Summer has arrived! And with it a small window for reflection and preparation, a brief moment in the year to step back from the crazy edge of teaching to re-focus on the big picture. This has become the rhythm of my life: September I dive in and life is consumed with teaching, facilitating, car-pooling, living by the notes made on the calendar, one day to the next until I come up for air in June. The beauty about the air in June is the springboard that is the CMI conference. What better four-day kick-off could I have than this step out of the ordinary as I prepare my mind and my courses for a new year? It is a place that demands that I think, reassess, put into perspective an education, a life, that looks first to the Holy Spirit for guidance and is built on the principle that our children are persons. What more should we ask, than that our children are set in a God-centred atmosphere, introduced to habits of mind and body, given a full feast for life in their studies, all while creating relations and connections as they are introduced to great minds and great ideas? So, how do I go about setting my children’s feet in such a spacious room?

Mason points out that “Perhaps the main part of a child’s education should be concerned with the great human relationship, relationships of love and service, of authority and obedience, of reverence and pity and neighbourly kindness; relationships to kin and friend and neighbour, to ‘cause’ and country and kind, to the past and the present. History, literature, archeology, art, languages, whether ancient or modern, travel and tales of travel; all of these are in one way or other the record of the expression of persons.” (School Education, 80) I love the plan that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we introduce our children to great minds so that they have a connection with and a relationship to their world.

I’d like to share with you a relationship with the past, a labour, that has caused me to be “swallowed up in delight.” (School Education, 212) Five years ago I began to be intrigued with the thought that Mason had Architecture as one of the subjects her students were to study. It took me a little by surprise. I had always been interested in Art, however, both in high school and university, my art history classes were highly focused on painting and sculpture and only a cursory glance was given to architecture. I had to memorize important buildings and their architects, but rarely was any in-depth study given or required. Now, having studied it more deeply and with avid interest, I realize that it does not fit in a box – it really exemplifies rather, a “record of the expression of persons.” I have found that in studying architecture, we are actually studying people more than buildings. Architecture is a visible record of people, and what was important to them. Waterhouse puts it this way: “Architecture is not a matter of styles and mouldings and students’ terms; it has a human quality: it touches us at every point, and, of all the fine arts is one of the most intimately associated with the lives of all of us. For architecture has always been an expression of human life, the medium by which nations have recorded – truly, because unconsciously – their emotions, their aspirations, their beliefs.” (The Story of Architecture, Leslie P. Waterhouse, xi) As we delve deeper into what they built, which shows what they believed or held valuable, and how the buildings changed as the people changed, we gain an understanding of who the people were. Even more so as we hear the stories behind the buildings; then we begin to develop a relationship with the people and their plan in time and space. I’m no longer sure where Architecture belongs. To me, it could fit under History, Religion, Geography, Social Studies, Science… it seems to be a pretty perfect example of the Science of Relations, and the connections my students have made through studying Architecture are wider than I could have imagined.

Allow me to give an example. This year in our Large Room Community, we chose to study one building – Santa Maria del Fiore, better known simply as “the Duomo” in Florence, for the entire year. We began by stepping in at the very beginning of the Renaissance as it is kicked off in Florence. And our first question to answer was “Who were the people? What did they revere?” The mood in Florence at the beginning of the 1400’s was optimistic, humanistic, and displayed an enormous confidence in the power of the individual. Man could do anything! However, it was not an anti-Christian movement. The artists of the Renaissance saw themselves as an extension of God’s creative powers. The Duomo or cathedral in Florence – Santa Maria del Fiore – is such a visual example of the Renaissance spirit of “man can do anything.” They started to build the church in 1296 AD. But they left a hole in the roof above the crossing since they did not know how to build a dome to cover it. It took them 110 years to finally address the problem when season after season, winter rains and summer sun would bathe the floor below where the high altar would stand. There were several reasons for this difficulty – one was that in the past 1000 years since Roman times, the art of making concrete had been lost. So when the people of Italy saw the great Pantheon in Rome, they did not know how it had been made. True to the spirit of the Renaissance, the planners of the Duomo simply left a hole, knowing that someone would step up to the challenge and figure out how to fill it.

Spending a year looking at the problem of Florence’s Duomo with it’s gaping hole gave us time to not only see the building itself and why it was important to the study of architecture. It gave us time to know the people, the city of Florence, the time period in the 1400’s, the inventions necessary to overcome the huge problem of not knowing how to make concrete anymore, the flavour of the air surrounding the architects and the people that hired them. It gave us time to know the capomaestro, Filippo Brunelleschi, enough to recognise his motives, predict what his actions might be next, and to see how he was a product of his time. It gave us an insight into the prestige of the Pope, who had a six foot raised walkway made from the Santa Maria Novella where he had his apartments to the Santa Maria del Fiore just for the day of consecration so that he would be able to walk from his residence to the Duomo without having to push his way through the crowds. We made connections to other artists we had already met. For example, Donatello, the artist who made the first free-standing David, was the same artist who went to Rome with Brunelleschi to draw and rediscover the art and architecture of Rome. Ghiberti of the bronze baptistery doors was the same Ghiberti who was hired to be co-capomaestro with Brunelleschi for the construction of the Duomo. To find these people here in Florence, alive and in close connection with our main character, Brunelleschi, was a little like seeing your Kindergarten teacher in the store and realizing she didn’t just live in school. These characters were people, living in connection with people we already knew.

Why don’t you meet Brunelleschi through the words of one of my eleven-year-old students? You’ll see what I mean.

“Brunelleschi was the main architect of the dome. He had tons of masons working for him. He did almost all the work while Ghiberti was off making bronze statues for other jobs and not doing any work on the dome at all. But they got paid the exact same wages and this bugged Brunelleschi immensely. He often wrote to the Wool Merchants to complain. Once Brunelleschi, when the dome was underway, pretended to get a terrible disease – people thought he was dying – just to prove his point: Ghiberti had no idea how to proceed and the dome couldn’t go any further until Brunelleschi returned to work. Ghiberti tried to bluff his way through, and Brunelleschi came out with blankets wrapped around him looking like he was about to keel over and then pointed out how structurally unsound was the work Ghiberti had done in his absence. Then Brunelleschi made an overnight recovery and was on the work site the next day to everyone’s relief because Ghiberti wasn’t a good architect at all.”

And this from a sixteen-year-old: “Filippo was gruff most of the time but he had a wicked sense of humor and knew how to get his employees to do what he wanted without question. For instance, once when his stonemasons were fed up with Filippo they tried to set up a union (which was illegal under Florentine law.) Filippo promptly fired the lot of them, dissolved their union, and hired them back at half the price. This was one of the many instances in which Filippo used his cunning to hurt the career of those who messed with him… Brunelleschi wasn’t the most sociable but what he lacked in close relationships he made up for in innovation and creative genius.”

Can you hear how they know the character of these men? They are not strangers, and you may be sure that their work habits appear on our Way of the Will chart because the human relationships made have made an impression.

So as I get back to my summer planning, I find great delight in planning an education for my children that takes them beyond themselves, into relationship with great minds and great ideas, connecting the people they know with the ones they discover. In her short synopsis of her educational theory found at the beginning of each of her Home Education Series books, Mason states that “…the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of initial ideas. To help them in this choice we should give them principles of conduct and a wide range of the knowledge fitted for them.” (Parents and Children, Preface #17) It is a grand task and we do not do it alone. As I grow along side my children I give thanks that “the divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits and is their continual helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” (Parents and Children, Preface #18) Thanks to Him.


©  2016 by Sandra Zuidema

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2 thoughts on “Architecture: An Expression of Human Life by Sandra Zuidema

  1. Excellent post. I taught Architecture this past year to high school students because of your workshop last summer. Missed the conference this year and hearing you!

  2. yes! and this is why I love architecture. It is the stories behind the buildings, stories of the people who built the buildings as well as those who lived in the buildings. Curious what are your favorite living books on architecture? What about a book on basic terms?