Architecture and Faith – Part Two

Michael Metzger

I received little of my dad’s DNA. He was an engineer and every time he tried to explain to me what he did for a living, my eyes glazed over. The same thing can happen when we talk about “connecting Sunday to Monday.” Too often it’s a fog of abstractions. But that’s not the case with David Greusel, a principal with HOK Sport Venue Event. He’s an architect who sees his work as a calling…

[Editor’s Note: Mike is taking two weeks off to celebrate his son Mark’s wedding to Christy. This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, the opinion journal of the Work Research Foundation: www.wrf.ca/comment.]

Comment: What are your favourite tools?
David Greusel: I haven’t loved a computer since I stopped using a Macintosh at work in 1993. There is a long sad story about Apple’s inability to penetrate the architecture/engineering market which could be the subject of another essay. Nevertheless, I use all of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook) quite heavily and in about equal measure. Google SketchUp is a wonderful software tool for quick three-dimensional visualization.

What I really love is drawing freehand. I prefer to draw in ink, using both a black Pilot V Extra-Fine Razor Point and a black Pentel Sign Pen. I prefer to draw on white rolled sketch tissue, which goes by a number of unsavory nicknames. And I often color my drawings with felt-tip markers, of which I have found Chartpak AD markers to be by far the best. Prismacolor coloured pencils are a joy to use, as well.

Comment: Tell us about a project that delighted you.
David Greusel: I think the project that has given me the greatest delight is PNC Park, the home of Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates. This was a project where I loved the city I was working in, loved the site that had been selected, and really enjoyed working with the team officials who were involved in the process. Over the course of the project, they came to trust me as a designer, and that trust is the most valuable thing an architect can have.

So not only was working in Pittsburgh and working for the Pirates enjoyable, but the way the project turned out was also a delight. Of course, I could show you any number of spots in the finished project that could have been designed or executed better, but the overall project exceeded everyone’s expectations. Watching the sunset reflect off Pittsburgh’s skyline across the Allegheny River while attending a game on a summer evening is a sublime experience. I am still thrilled when I have the chance to visit Pittsburgh and see the ballpark.

Comment: How do you plan your work?
David Greusel: As much as we like to romanticize the image of the lone architect sketching on a pad, architecture in practice is hugely collaborative and involves a great deal of planning. Project planning involves the allocation of staff resources to particular projects as they flow through the office, and there is a dynamic quality (fewer people at first, more as the project matures) to that flow which takes some doing to manage. Additionally, we have to coordinate the involvement of many engineering consultants, bringing them into the project when there is enough of a design to talk about, but not before the design is too far along. Collaboration and planning are a huge part of how architecture works in the real world.

Comment: How does your work connect to other aspects of your life?
David Greusel: First of all, I feel called to be an architect. This has taken some time to acknowledge, having spent many years in a dualistic Christian culture where secular work was thought to be less significant than full-time Christian service. I now see that working as an architect is full-time Christian service, at least in my case. It’s just not what we normally think of as “ministry.” Though of course it is ministry as well.

I have also come to believe that the idea of achieving “work-life balance,” as it is referred to in the Human Resources departments of large companies, is a myth. I don’t cease to be an architect when I go home at night any more than I cease to be a husband and a father when I leave home for work. I have been trying very hard to de-compartmentalize my life the past few years. I want to be a whole person, who is husband and father and architect and citizen twenty-four hours a day, attempting to order my various responsibilities so that I can discharge them well. But I think the notion that what results is a “balance” between work and family and community commitments is absurd. It is more like a well-rigged sailing ship, where keeping the lines in proper tension results in moving briskly across the ocean to your intended destination. My life is at least as complex as a three-masted schooner, and that requires making constant adjustments to keep the lines in the proper tension, neither too taut nor too slack.

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4 thoughts on “Architecture and Faith – Part Two”

  1. I know this is old, but it is worth commenting on.

    I have struggled with how to describe work/family/community involvement a lot. I run into people who are either looking for a way to justify working all the time, or who disengage from life in a so called “work life” balance. The last paragraph is awesome for describing how the tension works: “…that requires making constant adjustments to keep the lines in proper tension, neither too taut nor too slack.”

    Great illustration David, and Mike thanks for sharing it with all of us.

  2. What a providential “coincidence” that Mr. Greusel closes with comments on “work-life balance”. I am just finishing Winning by Jack Welch (a book that has had far more value to me than I anticipated); Welch is wrapping up this fantastic book on leadership with a final chapter on work-life balance.

    Ironically, after appreciating almost every morsal of his advice, I found myself disappointed with his comments on family commitments & work. By his own admittance, he has not done well in this category, stating his (ex-) wife largely raised their kids and his input didn’t extend too far beyond being a social director on vacation and the disciplinarian on some big issues. Welch’s advice in this area is to compartmentalize work and life, purporting that life is a luxury our global competitors are not enjoying so we’d better not let it infringe on winning!

    Mssrs. Greusel & Metzger have a much healthier philosophy of a life in “healthy tension”; I am particularly drawn to the complexity of keeping all the lines on a schooner (3 sails?) neither slack nor strained. Our work as well as our families should be a big part of our greater purpose – if these two facets have to be divided like Welch advises, the lack of unity between the two could contribute to leading two lives complete with all of the unhealthy symptoms that can accompany this common occurance.

    Mike, what do you think about contacting Mr. Welch to see if we can get him on board our Schooner? hdb

  3. Greg & Hank:

    Thanks for your comments. Like David, I agree that “balance” is an Enlightenment myth. The Scriptures present dozens and dozens of tensions. They’re inherent in the universe, since there are tensions in the Godhead (mercy and justice, for example). I find David to be one of those unique Christians who keeps these truths in tension, plus he’s a terrific comic (ask him about this), a renowned architect (he has also done PacBell Park in SF, Minute Maid Park in Houston, etc). Im braggin’ on him since he never would.

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