LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jane Wolford: A Taste of Things to Come

Dr. Jane Paradise Wolford seeks to "enlighten the public about the transformational potential of architecture." She has a Doctorate in Architecture (in History, Theory, and Criticism) from the Georgia Institute of Technology in addition to her Masters degree in Architectural History from Georgia Tech. Wolford wrote architectural articles and conducted market research for more than two decades for a firm that provided market analysis and costing services. She currently researches and writes for The Greenway Group, in addition to other consulting projects. For more than a decade Wolford has spearheaded educational initiatives for advancing architectural education among the public in her active role as a Board Member of The AIA’s educational outreach, the American Architectural Foundation based in Washington D.C. She also serves on a small, select Board to preserve and run the Octagon Museum, the oldest museum in the U.S. dedicated to architecture and design. She's a founding member of the Design Futures Council for DesignIntelligence. Wolford lives in Atlanta and maintains active memberships in many professional organizations related to architecture, preservation, and sustainability. These include lifetime membership in the Society for Architectural Historians (SAH), the Southeast Chapter of Architectural Historian (SESAH), the Construction History Society, Southface, and The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

LeAnne: What drew you back to school to get your degrees in architectural history and architecture?

With my bachelor’s degree in English, I had been interviewing architects for our construction information publication and found them fascinating. When my older daughter turned 16, I felt I had a little more freedom since she could drive her younger sister the half hour distance to their school so I decided to enroll in Georgia Tech’s masters program in architectural history. I had been trying to study architecture on my own ---- periods, styles, and theory --- but found the undertaking too comprehensive outside of a directed study program.

After I finished that program, and was looking for God’s direction for my next steps, I was invited into Tech’s Ph.D. program. Although the first three years of classes were difficult due to the full-time requirement (in contrast to my master’s which I did part time), the last three years of self-directed research and criticism by committee members was even more grueling. But, ultimately, armed with the doctorate, I finally understand architecture in the multitude of its ramifications.

LM: What can the study of architecture teach us about God? Ourselves?

That is a big question. I think architecture reveals a lot about God’s role as Architect and Builder (Hebrews 11:10). In the Old Testament he gave very specific instructions to Moses (Exodus 26), David (1 Chron. 28:11-19), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 40) about the construction of his places of worship --- from the choice of the builder down to the smallest details ---- design mattered to Him.

God is also concerned with beautiful design in his creation of nature everywhere. Oceans, mountains, trees, plants, flowers, etc. point to God’s wondrous sense of design – and we haven’t even touched upon his marvelous creation of the human body. All his creations (disclaimer --- as he created them) are not only magnificently beautiful, but are awe-inspiring. The colors of vegetation and natural landscape features such as mountains or oceans both complement and contrast each other in color, texture, structure, and a multitude of other qualities. But dissonance and ugliness are not qualities of God’s creations in their pristine state. Only man’s fallen nature interjected these ugly realities into his earthly paradise. Peace, Joy, Harmony, Beauty, and Order were subservient to the promptings of man’s will after the fall. In our imperfect nature beauty can be stumbled upon every now and again --- but it is not the norm. This is what the study of architecture can teach us about ourselves – we crave balance, stability, order and beauty. Good architecture can speak to these needs.

I believe that the focus of my doctoral research offers a possible solution to increased Beauty and Harmony in our world --- contextualism (check out my website for more info). Contextual buildings can forge attractive relationships with their environment --- offering a unifying effect to a previously fragmented environment. My expertise delineates the metrics of contextualism that can help a person design anything to relate more intimately to its surroundings --- whether built or natural --- and forge visual connections, resulting in peace and harmony, with its neighbors. My contention is that there is enough stress in the world without introducing more in our architecture. Like a good book or movie, I don’t believe our buildings should increase our adrenaline --- but offer a balm to our fallen condition and give us a taste of things to come in heaven.

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