In my previous post The Feminist Influence, I began discussing what a feminist perspective might bring to a theological study of architecture. I asserted that a feminist perspective on the ethical function of architecture offers at least two contributions: (1) it provokes questioning about what flourishing is for all peoples and the Earth, and (2) it provokes examination of systems of power and privilege and how they are constructed into our built landscape. I think a feminist vision of architecture could help all of us (even those of us who are not design professionals) promote design that respects and responds to our environment, addressing the harm we have done. I do want to give some thought, though, to what it means especially for architects and other design professionals.
In The Vocation of the Artist, feminist cultural critic Deborah Haynes argues that creative people, specifically artists, have a responsibility to ask how else the future might be and how to present alternatives through their creative abilities as they confront our earth’s potentially dystopic future. She asserts that artists must reclaim the sacred in service of the future in order to address and avert the global crises that threaten our cosmos–among them, war and environmental degradation. She frames the vocation of artists—those with religious sensibilities as well as those without them—as a calling to take their work seriously as an expression of the sacred dimension of existence. Haynes describes the sacred as “that which is worthy of human veneration yet is ultimately beyond human comprehension,” intentionally avoiding references to ecclesiastical power or a patriarchal, agentic God. (114) Artists who engage their creativity are participating in the sacred because they are relating to something beyond themselves. Artistic creativity in Haynes’ approach is a special case of the divine, sacred, and mysterious process of ongoing creativity in the world.
What does it mean to talk about design as a vocation? Rather than how we typically use the term—to simply refer to our jobs or careers—Haynes reminds us that vocation is linked to a sense of calling. This means that design work is sacred and some of us experience spiritual meaning in design as we respond to that which is sacred.
Would it change the way designers create if they thought of their work as an expression of the sacred or as spiritual practice? For me, it certainly changes the way I think of the work I do. If I design a building, it is not just about serving the client or the building users or even the community that lives around it. Vocation, or calling, means that I serve God through my design. This means that it should honor God and the cosmos that God has created. We can do this by creating beautiful buildings that respect and reflect the beauty of creation. We also honor the sacred by creating buildings that reuse building materials wherever possible, maximize energy efficiency, and utilize other sustainable building practices.
Elise M. Edwards recently completed the requirements for a PhD in Religion at Claremont Graduate University, where she studied Theology, Ethics, and Culture. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.