The Importance of Place

Do we take place seriously?   Do we recognize that architecture and design and place is a matter of theological significance?  Can we learn to think theologically about the places and spaces where we worship, work, learn and live?  Having just come from (yet) another preaching assignment in a church that has no natural light into its worship space, I am struck again by how architects, at least those who designed a particular generation of buildings, did not get this and I still wonder if they get it.  Do they not appreciate the power of light – natural light – to animate a space?  And do they have any sense that design “speaks”, that the contours of our spaces shape and shape deeply our identity within institutions?

We are embodied souls.  The design of our buildings – our places to be – inevitably have a huge impact on our identity and our capacity to fulfil our mission.  Good architecture – appropriate and creative design to our buildings – is necessarily an integral part of our vision for who we are and what we are trying to be.

However, while we might all welcome the chance to be involved in the design of a building – working with an architect to come up with the perfect facility for our church or our school or our non-profit administrative offices – most of us will inherit the building or facility in which we work.   For some of us, we might have the potential for significant influence in how the space is designed and used; for others, it will only be one voice on a board or committee or leadership team.   And for others, we will only have leverage on the use of the space allocated to us – an office or workstation.  But, for those who have voice and influence and the capacity to shape how a space gets used, here are some suggestions for working with the space you have or have inherited.

Keep it fresh.  Do not underestimate the power of a fresh coat of paint, a new carpet or a fresh setting of ceiling tiles that would replace those that are stained or simply old.   While avoiding the merely novel or cute, ask how this space can be made to feel like it is tended, it has been cared for and maintained.

The power of light.  If light matters, then take it seriously:  if your office or workspace has light, leverage it.  Work with it.  If you do not have light, ask what you can do so that your entire day is not spent devoid of natural light.  One thing I was able to do in my current work situation is arrange for the boardroom, which was merely a glorified cave, to have two significant alternations:   windows cut into the steel doors at either end of the boardroom and transom windows installed so that there was indirect natural light coming from a hallway skylight and from a perimeter office.

Clear up the clutter.   The basic principle: only that which is useful or beautiful is in view and in use.  Make everything that you see and a guest to your space sees to be intentional:  everything counts.   Recognize the power of visual distraction that diverts attention towards where our mental and emotional energy needs to be focused.

And if we have a say – on a board or in management – with the capacity to shape the contours of a facility:  think both practically and theologically; think aesthetically.  Yes, we are looking for something that would work; that is basic.  But surely we can design buildings that reflect our best theological and aesthetic impulses as well.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.