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Architecture in the Christian Home: An Interview with Daniel Lee

March 25–29, 2013   |   Vol. 115, Programs 26–30
Originally Aired: August 4–8, 2008 | Vol. 84, Programs 1–5

According to architect Daniel Lee, architecture affects a lot more than we usually realize in our daily lives!

“Architecture is a powerful medium of artistic expression that influences how we think about the world and our place in it.” — Daniel Lee

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If you’re frustrated by the hours your child spends on his Lego constructions, think of this—maybe they’re not wasted after all! On today’s Home School Heartbeat with host Mike Smith, architect Daniel Lee draws the connection between the shape of buildings and your worldview.

Mike Smith: My guest this week is Christian architect Daniel Lee, who has used his training in classical architecture to serve the Christian community, most recently helping us design the Barbara Hodel Student Life Center here at Patrick Henry College. Daniel, thanks for joining us this week.

Daniel Lee: Mike, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

Mike: Daniel, why do you believe that architecture should be an important issue for Christians?

Daniel: Architecture is a really important issue, Mike, because it’s all around us in our cities, it shapes our homes, and even our churches. Architecture is a powerful medium of artistic expression that influences how we think about the world and our place in it. Its messages can build up or corrupt our souls and those of our children.

If you don’t like a picture on your wall, you know, Mike, you can take it down and store it in a closet. But architecture is not so easily disposed of. The building that expresses things which are deeply good, true, and beautiful, can edify and draw us to God for many generations and be a powerful witness. But a degrading, cheap, and false building can scar our souls and divert us from the grace of God, as well. We need to take architecture seriously!

Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, and, thereafter, they shape us”—and I’m here to testify that this is true.

Mike: Well, that’s fascinating, Daniel! Thanks for sharing with us today. Next time, we’ll talk about how architecture impacts our homes and families. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Daniel, homeschoolers believe that home has a powerful influence, but usually we think of that influence coming from the interactions of the family. Tell us about how the design of a home affects our daily life.

Daniel Lee: Well, as you know, Mike, for homeschooled children, their home is the place where they sleep, play, and study—all wrapped into one. It’s the primary environment where their view of human relationships, faith, and the material world is shaped and encouraged. Now, architecture is the whole environment of the home—where we express and act out how we think the world really is, or how we would like the world to be. People of faith recognize that the world is broken and fallen, but being redeemed.

I want to encourage homeschool families to shape the architecture and environment of their homes to communicate both how the world is, as well as could be, with an emphasis on the world God intended. When we do this, our children will develop a sense of the real presence of God in the world and a sense of hope, as they truth and love leading them to create beauty, order, and balance each day.

The whole environment of our homes—our choice of colors, fabrics, furnishings, art, and even how we prepare our food—is significant. Our children are the shapers of our future environments, Mike, even our future cities. How we invest in them will bear fruit in the future and even bring in the lordship of Christ over the world.

Mike: That’s great to know, Daniel! On our next program, we’ll talk about how homeschool parents can teach their children about architecture. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Daniel, this week you’ve been telling us about the importance of architecture in our daily lives. How can homeschool parents introduce their children to this subject?

Daniel Lee: Mike, as much as I value the home as a place to train children, nothing beats books, field trips, and travel. There are many fine books. Books by David Macaulay are good for all ages, showing how cathedrals, Roman cities, and even dams have been built in the past. Also, Frances Ching has books out that are good for middle school age. And my website, danielleearchitect.com, has a recommended reading list for the really serious student.

Now, also, travel and field trips are a must. When encountering something new on a field trip, a child’s senses come alive, and they take in impressions that last a lifetime. That’s what we want! So go see buildings up close. Architecture’s a three-dimensional art form, and so it’s best experienced in the round. This means to walk around it, walk inside it, under, and even on top of it, if possible. See it from a great distance and then up close. Touch and even smell the materials that it’s made from. Imagine seeing a great cathedral from a mile away, then being deep inside it, hearing the echoes of children’s voices off its hand-chiseled stone walls.

Home architecture projects are a lot of fun, as well. These are all great ways for your children to develop a really personal love for architecture. Travel, and have fun!

Mike: Those are great suggestions, Daniel. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Daniel, thanks for being on the show this week and raising our awareness of the influence of architecture on our daily lives. Today, could you tell us how parents can get their kids involved in the architecture and aesthetics of their homes?

Daniel Lee: My kids love to get involved. And for a learning experience for children, I recommend parents take just one room in their home as a start, and explore the dramatic impact of color on their architectural environment with paint. This is practical and will produce a great return on your investment.

Each color, you will discover, has a mood, its own powerful sense of space and common associations. For example, a sunny yellow has a cheerful spirit, a sense of openness, and is often associated with the morning. Color, just by itself, makes a huge difference in architecture.

Make sure your children participate in choosing the color in the project, from beginning to end. Next, move on to select and place objects in the room, meaning the furniture, artwork—your children’s artwork, even—books, lighting fixtures, and even flowers. Then, let your children actually direct the placement of those objects in your newly painted room, with your help. And then let them move it all around again, two weeks later. Sounds crazy—but it’s a great learning tool.

Eventually, take on another room, landscape your garden, build a new wing to your house. Have lots of fun—but start with paint.

Mike: Well, that’s great! I know our listeners will appreciate your insights, Daniel. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: I’m sure our listeners have been fascinated by your discussion of architecture this week, Daniel. What about families who would love to improve the aesthetics of their home, but are on a tight budget? Do you have a suggestion for them?

Daniel Lee: Well, Mike, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation this week. I talked about the power of paint as a way to improve the aesthetics of your home, and that’s a modest project. But let’s just say you have no money to spend at all right now. I know what that’s like. What I recommend is that you de-clutter your home. And in fact, this idea applies whether you have no money or more than you’ll ever need. I mean, get rid of those things you don’t need. Yes, I’m talking about junk! We all accumulate it.

Remove at least half the objects from every room in your house. You will live without them just fine. Have a yard sale. Donate it to a charity for a tax deduction. What you want to keep are the things that you value the most. Treat them like precious art objects. Place them carefully in your home. They are for you. When there are fewer objects in a room, they each claim more of your attention. This will be a great blessing! Mike, thanks again—it’s been great to be with you.

Mike: Well, thanks so much for joining me this week, Daniel! It’s been fascinating learning a little bit about architecture. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Daniel Lee

Daniel Lee is a practicing Christian architect. His early exposure to both classical and modern architecture and art in Paris, where his parents were missionaries, along with extensive travel throughout Europe in his formative years, propelled him into the battlefield of ideas that operate in the world of architecture today.

He earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the Mississippi School of Architecture in 1981, followed by studies with Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri. He has trained under some of the West’s leading classical architectural and urban design theorists.

Mr. Lee is founder of a private professional architecture practice in northern Virginia. His projects are deliberately rooted in historic Judeo-Christian aesthetics and classical precedent, while incorporating new technologies where appropriate. He is married with four children, all of whom have been homeschooled at various times. His primary inspiration is God’s mysterious glory, revealed in the Scriptures and every part of the created order, as it holds the cosmos together. His artistic focus is on the creation of new built forms that manifest this beauty in their composition and details.

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