What would it mean to create “healing buildings?” I believe that well-designed buildings make people more productive, protect their health and can support a positive, hopeful attitude. But I’ve always seen the role of the human-made physical environment in a passive, “first-do-no-harm” kind of way. Having grown up in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I find what humans build to be a pale imitation of the mountains, fields, forests and streams crafted by God. The story arc of God interacting with His creation begins in the Garden of Eden but ends in a new city – the New Jerusalem. So maybe there is a role for building that goes beyond mere shelter and utility and includes healing the brokenness we all have in some form.
The person who got me thinking about this, again, is Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms. Utilizing nature’s template for farming, their approach recognizes the inter-connectedness found in growing healthy, wholesome plants and animals. Their website proclaims that they are in the business of, “healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”
There is an analogous way of thinking about how and what we build. Most of the green building movement is about limiting the damage done by modern building methods. I believe we can move beyond a “limiting damage” mentality to one where what we choose to build and how we go about it can make us better people. It begins with question, “Do we need to build?” If the answer is yes, then come discussions about scale and context – what does the size and locations of our building(s) say about our values and priorities? The techniques we employ should harness the natural forces of sun, wind and rain and utilizing these forces, not overcoming them with brute force — making us constantly aware of the cycles of the natural environment – a connection with creation that can be healing. Such questions are only the beginning; the conversation can and should go on.
By more carefully considering what and where and how we build we will inevitability question our values and purposes – discussion that can transform communities and culture. The act of building can be either be an expression of our brokenness as human or demonstration of our faith and hope in a redemptive future.