Pushing the edges in building a City of God

In our Theology on Tap discussion on architecture, “Building a City of God: Constructing a Theology of the Everyday”, Michael Nicholas-Schmidt, M.Arch., brought to life the inanimate structures we see as buildings, park benches, and narthexes.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines narthex as “a lobby inside the main entrance to a church building” but Nicholas-Schmidt redefined it as “spaces where people can come towards a church.”

The young architect entertained a crowd of 45 people ranging in age from young adults to mature adults, including students and professors of architecture. His talk was about sacred spaces and he often asked the audience questions encouraging his listeners to define or redefine for themselves the definitions of these sacred spaces.

Nicholas-Schmidt asked the audience to think about whether the atrium at BCE Place was a sacred space, whether a home in a subdivision was sacred. While displaying visual images such as photographs of suburban homes, he asked “When we see rows of identical houses, where does that place the individual?” Often, the talk turned to questions posed to the audience, at time rhetorical, sometimes demanding.

After reminding the audience that “who we are as human, our beliefs, is what makes a city come alive,” Nicholas-Schmidt asked, “Is it possible to experience the divine in cities?” He reminded the audience that the builder should be connected to the community he or she is building for, “When a building is built by people who have no connection to it, it shows.”

The discussion that ensued after his presentation took on social justice themes as the audience debated concepts Nicholas-Schmidt raised in that the design of buildings and structures from park benches to bus shelters can impact on the individual and the community.

Reflecting on the Theology on Tap discussion led by Nicholas-Schmidt, I am most struck by the “edges”. That there are edges in architecture, in life and in the everyday and that we can create or change them by how we use space is a revealing concept. Knowing that we as ‘architects’ of our own spaces can redefine those spaces is enlightening. That we can push the boundaries of how spaces are used and move the edges from their original design to one that morphs and changes with the community that inhabits those spaces is enthralling.

Nicholas-Schmidt said it well, “Sometimes the narthex becomes the community room, and the edge is the door, and then the edge is the sidewalk.”

By Marie-Lauren Gregoire