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blogpost – religion

When we started the firm, we did several projects for churches. I learned a lot about the current state of southern denominationalism, as we did fitups for storefront churches, interior renovations, a pre-engineered gymnatorium with classrooms. We did drawings for lone-ranger preachers, and multi-cultural opportunists. Our ratio of built projects was low in those days. I agreed to small fees, and I gave untested advice, but I enjoyed chasing the purpose-driven project, and seeing behind the curtain of the way church exists in the city was a powerful experience.

While faith is vital to me, and likely to most when we’re honest, in a business setting, my reactions and commentary is muted. Our office plays more the role of technician than prophet, and I learned in those first couple years that we’re not running a charity, despite our best intentions.

But our clients are bringing their passions on their sleeves, and I’ve been awed and humbled to see that honest reality across the table.

This week, we did a two-hour job for a restaurant client who had been wrestling with his permit and construction process for months. Somebody told him we could help, and we were able to make a few phone calls that resolved his basic permit concerns. But, he was adamant that he had to be open by next week. Getting open A.S.A.P. is always the game plan, but before he listed the standard reasons for wanting to open quickly, he said that his guru told him that these next days would bring fortune. Over sushi, I clarified that it was his grandmother’s prediction, from back on the mainland, and the client was very thankful for those phone calls we were able to make in time.

We have clients who critically watch the dimensions on the plans to be sure the numbers are lucky, and we adjust the inches until the metric works. Often, clients bring us ideas and requirements that we wouldn’t propose, but we’re happy to show them how to resolve their requirements well.

We recently finished a vegetarian restaurant that we’re very proud of. It’s not fair to bring diet into this bit on religion, but as a meat-and-potatoes guy, I could never quite relate to the reasons they so passionately pursued their menu. (In this town, food may be getting to the level of a belief system.) If we had the opportunity to do a college basketball arena, I would feel the same disconnection to the purpose, but we’d have a good time doing it.

If we have a niche in this profession, I would welcome that niche to be that we design to suit belief – belief in opportunity, belief in investment, belief in purpose, belief in place and time. I’m sure we will run into those elements of function that offend us, that we can’t bring ourselves to draw. But we’ll likely be able to handle it with a note on the drawings that says, “By owner, not in contract.” We haven’t had that issue yet.

I don’t know if good design is universal. Eastern layout principles seem to be pretty close to the Bauhaus modern we learned in school. The Greeks had a few things figured out about aesthetics that we still reference, and Wright and Foster brought us back to indisputable design principles of nature. Along with basic integrity and respect, all those concepts give us clues on how to pull these things off, so help us God.

I met a pastor once with a vision to convert an empty car dealership into a church campus, with the sanctuary in the service bay and the fellowship hall in the sales center. That would have been a very cool job, and I hope he calls us back.

Andy Osterlund AIA | LEED AP
Andrew Osterlund, Architect, PLLC
19 W Hargett Street, Suite 700-A | Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 889 6823 | | TWITTER: aoarch

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Osterlund Architects is a full-service architecture and interior design firm, committed to our clients and their work from concept through construction, and through to their next opportunity. Our firm has expertise in all project phases, including programming, pre-design and planning through construction administration and closeout, as well as interior design, including furniture, fixtures and equipment (FFE) services.

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