Building Authentic Community: Design Matters

As an architect, design matters. The design of a building or a place shapes how people experience the environment in which they reside. Conversely, space that is poorly designed for its intended use negatively affects a person’s experience.

As a follower of Christ, design matters. It is evident in Scripture that design mattered to the Creator of the universe. Now, in a broken world, design continues to matter as a part of reconciliation. In Colossians, Paul writes, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (1:19–20).

If we believe that every square inch belongs to God, then all things matter, including spaces for building community. Design matters because the design and form of our work bears witness to what we believe.

Throughout their lives, people experience community in several forms, beginning with the nuclear family in a childhood home. I hear quite often that an organization’s culture and mode of operation is “like family,” no matter the size of the organization. This statement suggests a “smallness” of structure. In many churches, the larger congregation is broken down into house churches or small groups. As a result, people are able to connect more deeply and intentionally on a regular basis. This “smallness,” or narrowing of community, allows for relationship building, vulnerability, and friendship while encouraging connection to the larger body of believers.

An educational setting is typically the next major community experience. In this environment, we are broken down by grade levels and classes, which form identity and connection by age. This segment of life significantly shapes our relationships and vocation. During these first two stages of growing up, we experience life within a village, town, or city. This experience provides generational diversity and awareness of systems, governance, and society. The space in which these experiences happen shapes our understanding of culture, interaction, and community. [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]

David Wilkins (AIC, NCI) is a Project Architect and Managing Principal of GMB’s Grand Rapids office. His 29+ years of design experience spans a wide array of education environments, from K–12 through college and university clients.