House & Home

I walked with a friend last week — a lockdown lap of the local park. In conversation we covered the well-worn territory of our work, its ups and downs. “If you could start over,” he asked, ‘what would you do?” “Architecture,” I said without pause, “I would be an architect.”

It’s true. As a kid I lay in bed at night sketching floor plans on little white cards. They were humble places — three bedrooms and one bath — reflecting my childhood. Our eleven squares of cream-brick veneer was all I knew. I discovered grander possibilities only when I was older.

I have just finished reading Dominic Bradbury’s beautiful book The Secret Life of the Modern House. Through nineteen chapters, Bradbury traces the last 150 years of evolution in house design. With extraordinary insight he charts the way our homes have been reinvented, reflecting changing tastes and ways of living. It’s a fascinating tale.

At the outset Bradbury reminded me of the words of the great modernist architect Le Corbusier, referring to the spirituality of the home. “To build one’s house is very much like making one’s will,” he said, “when the time does arrive, it is not the mason’s nor the craftsman’s moment, but the moment in which every man makes one poem in his life.”

I like that. We are all homemakers; we are all writers of our own residential poems. The homes we ‘build’ and within which we make our lives are among our most precious possessions. Whether we rent or own, our homes reflect us. They embody our aspirations and, in time, they house our deepest values. Poems indeed.

Of course, what irks me about Bradbury’s tale is what so commonly gets up my nose about domestic architecture more generally: it serves the rich. Of all the homes that Bradbury writes about — those that set trends and challenged traditional ways of thinking — there is barely one I could live in. At architecture’s cutting edge, it is as though only those who can afford it are gathered up in the sublime beauty of its poetry. The inference is that the rest of us are left with simple ditties that never quite make the grade.

Yes, I know. It is the breakthroughs in grand architecture that supposedly ‘trickle down’ into the design of more ordinary homes. Yet the absence of the ordinary in these great tellings of residential history risk missing the essence of our story. The truth is, my parents’ three bedrooms and one bath — the home in which I dreamed of my own future — was a poem as sublime and real as any other.

2 thoughts on “House & Home

  1. Did you know that architects make the best “turnaround leaders”???

    (From Ian Robinson’s’ facebook post where he expands on the idea for church leadership):

    The turnaround question is: if you are a leader in a church that is in the Death Cycle how do you move into the Life Cycle? It starts with one person and a great discomfort. Leave or lead? How do you proceed? Big new ideas cannot be imposed on people with a one-page analysis and a great conviction! What can work? Many kinds of leadership have been tried. Some research findings from the Education sector shows only one kind of leadership works. Their comparable question was – why are so many schools failing? Their simple conclusion was: ‘Our findings suggest that it’s because we’re appointing, rewarding, and recognizing the wrong leaders.’ They were not blaming the teachers in classes (= local clergy), the usual victim of a few ill-informed politicians and parents. Instead, they focussed on the leaders of the education system, code-words for a system that had ceased to work. Over seven years, they recorded not just how leadership began to do new things but what happened after that. This is unusually broad-based research. (Reference: Hill, A., Mellon, L., Laker, B., and Goddard, J. (2016) The One Type of Leader Who Can Turn Around a Failing School, Harvard Business Review, October 20, 2016 UPDATED March 03, 2017

    In the end, they found five turnaround styles, which they summarised as the soldier, the architect, the accountant, the philosopher and the surgeon. On their website, each style has an animation which monitors several factors, rising and falling through the change process. Some show quick wins but eventual loss, some have initial excitement but cannot sustain the momentum. Others show a slower start but long-lasting benefits. The following is my simple translation of those styles as if they were about church leaders. • Surgeons see problems and cut unhealthy systems. The Surgeons spend most of their initial time and energy engaging with the church community and making a list. They redirect focus to identify what’s not working. They redirect resources to the most pressing visible problem. Surgeons believe churches fail because leaders and members are not living up to expectations. If they remove the poor performers and make the members work harder, then attendance will improve. They don’t mind saying that “We can’t help everyone”. • Soldiers like winning. They are strong, disciplined leaders. Soldiers spend most of their initial time and energy assessing how things work inside the church. They trim and tighten focus – ‘follow me, this way is forwards’. Soldiers like efficiency and order. They believe churches get into trouble because they’re fat and wasting money. They believe if they cut costs and set goals the rest will take care of itself. They typically cut support staff, non-essential activities, install equipment and introduce easily available plug-and-play projects. • Accountants invest and grow, focusing on some number that they believe is the best indicator. Accountants try to grow their churches out of financial trouble in order to be able to get the right things happening. They know where to find grants, how to fix buildings, and like to bring on new staff, new programmes or new buildings. They believe about the church – “If we’re bigger we’ll be stronger”. The Accountant spends most of their initial time and energy familiarising themselves with the annual reports, income, budgets, resources, problems with maintenance and the cost of various programmes and staff. • Philosophers discuss exciting ideas and focus on values. Philosophers get a discussion going about the merits of alternative approaches. The more people in the room, adding their ideas, the better. They believe churches fail because they’re not teaching the attenders properly. They tend to believe that ministers are more important to the health of the church than the people who support them and the people they teach. The Philosophers spend most of their initial time and energy promoting good thinking and finding questions we should all think about. It should all flow on from that, right? • Architects focus on redesign for the whole group and for long-term impact. They believe churches fail because their programmes are poorly designed and do not serve (and thus are not supported by) their local community. They redesign the church’s worship and mission work, maybe even the building, to create the right environment for its attenders and the right sort of place for its community. They improve their future opportunities by improving attender-discipleship and the leadership capabilities. The Architects spend most of their initial time and energy engaging with the local community and building the right environment inside the church.

    Which one or two one of those descriptions capture your mode mostly – or someone you know? Try to answer. I could spot myself (with alarm) and some of my colleagues quite easily. The results of Hills’ research into these leadership types were stark: We found five types of leaders, but only one that was truly effective. We also found that the most effective leaders were the least well-known, least rewarded, and least recognized; although they did a great job, the results took time to show, allowing them to be overlooked. Yet they were the only ones who built a school where exam results continued to improve long after they’d left. The least recognised model, the architect, was the slowest but the only one that showed enduring results: In short, they take a holistic, 360-degree view of the school, its stakeholders, the community it serves, and its role in society. In many ways, they combine the best parts of the other leaders, but they make these changes in a different sequence and for different reasons — to transform students and communities. The lesson for leaders of churches is profound – lead like an architect. Build a new organisation that everyone wants to live in. Don’t cut it, inflate it, flog it or endlessly discuss it. The facts of design are the easy part – the real work is in the relationships, the stages, the adequacy of the questions to cover the required dimensions. Good ideas are not necessarily God-ideas – ideas that have not arrived in love, are unlikely to represent anything close to the Gospel.

    warm regards,


    The Rev Dr Geoff Broughton Senior Lecturer in Practical Theology | Charles Sturt University Principal | Pastoral Supervision Australia Associate | Institute for Pastoral Supervision and Reflective Practice

    15 Blackall St Barton, ACT 2600

    1. Huh, you went straight to spam! Fascinating stuff. As much as I would love to claim my architectural leanings in pastoral leadership, I fear I am more the humble draftsman who takes the creativity of others and plugs it in. 🙂

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