Have you ever thought of architecture as educational, a source of information and insight in society? Or of a building as teacher?
Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh. This insightful and thorough work examines the changing dynamics of home and culture, engaging the various factors related to how we understand the concept of "home" in a world full of homelessness in many forms. One key factor, the authors suggest, are buildings - "The built environment is one of the most enduring ways in which we put our worldviews into action." Buildings say something about culture and are integral in creating, sustaining, and at times removing, a sense of home.
Having just moved back to my hometown of Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver, I've been reflecting on this concept on several levels. Personally, we are establishing our family home in a new house. It's helpful to consider how our physical house relates to our settling into a feeling of home. Our physical house reflects what we value in establishing our home. As a broader community, Abbotsford continues to grow, both in population and architecture. Home to nearly 140,000 people - very diverse people! - Abbotsford's continuing development of houses and buildings invariably says something about the community. Recent debate around a supportive housing project illustrates the connection between buildings and values.
Quoting environmentalist David Orr, this comment from Beyond Homelessness should challenge us all to a greater awareness of buildings and culture:
We "must begin to see our houses, buildings, farms, businesses, energy technologies, transportation, landscapes, and communities in much the same way that we regard classrooms. In fact, they instruct us in more fundamental ways because they structure what we see, how we move, what we eat, our sense of time and space, how we relate to each other, our sense of security, and how we experience the particular places in which we live." Buildings have pedagogical power. Whether one lives in a traditional longhouse, a split-level rancher in a North American suburb, a public-housing apartment in Toronto, an old-order Mennonite community, or a clan compound in Nigeria, it will profoundly shape how one experiences the world. But each of these dwellings, each of these built environments, is itself an expression of the vision of life, the overarching narrative, the guiding symbols, and the cultural practices of those who had the power to construct these sites of habitation.
What are you learning from the buildings in your community?