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All-star architecture

"All-star architecture" Continued...

Issue: "The brain trust," June 30, 2012

Greusel retains a special affection for sports venues: "I get frustrated when I hear of a sports project that I wasn't asked to design." But times have changed. For one thing, HOK no longer exists, having been reorganized and rebranded as Populous™. And for another, two years ago the architect was told that his services there were no longer needed.

But the very next day came a providential call from city planners in Enid, Okla., who were interested in his ideas for a downtown renovation project. He got the job, and a new business: Convergence Design LLC, located in the heart of his home town, with a staff that now includes six architects and his wife, Theresa.

Hiring his wife as office manager isn't just a happy accident; it's an example of the firm's basic philosophy. "We're all about connecting the dots here," Greusel says. He grabs a piece of paper and sketches out the firm's logo: three overlapping circles. One symbolizes work, another family, and the third community. Convergence works in the overlap, aiming to create integrated spaces for integrated people.

He was able to clarify his own thinking about the overlap when he and members of his church embarked on an extensive "cultural engagement project." For three years, the group met once per month to discuss assigned reading, visit local sites, and listen to guest speakers. One result of these meetings was a book by pastor Tom Nelson, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. For David Greusel, the experience forged a link between his own Sundays and Mondays, a space previously occupied by a balance scale.

Integrating work with family and faith shouldn't be controversial, but over the years Greusel has found himself running counter not only to the architectural establishment, but also to certain strains of Christian fundamentalism. In an online essay called "God's Trailer," Greusel boldly states that "bad church architecture is as much the result of bad theology as it is of bad design"-meaning that an overemphasis on saving souls has blinded some congregations to the value of nurturing souls. Too many Christians buy into a perversion of the old architectural saw that "form follows function," seeing their buildings as so many square feet of function with a cross stuck on, instead of a place to direct our attention to God's glory.

Greusel likes to quote Winston Churchill: "First, we shape our buildings, then they shape us." He believes the need for Christian architects who bring their worldview to their work has never been greater, for at least three reasons. One, the "creation mandate" (Genesis 1:28) implies that we can continue God's work on earth by designing spaces that are both useful and beautiful. Also, as creatures made in His image, we honor God by following in His creative footsteps and striving for excellence. And finally, designing (and insisting on) beautiful buildings puts us on the front lines of the culture war: Against the dreary functionalism, commodification, and standardization of concrete boxes, our buildings can reflect both the glory of God and the humanity of man-whether their primary function is to encourage worship or to showcase a perfect double play.

Architecture is a serious calling, but also a joyful and optimistic one, combining the pragmatic with the poetic. In a conference room decorated with project drawings, Greusel and his project manager sit down with two engineers from a Midwest firm for a get-acquainted meeting. The thing David Greusel most appreciates in an engineer is collaboration: give-and-take at all stages of the project, as opposed to "send me the drawings and I'll get back to you." Teamwork should not be confined to the ball field.

His visitors seem to agree, and everybody shares favorite work stories, along with a laugh over contractors who "ask forgiveness instead of permission" to do things. Given the complexity involved-the designers and engineers and logistics managers and contractors and materials, with healthy allowances given for rocks, dirt, and human error-it's a marvel that anything like PNC Park even gets built. But such marvels happen, if not as often as they should: functional spaces that can also lift the heart.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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