutter. Hopefully I can spend some time at Christmas collecting my notes from the last 6 months into succinctly bullet pointed thoughts on architecture, theology and intentional community.. In the mean time, Molly and Marie-Frances, linked in my little box are blogging out this term. I'm here til Dec 15, and would love the company of any of my single-digit subscribers. Below are few thoughts on hospitality after a little discussion here at the Manor. Love. P. x)

So Rachel, I asked the question. I should by now, after a term and a half of L'Abri have worked out lunch tables, how to play them and how to pose questions.. How regularly I fail at this. A question with the C word in it needs very careful chairing to steer it away from a creation/evolution debate.. but it was not an unproductive conversation, although a little fraught, and some people left more confused than they arrived, but it did clarify for me a few thoughts, so I shall try to condense the fruits of conversation and those that ensued that afternoon springing from the question, if indeed i understand your question correctly..

Lunch was at E's and she supposed early on that you had lifted this question from Making Room, I hadn't realised there was a creational or environmental slant offered in the book, which she returned there was and that your question pertained to the parallel drawn in the book to God as host in nature. Did it? Needless to say, having my question thus defined for me, it ran away with itself dissecting the metaphor of God as host, the 'goodness' of creation, abuses of 'ownership' because of not understanding the both/and tension of being a part of nature and apart from nature. To a point where A had to interject to stop people using dominion and domination synonymically, so the lunch table's confusion emerged out of largely semantic issues of word definitions, and an attempt to then define hospitality left people at a loss, was the good Samaritan showing hospitality on the road? Is hospitality just loving people? It was all quite amiable, for better or worse, as the hospitality question is one i feel strongly about and I would sooner the conversation had ended in tears and people had fought for something than that we bumble through in a cautious and removed manner. Following lunch the de-briefs in the nooks and crannies of the manor were more clarifying.

I would venture two interpretations of the question as you have put it, firstly, and the one I see less to be gained in, there is the take on the question that looks at nature, 'fallen' though some suppose it to be, and extrapolate models for hospitality. This was presented by one at the table, drawing on Jonah and the vine that grows up to shade him. Further though tenuously, one can read in nature the way nests, colonies and shelters are constructed, how space is shared in an ecosystem and how symbiotic relationships between animals are enacted.

But hospitality is a more complex issue, a moral, relational, economic, even symbolic concept. The first take offers healthy provocation, particularly to consider ourselves as dependent creatures within a finite system, and to acknowledge the debt of knowledge as well as resources we owe and all that we still have to gain from a healthy relationship with nature and its systems. More clear to me are the profound tertiary impacts of our emphasis - or lack of - on making a home a home, on the environment. Simplistically one can cite negative impacts, where the demise of a culture of hospitality creates a demand and opportunity for brutally more resource-heavy and crushingly less-human means of accommodating visiting bodies in foreign cities, simplistically too we could posit roots of this in a fear of strangers, demand for luxury, and oil-driven expediency. Where once, or where ideally, there may have been an attitude and lifestyle among people that made possible travelling between foreign cities, finding there large families networked broadly and deeply in life-giving relationships to their neighbours and their soil, who were sufficiently engaged in a casual gift economy to make possible, even in their relative poverty, sleeping and eating provision to anyone who had need and this for the simple joy of new people and new stories at the dinner table, we now have exchanged the glory of this for an image of five star luxury on the company account, a lonely 50th floor hotel room, with sheets cleaned daily by an anonymous, faceless underclass, a private bubble kept at its perfect temperature, perfect placeless luxury. Do I make a point too romantically?

The counter argument given for this, even if we are willing to forgive its romanticism, is that an 'hospitality imperative' is a burden too heavy to bear, a duty typically performed by an exhausted working mother, making beds in the guest room after her 9 to 5, hoovering the hallway with one hand, feeding her children with the other, and all this to present and image and to tick a check box of the good christian household. I will concede that all the lunchtime sermons I preach, expounding the saving nature of hospitality are liable to lead to legalism if so understood, and thereby make also these lunching labrinis twice the sons of hell that I am.

So, I have tried briefly and tentatively to sketch 'hospitality' as the by-product of appropriate dwelling in the world.

- I picture in my mind of the green and blue marble of earth spread across with a vast web of relational links and clusters, at the junction of each tie is a home, our crabshells in which we eat, sleep and have our being, protected from the elements. I see the best domestic architecture not as the industry journal cover images, but as the unseen and anonymous framed worn paths and junctions, platforms for conversations, enriched gradually out of the commitment by a family to the story of a place across a span time longer than the life of a man and his return on venture capital.

- To achieve such houses, such homes, there is a need to fix in our worldview two states of being, 'visiting', and not-visiting, that is to say 'belonging'. And these as two distinct modes of being in a place, to avoid a disastrous middle way of non-belonging, consuming aliens, being both anywhere and nowhere, refugees fleeing each the city of your youth from home to uni, uni to first job, flat to suburbs. The state of 'belonging' contracts you to the ground where you meaningfully can honour your parents in front of those who have known them and be held to that geography by its beauty which becomes a part of you and whose land, weather, fauna are the foundation for your language, art, music, diet, identity. So the geography and architecture of the home are much less uprootable than modernism would have us hope.

- Heidegger said something to the effect of “Only once you have learnt to dwell should you build.” I quoted him more exactly somewhere.. What if you knew the secret of dwelling, of enduring all things in a place, of bringing life in dead places, of doing the next right thing for a place, of practising resurrection of a place, how then would we build there, how would we decorate, how would we conduct our households? I don’t know how much I project onto Heidegger and how much is in the text, but to dwell, to rest and work without angst, to be at peace, is practical as much as cerebral. To know that living in the second best postcode is ok, fearing nothing of fighting in the streets, being confident to let the stranger into your home, and sweating blood for love are all facets of the dwelling in confidence which is the only sufficient basis to begin to build. So on this basis not all houses have the same level of home-ness, home-ness it is a product of the amount of human emotional energy invested, for example the Manor House. If we believe we are here for the long haul, we should build like we believe that. And so too in our existing housing stock, in our rented flats and trailers, it should be a christian task of primary importance to redeem, to embellish, to restructure and make beautiful these spaces in God’s world because they are the primary places where one’s relationships are conducted, marriages consummated, meals eaten, games played, parties held, children raised, homework done, so too out of the relationships in these places it is here that personal meanings are formed and grounded, hopes expressed and dreams dreamt. All of these actions are ultimately exercises dominion over creation. Home is an extension of the self, the modifying device though which the raw materials of nature pass, the lens through which ideas pass, the expression of a view of the world and a hope for the world.

- So, the home is less, as corbusier is credited as saying, “A machine for living in” but rather “An organism for conducting dominion through” or even “An interdependent cell in the organism of a community for the redeeming of the world” .. And perhaps this is a useful image, that of an organism, the body of the church as it were, but crucially, making it physical, that each soul inhabits the shell of a home and by that gifted practically in bricks and mortar to form healthier cities, where the interaction between cells is hospitality, an exchange of love, conviviality, story and vision.. People truly 'live' only in relationship to other people. Homes are only truly alive in relationship to other homes? Households to households. Is it idolatrous to set up a practical-ly independent home? What is the joy of hospitality? What is the purpose of a christian home? What is the opposite of hospitality? Everybody has a home, if I can define it loosely enough, everybody has a patch of ground they lay their head, a bench they eat at, a manner of having dominion over space. And hospitality is the orientation of your life in respect to that dominion over space, outward or inward, do you share your box or not. The home is a tool for loving people, home is a gift, a grace of God, given and undeserved, making hospitality is a primary transaction of the gift economy, indeed an obligation if we truly are to receive it as a gift. Home is the point on the earth you invest your creative energy, draw on that specific land for food and for inspiration and leave your mark - architecturally, emotionally, ecologically.

- Hospitality is effecting the lordship of Christ over home making. Hospitality is the organising principle for a home that is the perfect third way, being neither a commune nor a nuclear family home. Hospitality is born out of an an attitude of enjoying the company of others, all others. Hospitality operates out of that nodal point in the web on the blue green marble, and its effectiveness, richness and beauty are increased and increased as the roots of the node go deeper into the soil beneath and as the supporting limbs of relationships to neighbouring nodes, the farmers, carpenters, local artists, babysitters, half-a-cup-of-flour-lenders and so on..

- One may stay in one place for the sake of the kids, for the sake of the elderly - those who most benefit from the security of regularity - and in order to move around as much as we do, we have needed to play down our commitments to these relations. But further, that which benefits them, is good for all, home is intergenerational, story is intergenerational, above all wisdom and understanding are intergenerational. We should exist intimately in intergenerational community. Home is crucially dependent for the sustaining and quality on being pursued by many generations together. Without the old we forget where we have come from, and expend incalculable energy reinventing the wheel, parenthood, cooking, and fashion each generation; without the young we forget our vulnerability, we loose our suppleness and humour, and we are at liberty to forget that we are fleetingly temporary tenants holding the plot for the next round.

The demise of hospitality can trace its roots to:
- The speed at which we are able to - and therefore do - live at. The jump from could to should live at is not self evident, and it is linked to faith in technology as saviour, and abandoned responsibilities to others, to relationships.. not making, earning, doing to give it away; not caring for the least last and lost.
- Likewise the culture of long working hours and commuting, motivated by misaligned notions of happiness, progress and then also workoholism and related addictions.
- Image based notion of the home, professionalisation of home-making to remote, economically motivated developers, short-term tenancy, a conception of housing as a disposable lifestyle accessory.
- Individualism, etc and all those systemic vices that most every L'Abri lecture defines itself by standing in opposition. Sigh..

So the gospel empowers us through a freedom from every fear that held us back, and motivates us by an obligation to a gift-economy transaction to practice hospitality, to orientate our lives and households around loving, feeding and sheltering anyone who has need, and this culture of hospitality is the primary spiritual discipline or lifestyle corrective to moderate our use, interaction with and redeeming of creation. Ho hum, I tailed away towards the end, let me know how these convoluted thoughts strike you...
Image: Rachel Bush's :-)

Sunday, 25 May 2008


May 26th to August 16th, 2008
Do write letters, postcards.. anything.
I promise to write back.

Phil Jackson
c/o L'Abri Fellowship,
The Manor House,
Liss, Hants
GU33 6HF.
United Kingdom

Tuesday, 11 March 2008


Jim Jams.. I would say, “Ah doughnuts.. you and I have too much time on our hands.” But we don't. When we stand before God, tonight perhaps, and he demands of us, how did you spend those precious hours I gifted to you, when you were in the heart of emerging student culture, in deep community, with people who don't truly know life or love on your doorstep, in your house.. How did you spend it. Bickering and bitching about doughnuts? Is this the plank in our eye. Are we simply not captivated by Christ.. !! -

I'll blog this one out, inconclusively perhaps.. I am increasingly convicted of a need to curb my cynicism, and to post a lot more love joy and peace. pray. for. me.

“Handing out a doughnut with a casual “because God loves you” is profoundly ungodly.”
Steady on. On a scale of one to ungodly, this one surely is some way down the list..

"Have we taken the word love, interpreted it through the paradigm of our world experience and applied it to God?"
Yes we have a limited experience of love, yes we interpret, and by these interpretations we begin to understand God.. Perhaps if they were to assert, God is the doughnut giving God. Or that doughnuts were the substance and limit of the Love which is God, one might assume this.

"Have we thus not allowed God to interpret his own word?"
What does that mean? For the author to interpret his own word, is a hermeneutical loop. It is not so much the word we are concerned with, nor even the quotable verses describing love is patient etc, as we are concerned for the substance which it represents, which has been demonstrated in history objectively uniquely perfectly in Christ, in his LIFE and death and resurrection?

“If we truly want to share God’s love with people then we should tell them how God loves.”
This is the conservative sound bite, the emphasis on the preach, and I hold preaching in higher and higher esteem as I drift back into Piper. But lets not abstractise or intellectualise the love of God. Cor13v1 you can quote the whole bible at them, but if you have not love.. if there is not love, demonstrably active in you... How are we splitting doing love, from speaking of love. I'm baffled, I presume we are discussing Trent as the purveyors of this doughnut gospel, and within my experience of what passes for doctrine there, doughnuts are not preached as the limit and substance of God's love.

How does God love? God loves through creation, God loves through provision, God loves through Christ, God loves through people.. God loves us as children, cherished and precious, the apple of his eye, all of that. Christ's death is the clearest, most vivid, picture of God's love, the climax of a divinely orchestrated plan. This is the point that must be told of, BUT it is surely not the only way God loves?

Love is God's being, Love is done, Love is given, Love is received.. God is in Trinity that he might be Love, Lover and Loved. Christ became man, he did life on earth, he did love on earth he showed and taught us how do living. He died for our sin. That we too might do dying to ourselves and be raised in him. These are all things done, more than heard and assented to.
(Also note: people need to hear the specific story of Jesus, the 'gospel' message and by hearing that believe and by believing in him truly have life and a saving relationship with the father... this is not to the exclusion of that, I am defending people's right to give out doughnuts and tell people God loves them as a legitimate form of christian service in a hurting world)
..He *does* love

There is a God. He loves people. We love because he loved first. People don't know God loves them, or they deny it.. They need to know God loves them. To 'know'.. two great passages Eph 3v19 “and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” surpasses knowledge! what does that even mean? Then in Phil1v9 is “and it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” Rob Bell drew out of this in his current series on Philippians, that the knowledge in play here is epignosis (?sp) which is not knowledge about, but knowledge gained from participation, knowledge through experience, from having lived it, not so much by having studied all the books on it.. That whole sermon Rob Bell pushes really really knowing that we might really tell and really do.
...the world needs to know love

We live in a visual culture, and there is a need for visual metaphors that speak of God's character but even further than that Art and Soul, (Brand and Chaplin 2001) and The Creative Gift (Rookmaaker 1981) I just finished reading both speak of the need for for art, images, art without justification, art simply to be beautiful, without agenda. In a culture that has forgotten what it means to share its stuff. This is prophetic performance art..

“love” as a word and concept..
Love.. this is a word relating to a concept and within this culture, that is post-christian, formerly 'christian' notions take on entirely other connotations. So words come in and out of meaning, sometimes they may need to be retired, sometimes refreshed. Language enables. In cross cultural mission, languages exist without words for grace, or sin, and so need to be invented.. id' appeal here to anyone who knows how this happens is done, as we need it in this culture. Jesus speaks in pictures in part for this reason. Perhaps this word needs to be re-worked into our vocabulary.. one which in a fatherless generation.. in so broken a generation needs to be started wherever we can. Love is patient, love is kind, love is ..there is a place for random acts of kindness, which begin to paint a picture for our generation of what the dying sacrificial love looks like (this may or may not apply to doughnuts).

I object to the notion that to give out doughnuts, and to give out doughnuts because god loves them is wrong. Wrong in and of itself? By virtue of the jammyness of the doughnuts and the jauntiness of the 'because god loves you'? No, I believe however that the conditions motivations and resources exercised in giving away doughnuts might be called into question. You might rightly say that doughnuts are not needs.. and would be probably right.

“People are going to love you for a doughnut, people are going to persecute you for telling them the gospel, the Bible assures us of that.”
As if we are to go out of our way to seek persecution..? Here I would question not so much the doughnuts and whether they speak of love, but the approach that lead to this rather than some more dangerous demonstration of love, more costly or sacrificial love.

(Although you could say that the people here giving out doughnut ARE being persecuted by your good, well-intentioned self..)

The sort of persecution I would expect would be from doughnut manufacturers, where, when the kingdom of heaven breaks in, and not just a couple of people are sharing their doughnuts, but everyone is making and sharing the doughnuts they have, at such a scale that it turns the economic systems, which make the doughnut manufacturers rich, upside down. Then you get persecution, then you challenge prevailing world assumptions.. This message is a gospel, this message is good news to the poor and the doughnutless.

Matthew 5:10-12 : "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness...

- There is the problem with models of evangelism that they are a model. You can attack any model, simply for being a model, because a 'model' is not spirit led and compassion driven, its dry.. you. give. out. doughnuts. If a model becomes a rote.. a formula.. then legalism and cheap grace set in.
- There is also the notion of going without “a purse or bag or sandals” into evangelism, when Jesus send out the 72, and here there would be an element of trying to buy favour with people in order to evangelise.. but are these people trying to 'evangelise' or even mention Jesus, this purpose may fit better into the framework of community building, or simply loving your neighbour.. lunchbars on the other hand.. ;)
- The passage in Luke 10 then continues.. “and do not greet anyone on the road.” What does that mean?
- Also (Some time ago I had a link for this, via a Jason Clark post, but I've lost it..meh) It contended that giving doughnuts to shoppers was not giving to the needy and was infact proliferating a glutted culture of excess..

To be honest I don't know where I stand on the doughnuts issue.. Certainly IF talking about Jesus is actively discouraged, one would wonder what the enterprise was built upon.. We have to pick our battles, and these people love Jesus. I would say that I have a father that comes running down the drive to put a ring(-doughnut ;) ) on my finger, who loves me with a reckless, foolish love, not for anything I have done, not for anything I have earned. A doughnut is a picture of that, a glimpse of that undeserved gift of grace and my hope is that there will be doughnuts in heaven..

Monday, 10 March 2008

st barnabas church, dulwich

Ironically, as this essay is intended as an 'article', it translates poorly to a blog standing on its own. This essay is a quote-athon of german names and so on and in a stop-start fashion stutters through some of my thoughts on contemporary church building applied to St Barnabas, Dulwich, viewed through the lens of 'Building Ideas' and the requirements to use the critical approaches outlined in the book.

The church is pleasant enough and yet bemusing, and very much a child of its age (if thats the phrase i'm looking for..) socially and theologically.

The Church of St Barnabas, Dulwich
1996 - HOK Architects

1 – View of Church from the Road – Philip Jackson 2008

In the early morning of Monday, 7th December 1992, St Barnabas Church, Dulwich was set alight in an act of arson. It burnt for several hours, and by 6.30am when the fire was put out, very little was left of the 1905 red brick and sandstone church by W H Wood, once famous for its locally crafted wood-carved panels and stained glass. The church was considered to be “truly at the heart of the Dulwich community, not only physically but spiritually and socially” It had been insured for £3 million and so was posed the complex question of building a replacement, on an socially and emotionally loaded site. Such a blank slate opportunity has many precedents of demolished churches replaced with “evangelical sheds”, and Richard Cattley, responsible for commissioning the project, expressed concern over contemporary churches, whose emphasis on economy produced an effect more akin to “supermarkets, office blocks or prisons” rather than “inspirational and [possessed of] a numinous quality” that he was later to specify in the project brief. Clearly this is a building the conception of which was explicitly grounded in a certain philosophical system, this essay will consider appropriate interpretations of the proceeding design by Larry Malcic of HOK, London.

2 – W H Wood’s original church in flames, 7th December 1992 -St Barnabas Church 1997
3 – Remain structure, after the fire – St Barnabas Church 1997
The carefully worded design brief expressed the following: “...the new building should look and feel like a church. The main worship area should be inspirational and should possess a numinous quality which would give meaning to the space that was created...The church should be a welcoming place with which the community could identify, which would play a full part in everyday life; inviting people to come inside and explore faith. A place of belonging, outreach and nurture; significantly and visibly a place of worship; a land mark and a visible sign of Christian witness. A sacred place, of beauty, serenity and colour.”

The brief reflects the belief in architecture as a means of communication, as well as the more practical functions of providing shelter over usable space. Expressed is a desire to communicate to those within, engendering community, establishing a richer experience of dwelling, and affirming a particular world-view, but also to dialogue beyond the church even to proselytize. An ambitious notion, given the plurality of possible interpretations of any built form and the contemporary relativism of architectural language, but even more so given the post-modern suspicion of imposed meaning, and the implied power agenda.

The hope, it would seem, is that the designer would adequately assess the substance of the community and their faith and generate form in such a language as those beyond the church would comprehend. Umberto Eco has argued for the impossibility of an interpretation being controlled by the designer and advises design for “variable primary functions and open secondary functions” In so far as the meaning hoped for is one of community and faith, these essentially secondary functions will be connoted if and only if there is engagement by the users.
This tension is highlighted by Malcic to some extent in his discussion of the former tower as “a hollow symbol” as it had been designed for bells which were never installed. Despite this understanding of the role of the user's engagement in grounding the language of any symbolism, much of the design falsely assumes a more universal consensus of meanings, simplistically but arguably successfully the use of gabling may suggest a welcoming domesticity, however on more subtle and overtly theological metaphors the presupposition that in post-Christian Britain the communication of meaning in symbols such as Malcic's use of light to denote Christ is to deny the illiteracy of much of the population to such specific language or to suppose that there are symbolic absolutes, a limitation of Levi-Strauss' interpretation of mythic archetypes.

4 – Glass Spire from below – Philip Jackson 2008
Malcic proposed that “the spire... [would point] heavenwards, symbolising the divinity of night when the building was artificially lit from the inside it would provide a glowing symbol of the light of Christ for the whole neighbourhood.” - a notion which Edwin Heathcote disparages as a tired cliché of contemporary church building: “More than with any other building type, architects approaching a church design become obsessed with light...light has become the most powerful resource of architects often unfamiliar with the rituals and formal language of the contemporary church. Light is uncontroversial, unlike say art or even form...It appeals to atheists as much, if not more than to Christians if light itself was able to express everything an architect is not able to believe: the other, the beyond.” This is the tension evident throughout the building, of a now marginalised, essentially ecclesiastic language being adopted successfully to the extent that it serves its own community, but less so in the intention that it be married to modern construction and so communicate those values beyond its own community. This hope for objective meanings is implied again in the brief when the 'feel of a church' is stipulated, based on their belief such a feel is self-evident.

Clare Stevens in her narrative account of the design and building process recalls the desire within the Church to replace the destroyed building with a “dramatic architectural and aesthetic statement”, but more than that, they were looking for a “wow factor” This is another contending motive that accounts for the language used in the design and is among contemporary churches in the Northern Europe Protestant tradition curiously idiosyncratic at a time when their rigorous, harsh modernism was eschewing the sacred in the ordinary. Heathcote positively notes the influence of this brand of minimalism and the 'ordinary' beyond the ecclesiastic and attributes its rise to the counterbalancing of self-conscious architectural icons. This difference may account in part for the comments by Luke Hughes and others that that St Barnabas's feels much like an American church Malcic has expressed as a primary concern, a desire to “retain the simplicity of the building which he felt would give it the necessary presence and would prevent it from becoming dated. He firmly resisted pressure to make the design more elaborate.” This simplicity is pursued for its drama and “wow factor”, and given the emphasis on visibility in the brief could reasonably be attributed to a pursuit of that end.

I would argue that, in interpreting this architecture as a semiotic device, this emphasis on the dramatic image, communicates at least a tension with the desire also to communicate 'community' and to be a place of 'nurture'. Not simply for the bombastic way the building goes about it, but inherent in the pursuit of image is an undoing of Christopher Alexander's christianised notion of wholeness. That which is being communicated in the pursuit of the 'wow image' shares, in its motives, much in common with the machine aesthetic, and the shock value of projects such as the Pompidou Centre. But also in the practice of that movement frequently, as in the Villa Savoye, style has been pursued over engineering substance. To this end Malcic's aversion of ornament is complicit with the culture that has followed in the wake of Adolf Loos', "The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects" This functionalism was the outworking of a mechanistic world-view predicated in a sub-Christian Cartesian Dualism that would divide Man from the Other, nature and the transcendent. The pursuit of the functional aesthetic in the hope to prevent the church 'becoming dated' has historically been a flawed pursuit, but furthermore, a church that pursues un-dated-ness may do so at the expense of never belonging to a time, a place or a people.

5 – View to Spire – Philip Jackson 2008

6 – Red Brick Piers – Philip Jackson 2008

This tension with the placeless implications of so functionalist an agenda is offset by adopting local red brick to reflect local landmarks with which it shares some vistas, including the nearby Alleyn's School; and in a desire to be sympathetic, possibly in the knowledge of the radical and alien form that the design represented, the presentation of the design went to some pains to emphasise its roots in history and place. The rectangular piers would “make reference to the basilican structure of many early Christian buildings” but also to South London's Gilbert Scott brick edifices of Battersea and Bankside Powerstations and the Salvation Army Training College in Camberwell. In being reconciled to a locality, and historical context the church declares an intention to belong, but the cosmetic nature of the connection belies an impatience and economy that suggest an extrinsic motivation for the decision. Where the church does engage the locality profoundly is in it continued commitment to local music and art including the retention of organ music, which I will address when I consider the church more phenomenologically, but that as a message, the organ as an active element, a source of creative engagement of the user, gives substance to the symbol. As an avenue for local craft in its construction it speaks of a commitment to the arts, in a costly, sacrificial way. However, this is not by virtue of its design so much as its inclusion at all, and so not so much a symbol as the substance itself.

7 – Organ and Glass at the West End – St Barnabas Church 1997

8 – Reclaimed Wood Cross – Philip Jackson 2008

There is also within this building a message of commemoration, this building now stands on the ground of a much treasured church, lost to an act of recklessness, Stevens recalls that, “For some the shock and pain was an intensely personal and private feeling. Others found the need to express more publicly...their sorrow and anger at the loss of the building which meant so much to them and to the community.” The inclusion in the design of a 15ft suspended cross, formed out of salvaged roof timbers, still burnt at the edges speaks of this desire to remember. JB Jackson writes in the Necessity for Ruins of the “traditional monuments” which in his view put people in mind of some obligation they have incurred...[and] that the potency of such explicitly commemorative monuments lies not in their generalised “aesthetic quality” but in the pointed challenges and demands that they issue: in their power “to recall something specific.. to remind us of obligations, religious and political.” Such monuments, he says do not in the end, please and console people; instead, they alert people to what they should do and how they should act.” which he contrasts with “modern or vernacular monuments,” which simply try “to explain” The inclusion within the design of existing elements from the former church: the baptism font, the exposed but now internal wall to the church centre, the re-formed roof timbers as hanging cross, all serve as testimony to formative history in a time and place. Commenting on the inclusion of architectural features from the the old church in the memorial garden Stevens asserts, “This was an important element in the sense of spiritual and literal pilgrimage and continuity from one era to another which would be inherent in much of the building's symbolism.” In linking the preservation of these architectural wounds to a sense of spiritual formation of future generations suggests not only Jackson's modern monument that explains, but something of the traditional monument which convicts, and has a sense of moral obligation. As with post-war projects, Coventry Cathedral or Berlin's Jewish museum, the sense of loss and anger provokes a radical, loud built response in the spirit of a call to moral change.

9 – Baptism Font Philip Jackson 2008
10 – Worship ‘In the round’ – Philip Jackson 2008

St Barnabas's Church, Dulwich, can be understood in these conscious symbols, and explicit messages that they would hope to convey, but also, there is the implicit and unconscious symbol in a building simply by virtue of its being, and the reflection of its users dwelling as: “A construction, a Greek temple, images nothing. It simply stands in the midst of a rock-cleft valley” Heidegger expands in “The Origin of the Work of Art”, the building unconsciously betrays, as the peasants shoes, a way of life. There is a story and value system that can be read in a building, through the manner in which it reflects the movement and ritual of its users. These values that might be inferred from an evolved form, developed over many years to such a point as, like spoken language, there is a blurring of ultimate primacy – the idea that language speaks man, rather than man speaking language. To this end, although the church is a radical new form, Stevens suggests that the move to worship 'in the round' and the relationship between clergy and congregation is a taking to its logical conclusion moves in the 1980s to re-order the church for a more inclusive celebration of Eucharist. Whilst still a conscious move it is derivative of broader theological and social changes towards less hierarchical structures. The flexible seating could be attributed to moves in society away from commitment and permanence, towards what Schumacher argues is a “footlooseness” and the adoption of a model of consumption of services rendered. At a time when church attendance is surveyed at 6.3% and lower in urban areas, the language used speaks of such a marginalisation, nationally a transient congregation, Stevens even writes of the welcome area ”floored in paving flags to provide a link with the exterior courtyard and symbolising the chaos of the outside world.” As the temple in the rock-cleft valley, this building will conjure a way of life, but one here that is being undermined. Heathcote writes in his conclusion to his essay on the present and future of church architecture that, “Churches are working buildings, more than symbols or monuments, they are excluded from art because they have a function, and because they have a function they lose meaning when that function becomes debased or inhibited."

The discussion thus far has been of design language, the top-down expression of will, the messages and underlying agenda: the desire for a numinous quality set against competing drives for economy and a public voice, ultimately building as symbol. However, an understanding of the building which considers the concurrent participatory bottom-up methods employed will give a broader understanding of the degree to which it achieves “a welcoming place with which the community could identify” and “a place of belonging, outreach and nurture.” One might argue that this self-consciously iconic building fails to sympathise and, by virtue of the publicly perceived foreign American-ness, could be deemed inconducive to community, there is however, a commitment to the arts, and to the building as a vehicle for local expression.

11 – Caroline Swash Stained Glass – Philip Jackson 2008
12 – Caroline Swash – St Barnabas Church 1997

This organic vision, particularly in the stained glass which sees the involvement of local artist and congregant, Caroline Swash, achieves a creatively involved and, according to Alexander, more living structure, that is to say, imbued with more 'life': “Living structures are formed in nature by what he calls the “principle of unfolding wholeness,” which states that “in the evolution of an otherwise undisturbed system, the wholeness is progressively enhanced and intensified.” The stained glass of the large west window was not originally in Malcic's design, and has set a precedent the church is pursuing in continuing to commission work in its other windows, and so adopting something of Alexander's vision for user-engaged, progressively intensified architecture. This principle of involvement in and of itself promotes community, through united local expression, value of the individual, and through the encouraging of craftsman apprentice communities, but can also be viewed as a subscription to a politically weighted process of subverting the dominant paradigm of consumerism and its pre-eminent quest for efficiency. Ecclesiastic architecture in the 21st century lends itself to the counter-cultural or Marxist emphasis even more given its decline to a marginal, no longer the hegemonic status as social model and patron of the arts, where museums have replaced cathedrals as sites of pilgrimage in major cities. In these ways the church adopts Frampton's mode of “resistance” to an alienating global culture, through use of local material and craft skill and through bodily experience.

Stevens ascribes this culture of local arts, a central feature of the Parish's identity to St Barnabas: “Most of the physical alterations to the building were carried out by the small group known as the Monday Men. In many ways the Monday Men are the embodiment of the spirit of St Barnabas the Encourager and the inheritors of the parish's tradition of self-help that originated with the woodcarving in the old church.” This group was responsible for various crafted embellishments, as well and realising Malcic's sketch for a suspended wooden cross.
In the commissioning of furniture to be fitted with the building, whilst not local in the sense of the stained glass and embellishments, there is a concern that the building be a complete work of art of complementary constituent parts, in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and should be enhanced by its furnishing. Luke Hughes set out to design in sympathy with the church which he found to be, “clean, quite minimalist and extremely American in style.” Hughes considered there to be an emotional significance in the design and that the by the proportions of the chunky back rail, the chairs might serve to affirm the faith of the congregants as they stood. The chairs here are a point of phenomenological intensity, by their tactile nature they lend themselves to an understanding in the light of Heidegger's hammer, they will withdraw, that is, not before informing the lens through which the architecture is interpreted.

13 – Hughes’ Furniture – Philip Jackson 2008
14 – Hughes Furnitre Design -St Barnabas Church 1997

Finally, in the stained glass there is a further reading of this building, that is provoked by Malcic's vision for the stained glass: “that it should be possible to see through the coloured panels to the world outside, particularly to the natural world of trees and sky, ... the world should not be excluded from the church, but merely distanced.” Which reflects in some way the theology underlying this brief, which seems constantly agnostic as to whether it loves the world. Having adopted an anonymous functionalism to then decorate and having set out to engage the wider community's everyday life to then seek to distance it in this manner. This escapist notion Being in community combined with a tinted view of the locality undermines an honest incarnation and taken to a logical conclusion, the distancing of the world and repainting reality potentially leads to a simulacrum whereby “the boundary between artificiality and reality will become so thin that the artificial will become the centre of moral value”.

In conclusion, St Barnabas's, Dulwich stands out from a rash of recent evangelical warehouses as a result of conscious thought regarding a commitment to place, community and the arts. It is clearly a building in tension, where economic and emotional stakeholders have suppressed a broader social and religious vision, in favour of an essentially loud functionalist structure, which is redeemed centrally by its work at participation towards an unfolding wholeness, in an ongoing project. Vindicating perhaps the lumbering cliché of Mies van der Rohe, that God is in the details.
15 – Oak slats and red brick piers in the west end – Philip Jackson 2008

Clare Stevens (1997) Building for the Future: The Church of St Barnabas - St Barnabas Church, London
Edwin Heathcote and Laura Moffat (2007) Contemporary Church Architecture -John Wiley & Sons, Chichester
Umberto Eco, “Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture” in Gottdiener and Algapoulous (eds.) (1986) The City and the Sign -Columbia University Press, New York (quoted in Jonathan A Hale (2000) Building Ideas: An Introduction to Architectural Theory - John Wiley & Sons, Chichester)
Bernie Miller and Melony Ward (Eds.) (2002) Crime and Ornament, The Arts and Popular Culture in the Shadow of Adolf Loos, XYZ Books
JB Jackson (1980) The Necessity for Ruins -University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst (quoted in Lindsay Jones (2000) The Hermeneutics of Sacred Architecture: Experience, Interpretation, Comparison: Volume Two Hermeneutical Calisthenics: A Morphology of Ritual-Architectural Priorities - Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, p86)
Martin Heidegger Poetry Language Text (quoted in Mark C Taylor (1987) Altarity - University of Chicago Press, Chicago)
Jonathan A Hale (2000) Building Ideas: An Introduction to Architectural Theory -Chichester, John Wiley & Sons
EF Schumacher (1993) [1973] Small is beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered - London :Vintage
National Secular Society newsline, 2006 Sep 22 comments on the English Church Census 2005
Christopher Alexander, Nature of Order (2002) quoted in Tom McElligott An Architectural Reflection on Sandra Schneider's Philip Sheldrake’s Understanding of Christian Spirituality (retrieved Jan 14 2008)
Jennifer Cypher and Eric Higgs “Colonizing the Imagination: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.” (retrieved Jan 12, 2008)
Mies van der Rohe, quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, 28 June 1959 (retrieved Jan 14 2008)

sustainable design essay

This is an essay written last semester for Environmental Sustainability. Re-reading it, it concludes weakly with a tangential Noah's ark .. but its reflects the confusion, there is alot that design can do, but ultimatelythere needs to be a change in the way we live, in the comfort we expect, in the way we relate and in the way in which we have our being.. failing that, and one should not be pessimistic, but possibly noah's ark is advisable. This was a philosophical take on essentially a practical question, would it have been too much to bring the gospel in.. the role of design is to point to christ? meh..
(This is my first post with pictures in, if you subscribe reload if that possible, this is an editted repost of an earlier first trial with only one picture)

The essence of a sustainable home is one that is sustainable: environmentally, socially and economically and yet is also enjoyable to live in and improves quality of life. Discuss the role of design and thoughtfulness in the creation of sustainable homes.

If design is to effect true ‘sustainability’ it must conceive radical new expectations of human existence, the preconditions for which so fundamentally challenge present socio-cultural assumptions as to constitute a world-view change; at the heart of this change is a return to true community in place of contemporary individualism, in a move that would re-imagine the ‘home’ as an interdependent cell in the organism society; if design is to effect sustainable homes it must first, in its character of practice, become sustainable, it must explicitly challenge counter-sustainable cultural norms before then forging a positive framework of settlement to serve a new understanding of true ‘dwelling’.

There is a difficulty in any discussion of sustainability because its hackneyed terms have lost their meaning. When greenness became marketable the resulting emotive greenwash lead to a blurring of definitions in a field already fraught with uncertainty. The 1987 Brundtland Report has defined sustainable development as that which “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This anthropocentric view of sustainability, that it is human life that is being qualitatively sustained, must be tempered by a humility that is informed by the complexity of and objective intrinsic value in nature that ‘deep positions’ on environmentalism revere. It is also assumed that the binary state of sustainability renders discussions of degrees of sustainability incoherent, but also that it is not a fixed state harmony nor end-product, but rather a process of change, just as life, that which ultimately is being sustained, is a process. ‘Sustainability’ is objective and ultimate, ‘quality of life’ is subjective, and beyond being kept alive, improvements to quality of life are concerned more with non-material things, it is crucial it be understood as this if are to avoid the misguided association of wealth with happiness.

To advocate a design solution on the credentials of its environmental sustainability to the exclusion of its economic or social sustainability is to set up a false dichotomy, a socially healthy society and a healthy natural environment are mutually dependent and it is this triple bottom line by which the viability of any design should be assessed. Nadarajah et al argue that it is culture that binds together economic, environmental and socio-cultural concerns and that culture should be viewed as a way of life and as a way of living together in dialogical coexistence, creatively adjusting to changes. This ‘culture’ engages our relationship with place, the nature of home and our very ontology and should be the pivotal point on which we interact with sustainability concerns.

Heidegger argues that “dwelling is the basic character of Being, in keeping with which mortals exist’” Dwelling as a mode of being in the world, is not only produced by, but also precedes building: “Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build.” Others have commented that the ideal home is not just a house which offers shelter, it is an emotional space, even a state of mind, and ultimately home is a place where personal and social meaning are grounded. For a complete understanding of sustainability home must reflect this more emotional and socio-cultural understanding of home on the grounds that this ‘dwelling’ is saving where “[saving] really means to set something free into its own presencing ... saving the earth does not master the earth and does not subjugate it, which is merely one step from spoliation”.

Finally, sustainable ‘design’ must consider both the discipline and product of the discipline, the interaction between profession and public, and the performance of the designed product. ‘Design’ has become an exclusive term, for purpose of this essay it will be liberated to denote both process and product of construction: social and physical, professional and amateur.

Image 01 – The ‘Hole in the Ozone’ -
Image 02 – CO2 concentration over time – An Inconvenient Truth -
Image 03 – Variation in global temperature with global CO2 – An Inconvenient Truth -

That we are currently living unsustainably, is primarily supposed from indicators in the natural environment with respect to its ability to sustain life: the depletion of ozone, natural resources and ancient forests and the degradation of soil, water and air quality through the polluting effects of chemical treatments and waste. Sustainability will not be achieved by considering these as problems to be medicated but by diagnosing the human actions which have generated these symptoms, the negligence that permitted them and most importantly the assumptions which motivated those actions. I will argue that these motivating factors constitute materialism, a distortion in the complex relationship between the self and the natural world.

At a social level also there are indicators that we are not living or building sustainably, Clammer observes key problems inherent in much contemporary urbanism including: “the extent, speed, and intensity of world urbanisation; … rural depopulation; … pollution; land use and values; crime; …and social patterns and family instability.” These all impinge on the quality of life sustained, but furthermore this problematic urbanism demands radically more energy than gradually changing and more socially stable societies, in the case of Pruitt Igoe and similar schemes vast natural resource, material and energy is wasted in their eventual destruction, but most insidiously these social problems and the design to compensate and medicate the issues has resulted in an “urban language of separation” which in a vicious cycle proliferates individualism and exacerbates materialism. Callenbach argues that this situation can be attributed to the “rules of a market driven society” And Schumacher argues that while previous civilisations may have exhausted the resources of their local environment, if now by this market-driven consumption “we squander the capital represented by living nature around us, we threaten life itself”

Unless we understand the root of this unsustainability, we are can only expect design to make cosmetic changes to the problem. Schumacher argues that “We are suffering from a metaphysical disease, and the cure must therefore be metaphysical.” If metaphysical, the root of the problem may be less our understanding of the environment, as our understanding of the self and its place in ultimate reality. It could be argued that it is the outworking of an existential problem, manifested in the modernist project, the Cartesian dualism that sets humans apart from nature, and the individual self apart from ‘the other’ of everything beyond the self. The effect of this problem is exacerbated by contemporary design and technology which enables the literal division of the self from its supporting environment and from its consequences, this division again leads to a materialism, as the divided self seeks weight or identity in material possession, an approach which “contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.” The environmental implications of this are clear, and education and regulation should mitigate potential damage.

However, this Cartesian dualism goes much further, having set the self apart from the other, the world and the transcendent; it undermines the basis for objective morality and the basis for truths about the world to be known. Radical pluralism, deconstructivism and post-modernism have promoted a scepticism of metanarratives, including the environmental, they have sought to liberate the individual from responsibility and cast doubt on a scientific epistemology which informs climate concerns. It has been argued that the self has become narcissistic, this has implications directly in terms of increased energy use to fuel each isolated existence but more than that, if narcissism is a ‘loss of meaningful touch with objective reality’ the basis for building a sustainable future in a world that exists beyond the self is undermined.
Image 04 – Hermetically Sealed Suburban Living – Mark Gilbert –
Image 05 – Suburban Sprawl, Phoenix, Arizona – Cities for a Small Planet – David Hurn, Magnum

The suburban house can be viewed as an outworking of this narcissistic worldview reflecting the individualistic worlds tailored to personal pleasure that are seen as the zenith of this age. These houses are unsustainable simply in their use of land and material, but further than that, they cement in place unsustainable social structures of separation, they speak a message that venerates consumption and they proliferate assumptions of mobile, commuting and placeless lifestyles. Nadarajah warns of the environmental implications of placelessness as “The Principle of Symbolic Universe …[which] involves recognition of the fact that we are from a physical location that is wrapped with meanings … being in a specific location, responding to the specific environmental context.” The alienation that comes in part from the dissolution of architectural language has led to apathy, distrust and footlooseness. Grounded community and concern for the specific has given way to short-term tenure and escapism.

These are the foundations of unsustainability; design, if it is to effect truly sustainable homes, must seek to address the cause, to subvert the paradigm of individualism and materialism. Design relates to the environment in its use of resources, and it directs practically its users’ interactions with their environment, but most importantly design has a voice and a public presence, it reflects, expresses and influences the worldview assumptions of its population. No house is simply an unsustainable house, but a force within a trajectory towards a more or less unsustainable future.

Image 06 –Cradle Mountain Wold Heritage Area, Australia – Simon Kenny – (Understanding Sustainable Architecture, p43)

No home exists in isolation; a house would be its most sustainable were it not built at all, a house being the bricks and mortar shell devoid of life. If the home is to play a part in sustainability, it first must be understood and engaged as a tool in and of itself, rather than endured as merely a burdensome physical form, requiring heating and cooling. The role of the home in a sustainable urban framework is a product of our understanding of the role of the family as an element in a sustainable social framework. The creation of sustainable homes will follow from sustainable dwelling, the saving home must operate at the point our conception of the family falls from sustainability. This is evidenced in the greater per person energy requirements of single person dwellings, themselves a product of less-than-sustainable social concepts of family. The creation of sustainable homes calls for an interdisciplinary effort to establish a sacred notion of family, and design must engage family and community in both the planning and constructing of home.

Image 07 – Hackney Homes Resident Consultation –

The role of ‘design’: creative planning and conceptualising, constructing and finishing, self-evidently is central to producing homes that are sustainable. The role of the designer as external consultant however, and the relationship between process, product and community is more contentious. Vested interests of the building industry lie in maintaining such a divorced paradigm, which has resulted in the failure of estates like Pruitt Igoe, and less dramatically but more insidiously the speculatively developed urban sprawl of “socially homogenous, inward-looking and largely inactive dormitories.”

When speculative development fails to be sustainable it may be in part due to poor construction and lack of environmental consideration, but this would be secondary, were the developments made human from the stage of conception, were there true and accountable community, and were it to make efforts to address the self-other dualism at the heart of unsustainability. These notions have been visited by Ruskin’s in his social vision for a Primary Architecture ‘rooted in landscape and vernacular traditions, existing in perpetuity, reconciled to the accidents of its own material, and not offering to defy the fallen nature of the world and its inhabitants’ rather than an architecture ‘imported and propagandistic, superimposed by imperial requirements, pseudo-transcendentalist, merely imaginary aesthesis, existing in vacuo with a hypothesised population, undifferentiated or stereotyped’
Image 08 – Habitat for Humanity, Sweat Equity –
Image 09 – St Ann’s Allotments, Community and Participation –

It could be argued that the architect-developer led paradigm for speculative housing has propagated a concern for sustainability as product rather than process, and as image rather than effort, serving a market looking for an escapist comfort. Design must engage deeply with people and locality, design must be accountable beyond this generation, it must be more than people-friendly, it must be intrinsically human, held together by human relationships.
Architects, in this vision for the creation of sustainable homes, must no longer be ‘a profession without ethic’, and must first set their own house in order, make what sacrifice sustainability entails, and on this basis be the prophets to a new movement of environmental design.
Image 10 – Curitiba - Universidade Livre do Meio Ambiente
Image 11 – Curitiba - Universidade Livre do Meio Ambiente-
Image 12 - Curitiba - Public Transport -
Image 13 – Curitiba – Recycling –
Image 14 – Architecture Centre, London –
Image 15 – Architecture Centre, London – http://

Curitiba’s successful, clean and sustainable development is attributed to Lerner’s policy of citizen participation. The role played by design, is interdisciplinary and holistic as is reflected at Curitiba’s University of the Environment. To similar effect, in Cities for a Small Planet, Rogers proposes ‘Architecture Centres’, as venues for public debates and strategic plans, promoting participation and realising the untapped wealth of knowledge within the citizenry.33 This participation begins to decentralise design and obliges the design profession to cooperate, engage and serve the city beyond the client, and the world beyond the recouping of short-term investment. This way architecture is owned, place has a face and community might be united by a common purpose.

Sustainable architecture divorced of a human component, assumes the ‘role of design’ is to create a device that will remove the need for people and relies on the modernist notion of grand design as saviour which stifles community initiative. What is needed is a shift in design practice towards a bottom-up model, by design proclaiming a possible alternative value-system, and by example demonstrating that living with less is possible. The notion of education as saviour is misguided given the moral nature of the problem. We have, as a generation, unprecedented education and information at our disposal, and yet we live destructively. This is a question of morality and motivation, design that fails to demonstrate a framework that appeases the existential angst at the heart of unsustainability is mere indulgence.
If we can learn to dwell, and from there build, there are strategies and modes of emphasis that might be pursued; Susannah Hagan writes that the qualities of design proposals can typically be judged under three criteria “Symbiosis, the relationship between building and nature… Differentiation, the recognition of, and response to, the particularities of geographic and cultural place… Visibility, the symbolic and aesthetic emblems… that a building should visibly and overtly reflect its commitment to sustainability.”

Image 16 – Hollow Spruce, 1988, Richard Harris (Understanding Sustainable Architecture, p28)

Culture and design should draw us closer to nature, because a lifestyle lived in hermetically sealed spaces will beget an environmentally apathetic user, simply by virtue of ignorance as a result of the degrees of separation, but further more, architecture should draw us to nature, for its unpragmatic beauty.
Image 17 – Indigenous – Craft, Story Place - Arabic Arch (The Green Imperative, Papanek p124)
Image 18 – Indigenous – Craft, Story Place – Venetian Detailing (The Green Imperative, Papanek p124)
Image 19 – Indigenous – Craft, Story Place – North Africa Detailing (The Green Imperative, Papanek p125) Image 20 – Postmodern Pastiche – Houston Children’s Museum -

If we must first dwell before we can build, there is a danger in advocating indigenous architecture as a function of design, pastiched, pseudo-local architecture is counterproductive in its message and construction. Design if it is to be put the service of dwelling must first meaningfully engage with the history of a place, with regard for establishing permanence, no longer planning obsolescence, no longer viewing design as disposable.

Image 21 – Temple tower at Wat Phra Si Maha Uma Devi, Bangkok -
Image 22 – Church Ceiling, Madrid,
Image 23 – Stonehenge,

If our environmentalism assumes intrinsic value of nature, a philosophical question arises as to what system of values beyond us, endows nature with value. Architecture which points beyond itself to the spiritual, to a creator, contributes to a cultural discussion of the value of nature, points to a metaphysical answer to a metaphysical problem, and crucially it points beyond the self and its market-driven supposed needs.
Image 24 – Slums -
Image 25 – Storefront home in Tijuana, Teddy Cruz, Adbusters #71, p23
Image 26 – Emerging Slum Architecture, Teddy Cruz, Adbusters #71, p23

At the micro scale of recycling bottles to the macro scale of wasteful urban arrangements, design should seek ways to parasite onto those projects dominated by human greed. The re-use and re-greening of brownfield-sites offer financial drawbacks, the role of design here must be to capitalise on existing structure literally and metaphorically, a new indigenous architecture of necessity is already being formed on the post-industrial and slum outskirts of major cities. Parasitism potentially illustrates and makes use of the systemic waste of society.

Image 27 – Venturi, Sketch Proposal for a Monument, German Ed, 1979 p184
Image 28 – World Development Movement Postcard, 2007
Image 29 – World Development Movement Postcard, 2007

Buildings speak messages, reflect worldviews, and convey values; however, in adopting an intentionally evangelistic approach to a design, there is a danger of inducing a green-fatigue. The emotional hyperbole that accompanies the fashionable eco-style, when proved shallow, will only serve to exacerbate the post-modern cynicism of this infotainment age and thereby deflect positive action. If design is to carry a message, now more than ever it must be honest and honest about the true cost. Such is a message spoken by a house which takes joy in the non-material, which wears its metaphysical assumptions on its sleeve, a house that is a home, that is permanent, that is reconciled to locality and materiality, a house that thinks and loves beyond its self.

Image 30 – Greenpeace Volunteers building a Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, May 2007,
Image 31 – Greenpeace Volunteers building a Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, May 2007,

One might propose the sustainable home as one that fatalistically accepts the inevitable demise of environmental quality and so sets about constructing an ark, that they might sustain life beyond this. It is this root fear that begets this over-consumption, in a vicious cycle cynically exploited by marketers and politicians. Design must speak of hope; it must engage people practically in its process; and it must seek to develop a moral framework based on the objective value of life beyond the self.

Williamson, TJ; Radford, A; Bennetts, H (2003) Understanding Sustainable Architecture London : Spon Press

World Commission on Environment and Development (1987)‘Our Common Future (The Brundtland Report)’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Schumacher, EF (1993) [1973] Small is beautiful : a study of economics as if people mattered, London : Vintage
Rogers, R (1997) Cities for a Small Planet, London: Faber and Faber
Heidegger, M (1993) [1978] ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ in DF Krell (ed.) Basic Writings from Being and Time (1927) to the Task of Thinking (1964) London: Routledge pp347-63
James, O (2007) Affluenza (,æflu'enza): how to be successful and stay sane, London : Vermilion
Blunt, Alison; Dowling, Robyn (2006) Home. London: Routledge
Papstergiadis, N (1996) Dialogues with the Diaspora: Essays and Conversations on Cultural Identity. London: Rivers Oram Press
Rubenstein, R (2001) Home Matters: Longing and Belonging, Nostalgia and Mourning in Women’s Fiction. New York : Palgrave Macmillan
Bunkše, Edmund (2004) Geography and the Art of Life, Johns Hopkins University Press
Nadarajah, M; Yamamoto, Ann Tomoko (Eds) (2007) Urban crisis : culture and the sustainability of cities Tokyo : United Nations University Press.
Clammer, J (1996), Values and Development in South East Asia, Kelana Jaya, Malaysia: Pelanuh Publications
Callenbach, Ernest (1999) “Ecological rules of a sustainable society” Takashi Inuguchi, Edward Norman, Glen Paoletto (Eds) Cities and the Environment: New Approaches for Eco-Societies. Tokyo: United Nations University Press pp19-22
Smith, M; Whitelegg, J; Williams, N (1998) Greening the Built Environment, London : Earthscan

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

ruskin and eco-estates

I think my underlying question in the Ruskin piece is a moral one, regarding the sacred value of work, of craft, of place etc, which possibly i extend a little way in the two new essays. I feel Ruskin saw an honesty in the style through its workmanship, and an intrinsic motivation for that workmanship being the craftsman's faith. Would Ruskin read the aspirations of an eco-estate as motivated by extrinsic value systems and the fleeting vogue for solar energy? Perhaps I am falsely extrapolating such shallow branding efforts from a name, in the suspiscion that almost as soon as the eco-estate became the self-consiously 'eco'-estate, it has slipped a notch from Primary architecture. I'm not sure, perhaps I'm too sceptical, certainly here, there remains an emphasis on architect as saviour: eco-estates, were we to design them within the prevailing paradigm of design in the school here, would rely on no more than token participation of a community, compared to the centrality in Ruskin's thought of laboured, personal local buildings by happy craftsmen.

But I think yes, an eco-estate in its truest sense would likely have many Ruskinian traits, furthermore, there are parallels in that there are empassioned writers, writing espousing the saving power of these eco-estates, as Ruskin did of primary architecture, and they, as he was, are being imitated as a style, a neo-(green)-modernism to the neo-gothic his writing inspired that so reviled him. Ruskin and the environmental design movement share a great many parallels and may fail for similar reasons, of elitism, of writing rather than doing, of insufficiently critiquing the cultural structure than stands in opposition to deep sustainability. We shall see.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Environment Questions 1

Is there an environmental problem?

Is it curious to our age?
Why not?

What is scale of the problem?
What is the time scale for a solution
Whose fault was it?
Based on what assumptions did they make decisions which caused this?
In so far as we have noted the problem, have those original assumptions be challenged or changed?

Is Schumacher right when he says this is a metaphysical problem?
Can it be solved?
What is the nature of the solution?
What is our role in the environment's salvation?

Is there a 'right' response?
Is there a 'Christian' response?
Should there be?
Is there any other framework of morality or existence that will address the problem at its root?

What is the gospel?
What did Jesus save?
The 'cosmos' god so loved?
You Me and the trees?
What does that mean?

Is everything spiritual?
Is saving souls more important than saving trees?
How much more?
Is it possible to do one and not the other?
Is this a false dichotomy born out of bad theology?
If we make this division in our understanding of salvation will we ever have sufficient imperative to be proactively environmentally concerned?

Is the 'environment' synonymous with 'creation'?
In as much as to consider one's self as separate from the 'environment' but a part of 'created' order is a distinction that may only be subconscious.. has our theology been complicit in an destructively anthropocentric concept of life on earth? Is it still?

We don't tend to pray for the environment?
Should we?
Is it deistic not to?
Could non-prayer be attributed to a fear that we might have to live our side of the bargain out if we did pray?
Are our cars, elephants in the room, planks in the eye of the Christian community?

Is the “Earth will all be burned up” a self-fulfilling prophecy?

If this ship called earth is blasted, bound for destruction should we bother beautifying it?

What does life consist in between 'salvation' and death?

Eschatology: now? not yet?
Judgement: now? not yet?
Eternal Life: now? not yet?
His Kingdom: now? Not yet?

Of Victor Hugo's 'heart of the human problem', should environmental degradation be viewed as derivative or causal or both, of the 'problem of the human heart'?
Can the problem be addressed within that domain of the human heart?

The world suffers when the church is not up to standard (?JP).
What is up to standard? Can it be? Will it ever be?
How and Why?

The local church the hope for the world (Bill Hybels) .
Is it?
What is church?

How do you know you are right?
How do you know you are part of the solution rather than part of the problem?
Is theology getting better?