Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ecclesia Domestica... on Tap

Late in June of this Summer, I was at work when I got a call from a friend of mine inviting me to our local Theology on Tap presentation that evening. I remember him saying that the presentation was on Church architecture or something of the sort, and he thought I would be interested (I suppose knowing my own interest in Church architecture). We had swimming lessons with the kids that night, so I told him it sounded cool but I wouldn't be able to make it. Later he forwarded me the official e-mail invite from the Cathedral Young Adults for that week's Theology on Tap, because he thought from our phone conversation that I didn't understand the opportunity I would be missing (and I was to find out that the topic was not exactly as he had explained on the phone). I read the e-mail invite, which went something like this:
Join us this Wednesday night for this week's Theology on Tap, where our friend and fellow Bible study buddy Sara Freund will present on the very provocation topic, "Designing and Building Homes to Foster the Domestic Church: Catholic Principles for Residential Architecture." Doors open at 7pm...
After talking further with my friend who had extended the invite, I found out that he knew Sara through studying with her in various classes, and that Sara had actually recently completed her Master's degree in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis (an extremely solid and faithful program with amazing professors who are committed to the Faith), and she had done her Master's thesis on the same topic as her presentation that night. This made me even more excited; as someone who had completed a Master's thesis myself and am working on a Ph.D. thesis (in Mechanical Engineering) I understood the amount of research and thought that she had to put into the subject to have it be accepted as a thesis by her department. This meant I was certainly going to learn lots of things I hadn't thought of before, and maybe could get a copy of her thesis to read.

The presentation was a lot of fun, and even better was being able to corral Sara afterwards to sit and talk with our little group. We chatted for a couple hours (over a few pints) about our family's project, and Sara seemed to be similarly floored at the fact that a family in the Twin Cities seemed to be putting into practice the very ideas she wrote her thesis on. In fact, she didn't cite in her talk, nor does she in her thesis, any actual examples of a home designed for the family as the "domestic Church," simply because she couldn't find any. We resolved to stay in touch so she could follow the progress, and for Sara to send me her thesis so that I could read it. With Sara's permission, I post it below:

"Designing and Building Homes to Foster the Domestic Church: Catholic Principles for Residential Architecture," by Sara Elizabeth Freund (copyright), 2005

I put the copyright in there because I didn't see it in her thesis and I think it's best-practice.

I don't yet fully know what the Holy Spirit had in mind in making sure we connected, but I know for sure that there have been certain aspects of our feedback to my brother on our conceptual schemes that have been influenced by Sara's ideas. Here's of few from her thesis that struck me:
  • The entry to the home is vitally important in communicating a message to visitors, for instance that they are welcome to experience the family life within;
Thus our appreciation of the entry design of Scheme C (the "triptych").
  • The master bedroom should be designed as a space of sacramental sanctity in the home. As Sara (very poetically) puts it:
Christopher Alexander—an architect and mathematician whose influential “Pattern Language” details the process of designing and constructing homes for a more human life—suggests that within a home there should be a “hierarchy of privacy” that denotes what or who is most important in the home. This, as Thomas Howard points out, has the effect of transforming what appears to be ordinary into something sacred. The Sacrament of Matrimony sanctifies the institution of marriage, so that even the sexual union of spouses becomes sacred. As such, it deserves reverence: Just as the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a tabernacle and reverenced beyond the veil, so should the private life of spouses be set apart in a room of its own, that its mysteriousness may evoke a sort of reverent appreciation.

Lest you accuse me of TMI, I didn't write it, I'm just quoting it. And besides, maybe you should go read John Paul II's Theology of the Body!

Sara goes on to note:

At the same time that this room or suite should be a private haven for a married couple, it should not be an unwelcoming fortress unto itself… The demands of solidarity in the home include a fundamental disposition of welcome toward others, most especially the life conceived within the home. Because a married couple must always be disposed toward this welcoming, even their private haven should express, by its placement and arrangement, that children are the delight of and one of the good ends toward which their conjugal life is aimed. This suggests, first of all, that their space be in some proximity to the children’s areas (likely their bedrooms).

Thus our decision against the bedroom arrangement in Scheme A (the master bedroom on a different floor than the kids' bedrooms).
  • I also very much liked Sara's communication of the necessity of architecture, or why architecture matters, in the design of a home - it gives form to what's going on inside:
The form is what, in one sense, gives a metaphysical “shape” to material objects; it expresses, as one modern author so simply states, “what this thing is trying to do.”… If we know that architecture, as an art form, is capable of revealing Truth, then we must ask, What is it about the Christian message that can provide the inspiration, or the form, for good architecture, particularly of family homes, such that both the material and spiritual needs of the person can be met more successfully?
Sara's answer?... the idea of the family as the "domestic Church." The structure of the home gives form to the life of the family within, analagous to the human body giving form to the soul. And that's why the architecture of the home matters and has meaning.
Sara is also starting a blog of her own on this topic, and you can check that out here.


Sara Freund said...

Hey, thanks for the plug! (And the copyright disclaimer!)

I would welcome comments on my blog as folks get a chance to read through the document--what else could be said, what needs more explanation, what are your experiences of homes and family life, etc. I'm excited to get the word out there and see what more the Holy Spirit is about!

Of course, I've been able to glean a lot of new insight just from your blog, Brendan and Molly, so thanks for your efforts and openness. :)

God bless!

LeeAnn said...

Thanks for the link to Sara's thesis. Wow! Catholic residential architectural theory. Awesome! I know what I'll be reading tonight.

Brendan Koop said...

It's a great read. If you believe it, my wife Molly took it with her into her regular adoration time to read!