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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
trentgilliss:

Love how this “passive” home designed by architect Dennis Wedlick draws upon tiny churches and vernacular barns. Spirits will soar in this environs.
More photos of the Hudson Passive Project.

trentgilliss:

Love how this “passive” home designed by architect Dennis Wedlick draws upon tiny churches and vernacular barns. Spirits will soar in this environs.

More photos of the Hudson Passive Project.

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For me, beauty is valued more than anything — the beauty that is manifest in a curved line or in an act of creativity.
- ~Oscar Niemeyer, who died yesterday at the age of 104 (via trentgilliss)
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St. George Utah Temple
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The oldest operating temple of the LDS Church, the St. George Utah Temple was the first temple completed after Brigham Young and his followers were forced to flee Nauvoo, Illinois. Completed in 1877, it was designed by Truman O. Angell and took nearly six years to build.
The temple itself is made of the red sandstone of the surrounding buttes of St. George, in southwestern Utah and plastered white. Originally just over 56,000 square feet, a renovation in the 1970s doubled its size. The temple has a total of 18 sealing rooms (not all are being actively used), more than any other temple in the LDS Church, where “bride and bridegroom are married not only for this life but also for eternity.” The St. George Utah Temple is the first temple where endowments for the dead, proxy baptisms for the deceased, were performed.
(Photo by Michael Whiffen/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

St. George Utah Temple

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The oldest operating temple of the LDS Church, the St. George Utah Temple was the first temple completed after Brigham Young and his followers were forced to flee Nauvoo, Illinois. Completed in 1877, it was designed by Truman O. Angell and took nearly six years to build.

The temple itself is made of the red sandstone of the surrounding buttes of St. George, in southwestern Utah and plastered white. Originally just over 56,000 square feet, a renovation in the 1970s doubled its size. The temple has a total of 18 sealing rooms (not all are being actively used), more than any other temple in the LDS Church, where “bride and bridegroom are married not only for this life but also for eternity.” The St. George Utah Temple is the first temple where endowments for the dead, proxy baptisms for the deceased, were performed.

(Photo by Michael Whiffen/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

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1988-2011:

Tynemouth Steeple

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

1988-2011:

Tynemouth Steeple

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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"A real building is one on which which the eye can light and stay lit."
—Ezra Pound, poet and art critic, from a letter published in Dial Magazine (cited in Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts).
Photo by Drew Geraets (distributed with instagram)

"A real building is one on which which the eye can light and stay lit."

Ezra Pound, poet and art critic, from a letter published in Dial Magazine (cited in Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts).

Photo by Drew Geraets (distributed with instagram)

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Communing with Beauty

by Rita G. Patel, guest contributor

"Beauty and Its Possibilities" by Rita G. Patel"Beauty and Its Possibilities" by Rita Patel

The architect Christopher Alexander tells this story in The Timeless Way of Building:

I once saw a simple fish pond in a Japanese village which was perhaps eternal.

A farmer made it for his farm. The pond was a simple rectangle, about 6 feet wide, and 8 feet long; opening off a little irrigation stream. At one end, a bush of flowers hung over the water. At the other end, under the water, was a circle of wood, its top perhaps 12 inches below the surface of the water. In the pond there were eight great ancient carp, each maybe 18 inches long, orange, gold, purple, and black: the oldest one had been there eighty years. The eight fish swam, slowly, slowly, in circles—often within the wooden circle. The whole world was in that pond. Every day the farmer sat by it for a few minutes. I was there only one day and I sat by it all afternoon. Even now, I cannot think about it without tears. Those ancient fish had been swimming, slowly, in that pond for eighty years. It was so true to the nature of the fish, and flowers, and the water, and the farmers, that it had sustained itself for all that time, endlessly repeating, always different. There is no degree of wholeness or reality which can be reached beyond that simple pond.

Not only is the description both vivid and beautiful — conjuring up a lovely image — but the emotion from actually seeing and being with this beauty in nature is profoundly powerful.

If I am open, moments where I can deeply see, feel, and be are available in all sorts of so-called common places and interactions. And what happens is that I don’t just observe with my senses and my mind, but I commune with the beauty of it in my heart — that is where it happens, where I actually feel it. The feeling doesn’t stay but the feeling about other things afterwards is always affected. And the more I experience this beauty the more I realize that it does not disappear but is always present. Available to connect to when I am available. A wonderful thing to wake up and remember and make a habit.

"Radiance belongs to being considered precisely as beautiful; it is, in being, that which catches the eye, or the ear, or the mind, and makes us want to perceive it again."
~Etienne Gilson


Rita G. PatelRita G. Patel is an artist, chef, and business consultant living in Rochester, Michigan. You can read more of her writing at Beauty’s Invitation and see her artwork at 365 Days of Print.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Architecture Students Design the Future of Israel

by Janine Rayford, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student

Hagar AdmiWhen Hagar Admi thinks about the political future of Israel, she thinks in terms of blue prints. Admi, an architecture student at the Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education in Haifa, contests that art, specifically architecture, is inherently political.

"It’s all about society in architecture, as you plan for people,” Admi interjected at a discussion on coexistence through art, when photography and animation students explained how politics are not a factor in their work. “It’s not just art. Everything in Israel is political.”

For the Tel Aviv native, design and architecture is about planning for the future of Israel, whatever that may be. She and fellow architecture students are working on a project that directly addresses the possibility of a two-state solution.

"Designs take into account what could happen, what should happen," said Admi.

The project, focusing on the Israeli coastline, allows design students to engage the social and structural implications of Israeli politics. The coastline community may become home to a major railway station, connecting settlements to the cities.

"The way that politicians divide Israel, it doesn’t work. They just draw a line, they don’t employ architecture."

Admi rejected the political apathy of some of her fellow art students. “When you put up a building you plan something, it’s going to stay for a really long time. It has an effect on people’s lives. I think that architecture can actually change things. Maybe I’m naïve?”


Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.

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The Definition of Sustainability Expands with Vocation
Krista Tippett, host

Our emerging national conversation about sustainability has a decidedly “eat your spinach” tone. We’re steeling ourselves to enter the realm of sacrifice, and penance. But in all my conversations of recent years, I’ve been struck by the heightened sense of delight and beauty in lives and communities pursuing a new alignment with the natural world.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/majoracartergroup/3929362653/Innovation in sustainability often begins, I’ve found, with people defining what they cherish as much as diagnosing what is wrong. I think of Majora Carter. The remarkably ambitious project she founded, Sustainable South Bronx, began when she and the people of that borough started to reclaim their riverfront for refreshment and play.

I think also of Barbara Kingsolver, finding in a year of sustainable eating that when it comes to food, the ethical choice is also the pleasurable choice. I’ve been energized by her insistence that as we all face the grand ecological crises of our time, one of our most important renewable resources is hope. We simply have to put it on with our shoes every morning.

Rural Studio and an Architecture of DecencyOur visit to the Rural Studio is an immersion in hope. This project is at once an architectural adventure and a social experiment. It offers beauty as an antidote to the ruins of history and the death of imagination. It began with the singular vision of the late legendary architect Samuel Mockbee, who left a lucrative private practice to follow his sense of architecture as a “social art.” He partnered with Alabama’s Auburn University architectural school, joining his vision with the energy and ideas of the students being trained there.

"Everybody wants the same thing, rich or poor," he taught them, "not only a warm, dry room, but a shelter for the soul."

Dog ShelterThese days, the Rural Studio is creating more public spaces than private houses and sometimes recycling entire buildings — preserving history and memory while creating something new. In everything they do, they aspire to “zero maintenance” construction. As the current director Andrew Freear puts it, this is sustainability with a small ‘s’ — focused not on what is cutting-edge, but on what can be maintained by real people with limited resources over time.

And because of the care that goes into this — an application of social as well as professional intelligence — something larger than architectural integrity emerges. In the lives and projects of the Rural Studio one finds real community, a fierce sense of the dignity of human life, and a creative, responsible, ongoing encounter with the natural and material worlds.

The writer Frederich Buechner has said that vocation happens “when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I’m beginning to see the work of sustainability as an unfolding vocation — not merely a response to problems, but an invitation to possibility and a way to strengthen moral resources such as delight, dignity, elegance, and hope.

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One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure

by Colleen Scheck, producer

I was watching television news on the couch with my 10-year-old nephew last weekend and was captivated by a segment that profiled the work of Dan Phillips, a 64 year-old man from Huntsville, Texas who builds low-income houses out of trash. Yep, trash.

The segment has stuck with me in a few ways during this week’s production activities. Phillips’ work reminds me of the kindred efforts of Rural Studio (one of my all-time favorite programs), and it has resonance with our upcoming program with environmentalist Bill McKibben, specifically around the theme of human vitality and community in our changing natural world.

It also sparks thoughts about education and vocation raised during Krista’s interview with Mike Rose (to air in January). In that last way, I was struck by the difference in approach between Phoenix Commotion (Phillips’ initiative) and Rural Studio. Rural Studio trains highly educated architecture students to build homes from salvaged materials; Phillips employs unskilled laborers as apprentices and teaches “anyone with a work ethic” how to build. The result is the same: affordable homes made from recycled materials that are both functional and artistic, sustainable and unique.

I dug around for more info on Dan Phillips, and found a great slideshow of his work, as well as more photographs via Flickr. This is the kind of tangible activity that gives me hope, for our planet and for our humanity. My nephew, whose face was buried in his iPod Touch during the entire TV segment, looked up at the end and said “That’s cool.” I didn’t know he’d been listening.

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Sacred SpacesAndy Dayton, associate web producer
A few weeks ago I took a break to attend a week-long retreat in rural Wisconsin. A change of setting was refreshing, and perhaps necessary. Much of my week was spent walking through open fields and gardens, a nice contrast to my cubicle here at SOF headquarters. I also went on two excursions to some unique and inspiring places: Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home Taliesin, and Deer Park Buddhist Center.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. (photo: Andy Dayton)
Both of these spaces seemed to compliment each other as meeting spaces of the old and new. Taliesin’s modern-looking organic architecture was aged to the point that it almost seemed to crumble into the hillside, while Deer Park’s traditional Buddhist decorations were placed on a brand new, modern building. Both spaces carried a certain weight that stuck with me, especially the interior of Deer Park’s temple, which you see pictured at top.
Fitting then that I returned to a staff discussion about Esther Sternberg’s new book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being. I’ve only just started reading it, but the book focuses on the relationship between health and the spaces we inhabit — an idea that I can easily connect with my week in Wisconsin. We’ve talked to Sternberg before — first as a voice for our program "Stress and the Balance Within," then again as part of our Repossessing Virtue series. Sternberg’s book has been showing up in some unexpected places, and it’s raised the question of whether we might have another conversation with her. I look forward to continuing her book, and perhaps hearing from her again.
The view from Taliesin. (photo: Liz Sexe)
Image at top: inside the Deer Park Buddhist Temple. (photo: Liz Sexe)

Sacred Spaces
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

A few weeks ago I took a break to attend a week-long retreat in rural Wisconsin. A change of setting was refreshing, and perhaps necessary. Much of my week was spent walking through open fields and gardens, a nice contrast to my cubicle here at SOF headquarters. I also went on two excursions to some unique and inspiring places: Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home Taliesin, and Deer Park Buddhist Center.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. (photo: Andy Dayton)

Both of these spaces seemed to compliment each other as meeting spaces of the old and new. Taliesin’s modern-looking organic architecture was aged to the point that it almost seemed to crumble into the hillside, while Deer Park’s traditional Buddhist decorations were placed on a brand new, modern building. Both spaces carried a certain weight that stuck with me, especially the interior of Deer Park’s temple, which you see pictured at top.

Fitting then that I returned to a staff discussion about Esther Sternberg’s new book Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being. I’ve only just started reading it, but the book focuses on the relationship between health and the spaces we inhabit — an idea that I can easily connect with my week in Wisconsin. We’ve talked to Sternberg before — first as a voice for our program "Stress and the Balance Within," then again as part of our Repossessing Virtue series. Sternberg’s book has been showing up in some unexpected places, and it’s raised the question of whether we might have another conversation with her. I look forward to continuing her book, and perhaps hearing from her again.

The view from Taliesin
The view from Taliesin. (photo: Liz Sexe)

Image at top: inside the Deer Park Buddhist Temple. (photo: Liz Sexe)

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Very Cool Slideshow
Kate Moos, Managing Producer

Very cool slideshow produced by Colleen Scheck for SoF’s “Architecture of Decency” program.

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Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should Trent Gilliss, Online EditorBeing a homeowner who has gutted and rehabbed a number of residences now, I’ve come to learn that materials really do have their place. Asphalt shingles work great on a pitched roof, but place them on a porch’s shed roof with a shallow incline… well, you’re begging for those newly laid floors of reclaimed Douglas fir from your upstairs attic to cup and bend. Wood putty is fine for those nail holes on an interior door. But, try to close the gap on those weathered storm windows — the first spring rain bubbles the paint and makes them look worse than before. Lessons learned.And, as you can see from the picture above, what worked beautifully as a retaining wall treatment in the Yancey “Tire” Chapel (1995) failed miserably on Tracy Shiles’ house. The stepped approach to the front entry hasn’t borne foot traffic well, and it wasn’t covered either. The flaking stuccoed tires reminds me of something Andrew Freear, the director of Rural Studio, told Krista in our anchor interview for SOF’s upcoming program, “An Architecture of Decency.”He views sustainability with a small ess. Instead of searching for “green” products with the proper FSC stamp or building structures that are LEED certified, Rural Studio emphasizes vernacular materials that require zero maintenance. The stuff has to be readily available, reusable, and understood by the owners so that it can be easily fixed. Their clients are scratching out a living and extra time, says Freear, needs to be spent making additional income, being with their families, or simply just resting from a hard day’s work.After all, this isn’t so hard to understand. How many of you have an uncle, grandfather, or dad who gripes every time he opens the hood of his Volkswagen Jetta or Toyota Prius or even a Ford Taurus because he can’t make simple repairs because of all the electronics being used? The same idea applies here. A Dutch-produced prefabricated cementitious fiberboard may be “green” and durable, but if it gets damaged in a storm, the owner can’t replace it. But, use corrugated sheet metal and the owner can find a piece at any scrap yard or vacant, tumbledown building in the tri-county area for the repair.

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Being a homeowner who has gutted and rehabbed a number of residences now, I’ve come to learn that materials really do have their place. Asphalt shingles work great on a pitched roof, but place them on a porch’s shed roof with a shallow incline… well, you’re begging for those newly laid floors of reclaimed Douglas fir from your upstairs attic to cup and bend. Wood putty is fine for those nail holes on an interior door. But, try to close the gap on those weathered storm windows — the first spring rain bubbles the paint and makes them look worse than before. Lessons learned.

And, as you can see from the picture above, what worked beautifully as a retaining wall treatment in the Yancey “Tire” Chapel (1995) failed miserably on Tracy Shiles’ house. The stepped approach to the front entry hasn’t borne foot traffic well, and it wasn’t covered either. The flaking stuccoed tires reminds me of something Andrew Freear, the director of Rural Studio, told Krista in our anchor interview for SOF’s upcoming program, “An Architecture of Decency.”

He views sustainability with a small ess. Instead of searching for “green” products with the proper FSC stamp or building structures that are LEED certified, Rural Studio emphasizes vernacular materials that require zero maintenance. The stuff has to be readily available, reusable, and understood by the owners so that it can be easily fixed. Their clients are scratching out a living and extra time, says Freear, needs to be spent making additional income, being with their families, or simply just resting from a hard day’s work.

After all, this isn’t so hard to understand. How many of you have an uncle, grandfather, or dad who gripes every time he opens the hood of his Volkswagen Jetta or Toyota Prius or even a Ford Taurus because he can’t make simple repairs because of all the electronics being used? The same idea applies here. A Dutch-produced prefabricated cementitious fiberboard may be “green” and durable, but if it gets damaged in a storm, the owner can’t replace it. But, use corrugated sheet metal and the owner can find a piece at any scrap yard or vacant, tumbledown building in the tri-county area for the repair.

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Welcome to Alabama

Mitch Hanley, Senior Producer

We arrived in Greensboro on Tuesday afternoon and headed straight up to Antioch Baptist Church (see image below) to see if there was any information on services during the week. We were hoping to gather sound of the church’s congregation, perhaps speaking to members who had seen the previous incarnation. Cruising down the 1.5 lane highway at a healthy speed, we eyed this tiny sign pointing down a gravel road (driveway) “Antioch Baptist Church.” The grass between the tire tracks was quite tall, giving me the impression that this church might not get used at all. As we walked up to the structure we knew immediately that this was a Rural Studio project, it was like no other church in the area (except for the other RS chapels).

Alongside the church is an elevated graveyard with headstones dating back to the early 1800’s. The juxtaposition of these old tombs looking upon the modern chapel below was striking, as was the fact that the only windows along the long walls of the church were the narrow strip which looked directly out at the graves.

As we walked along the grounds, which were surrounded by thick forests of pines, you could hear an old hound dog howling in the distance interspersed with long stretches of eerie silence. This combination seemed to say, Welcome to rural Alabama!

We left Antioch to head back to Greensboro and again, at highway speed this dog seemed to come out of nowhere. At least, it seemed like a dog, minus one ear. This German Shepherd was standing next to the side of the road waiting for us to pass, standing alert with its one good ear. Sorry, it was just too strange for us to want to get out and snap a photo.

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Establishing Roots to the PastTrent Gilliss, Online EditorThe foundation has been laid and now the heavy lifting begins for second-year students at the Rural Studio. They completely dismantled St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (circa 1854) last year and cataloged all its elements — from mortise & tenon beams to cut nails. Then, they loaded up the truck and relocated the structure near its original location in Cahawba, the first capital of Alabama.The effort is painstaking, but history teaches lessons. And Jason Coomes, the instructor for this project, says it awakens the eyes of his young students and town citizens alike. The quality of craftsmanship and ingenuity of construction contributed to its longevity.Beams used for floor joists weren’t nailed to the foundation. Taboo nowadays perhaps, but a feature that allowed the building to move enough so that it didn’t collapse under stress and strain. Now that they’re assembling the salvaged floor, they’ll date-stamp the contemporary substitutions to provide a legacy for the next generation trying to figure out how the church was built and rebuilt.In so doing, they preserve our cultural legacy, teach the next generation of architects what it means to design buildings that last, salvage wood that most likely would have deteriorated or been scrapped, and sustain the geography of place that was once washed away by the floodplain of the Cahawba River. This seems like sensible sustainability, one that sates the curiosity of generations to come.

Establishing Roots to the Past
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

The foundation has been laid and now the heavy lifting begins for second-year students at the Rural Studio. They completely dismantled St. Luke’s Episcopal Church (circa 1854) last year and cataloged all its elements — from mortise & tenon beams to cut nails. Then, they loaded up the truck and relocated the structure near its original location in Cahawba, the first capital of Alabama.

The effort is painstaking, but history teaches lessons. And Jason Coomes, the instructor for this project, says it awakens the eyes of his young students and town citizens alike. The quality of craftsmanship and ingenuity of construction contributed to its longevity.

Beams used for floor joists weren’t nailed to the foundation. Taboo nowadays perhaps, but a feature that allowed the building to move enough so that it didn’t collapse under stress and strain. Now that they’re assembling the salvaged floor, they’ll date-stamp the contemporary substitutions to provide a legacy for the next generation trying to figure out how the church was built and rebuilt.

In so doing, they preserve our cultural legacy, teach the next generation of architects what it means to design buildings that last, salvage wood that most likely would have deteriorated or been scrapped, and sustain the geography of place that was once washed away by the floodplain of the Cahawba River. This seems like sensible sustainability, one that sates the curiosity of generations to come.

Comments