Major Feature





Before going further in developing a Christian approach to architecture arXitecture is going to pause to place architecture in a wider context. This follows the call for resilient cities following recent earthquakes with world-wide impact on industry, continuing growth in megacities, how to cope with failing or declining cities, like Liverpool in 1981, New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, or Detroit today; and the response to the urban riots in England in the summer of 2011. All this is in the context of the current continuing global economic and financial crisis, not to mention global warming and resource depletion.
Confronted by the reality of entire towns and villages wiped off the map by the tsunami or abandoned in the wake of the nuclear plant crisis in Fukushima, we have been forced to re-examine the blind faith in technology upon which we built our communities, our economy and our society.
The same applies to our approach to architecture and city planning: in the wake of these disasters, we must reset our views on how to build cities back to zero, and start over again.
[quoted in BD 9/12/11]
Read it again! This statement was made by a spokesperson at the opening of the Toyo Ito Architecture Museum in Japan, where the inaugural exhibition addressed society’s previous unquestioning trust in engineering and architecture.

The Japanese government had already announced that it was planning a new town which could take over from Tokyo if the city was badly damaged.

In this feature arXitecture goes back to the beginning and looks at the Bible’s concept of development, generally termed the Cultural Mandate, in the opening chapters of Genesis.

This predates the call of Abraham and the founding of the Jewish nation, so is not only relevant to Jews, Christians and Muslims, but to everyone.

Instead of taking our questions to the Bible this approach starts with the Bible, and seeks to understand a particular theme or topic, in the light of the whole of Scripture.

Though beginning in a garden the theme of the city goes throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, ending with the New Jerusalem.

Some particular questions that were being asked concerned the placing of new government buildings in Port au Prince, whether they should be centralised or rebuilt on existing sites? In Christchurch the whole central business district was put out of action; would it fare better as a polycentric city?

There are also cultural questions concerning diverting aid to repairing damaged buildings like the cathedral in Port au Prince with its murals. One of the first activities to restart in Haiti was art when an artist painted pictures expressing his feelings. Art can be therapeutic. Confidence can be restored and reconstruction encouraged by the repair of key buildings such as the market building in Porte au Prince. However two years on only half the homeless had been rehoused, and 500,000 still lived in tents.

This role of art, architecture and cultural identity is important as shown by the ‘cultural genocide’ which happens in war, particularly where ethnic and religious differences coincide.

One challenge to Christians in Britain concerns the housing shortage. In the mid 19th century it was Christians who started providing decent housing for the working classes, and in the mid 20th century churches established many of the early housing associations.

Today middle class families are losing their homes, and because of the financial situation neither the private nor public sectors are building many houses.

However the Bible does not give answers to specific questions outside its own cultural context, nor even answer "What would Jesus do?" Jesus himself often did not answer specific questions, but gave general principles, or turned the questions round back to the questioner for them to think it out for themselves. Nor was Jesus a political activist, although on one occasion He did take direct action and trashed the temple market.

An important question concerns how we interpret the Bible, and in particular how we should, or should not apply it to today’s situations. The question of what is myth (in the popular sense) does not actually affect interpretation very much. Andrew Wilson, writing in Christianity, January 2012 suggested "Forget gay bishops, women in leadership or creationism vs evolution, the biggest theological debate of the next 20 years will be over how we read, understand and apply the Bible."

The issue of hermeneutics, how we interpret the Bible is dealt with separately.

This feature on Development follows mainstream orthodox interpretation, but may also be called radical in application in that it goes back to the biblical roots, as for example Christopher Sugden in Radical Discipleship.


The cultural mandate in the first chapters of Genesis is applicable to all mankind, not just to Christians and Jews (and Muslims) because it predates the call of Abraham, and the beginning of the Jewish nation.

It is important to read all of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 to get the context in the creation story; but the key verses quoted here are 1v28 and 2v15.

"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden to till it and keep it.

The garden would provide good food.

The previous verses, 2v10-14, give a geographical description of the area, naming the rivers which will water the garden, but also listing gold, bdellium and onyx, implying that they are there for man to discover and make use of. This can be interpreted as God’s call to mankind to resource development, endorsed later when the Israelites are promised a land where they can mine copper and iron. (Dt8 v9)

Then in Genesis 2v19-20 God brings all the creatures to man, and lets him name them – which he does.   This is the beginning of scientific research and classification.

Naming is crucial. It is the act of naming which gives meaning and significance to the things of the world. The scene in Genesis where Adam names the animals is a key one; in a sense he is taking ownership of them……. hence the persistence of such rituals as christening… (Conceptual Art by T Godfrey, Phaidon 1998 p250).

God himself renamed Abram and Sarai, and later Jacob (Gen 17v5-16 and 32v28) and Jesus renamed Simon as Peter, the Rock on which He would build His church (Mt16 v17-18).

At this point two questions need addressing. First the meaning of ‘subdue’ and ‘have dominion’ and secondly what happens once the earth has been filled.

When God had finished creation He saw that everything He had made was very good, so having dominion must be seen in this context, before sin came into the world – which is explained in Genesis 3.

God’s instructions to mankind are to care for creation, acting as a responsible steward to see that all have sufficient food and equality of access to the earth’s resources, handing the planet on to future generations in good order. Most people now accept this concept, and ‘sustainability’ has become a key word. But economic sustainability and social justice are not possible without environmental and ecological sustainability.

However we now live in the postfall era, and all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3v23) In Romans chapter 2 Paul has shown the awful consequences of this. We do not need to emphasise slum housing, ecological degradation, inequality etc as it is clear to all, let alone war crimes.

To answer the second question, on what to do once the earth has been filled will be addressed later.



Before the Old Testament Law was written, God had already made clear that we are to be one another’s keeper in His implied yes to Cain’s question of being his brother’s keeper.

The rest of the Old Testament is God’s response to the fall as he calls one man, and renames him, through whom to build a nation, again renaming Jacob as Israel, through whom ultimately the Saviour will come. The Law is given to guide God’s people, and consists of much more than the ten commandments. Relevant to architecture are such rules as having a parapet round a flat roof, and what to do with an ancient equivalent of dry rot.

The Law upheld marriage and family life, instituted by God as a creation mandate and therefore applicable to everyone, for the bringing up of children and the well-being of all.

The anti-poverty, or Jubilee laws, are important. The land was seen as belonging to God and could not be sold. What was saleable was the number of crops till the next Jubilee year, which occurred every 50 years, when the land was returned to the original family/tribal ‘owners.’ This was to prevent the build up of large estates and a landless class, and these laws were used as the basis of the Drop the Debt campaign.

The landless poor were not given free handouts but had to glean for themselves, collecting what was by law left over in the fields after the harvest.

Walled cities had different laws and houses could be sold in them. Citizens engaged in occupations such as goldsmiths, perfumers and merchants. (Neh. 10)

However life in the ancient near east was obviously very different from ours, and God, Justice, and Society by J Burnside investigates how we can apply concepts from the Law today, and Gorringe in A Theology of the Built Environment has explored this theme.



The focus of Jesus’ teaching was the Kingdom of Heaven, foretold by the Old Testament prophets; it was now "at hand" and "within you." Its fullness would come when He returned, but for those who repented and believed would begin now. Indeed Jesus stressed salvation and a reality already present, shown by the miracles, healings, and forgiveness, good news for the poor indeed; and  indeed for all nations, as He commanded when commissioning the early church after His resurrection.

The Kingdom is the whole of God’s redeeming activity – the church is the assembly of those who belong to Him, who are the salt of the earth and light of the world, sent out to share the Kingdom and its principles.

Hence Jesus upheld the Law, neither adding to nor subtracting from it. However He did widen its scope to include what was not technically in it, but very much in its spirit. He summed up the Law as treating others as you would have them treat you, and its fulfilment as loving one another.

Jesus took the concept of being our brother’s keeper to a new level – to being our neighbour’s keeper, and to be inclusive.  He defined our neighbour as anyone we saw in need, even those we despised or just ignored. With today’s instant global communication, when we can watch disasters unfold, we have a world-wide responsibility.

The Kingdom of Heaven as shown in the gospels shows the way in which we should practice development. The theology of the kingdom is explained in the epistles.

Though one aim of the Old Testament Law was to prevent poverty Jesus said that you will always have the poor with you, because there are many ways people can fall into poverty.  So this is not an excuse to forget and exclude them; it is still our duty to support the poor, especially our own family, and to enable others to help themselves. "A hand up, not a handout" as the Big Issue Foundation stresses.

2012 was the 200th anniversary of Dickens birth and it is worth recalling what he wrote about.

"A constant theme in his novels is the unpredictability of fortune….. he wrote of what he knew – poverty and debt, social status, wandering and homelessness, and sad and dysfunctional childhoods." Sounds familiar? (The Big Issue, January16th 2012)

It was also the 100th anniversary of the death of Octavia Hill. She was particularly concerned with homelessness, and pioneered ‘five per cent philanthropy’ whereby "the wealthy who invested in her housing projects would see a 5% return on their capital, which meant tenants had to pay their way. ‘We have made many mistakes with our alms,’ she wrote, ‘eaten out the heart, bolstered up the drunken in his indulgence, subsidized wages, discouraged thrift, assumed that many of the most ordinary wants of the working man’s family must be met by our wretched and intermittent doles.’ " Sounds familiar? (National Trust Magazine, Spring 2012)

Perhaps in our desire to help the innocent, eg children of single mothers, and parents of rioters, we have inadvertently discouraged family responsibilities?


The apostles, particularly in their letters to various churches and individuals, were concerned with Christian virtues, with character development. The Old Testament had set out the requirements of the Law, Jesus had set higher standards, and the New Testament set out to achieve this, even for Christians living in poverty under authoritarian regimes, and when suffering persecution.

Whatever your view of Christendom it was during the Middle Ages that monasteries began to provide education and health services to the general population, and after the Reformation that philanthropists pioneered working class housing, urban community development and the beginnings of health and safety. All these were subsequently seen as socially important and taken up by the government and local authorities, leading in the mid 20th century to the welfare state.

Individual Christians and charities have always plugged gaps and pioneered new developments, such as the hospice movement and Street Angels. New initiatives are now needed to deal with housing problems and youth unemployment, all partly the end result of personal and corporate greed running up huge debts, and causing the global financial crisis.

Constantine to Cameron in one paragraph!


With constant calls to curb population growth it may be thought that filling the earth has been achieved and that the planet cannot support a greater population. How do we reconcile growing populations and consequent urban expansion (half the Chinese now live in cities) with ecological conservation and biodiversity when thousands of species of plant and animal life are becoming extinct?

In the past people emigrated, though this often meant taking over land belonging to others, as in America and Australia. I am trying to avoid words such as indigenous and ethnic as the English are ethnic and indigenous to England.

Emigration to Mars may one day be possible, but the establishment of a growing and self-sustainable community is a very long term option, involving many technical fixes.

Technical fixes are of course part of development, and civilization has always depended on scientific advances, which as seen above are part of the cultural mandate.

In general population sizes stabilise, and the birth rate falls as children are not required to help till the land, or otherwise boost family income. Indeed in some parts of the world, including Europe, populations are declining.

Answers to provide adequately for today's population and an expanding one include reversing desertification as is happening in Israel, utilizing solar energy, and desalinating sea water. Risk assessment may show that nuclear power is an option, as today’s reactors are far safer than the earlier ones which have caused disasters. Technical developments will continue such as with bioscience and graphene, but as quoted in the Introduction we must not have blind faith in technology.

It is our responsibility to share the earth’s resources equitably, to help other nations develop whether or not we have exploited them in the past, and to support such organisations as the World Development Movement and Fair Trade. In Britain and America food waste is a serious problem, but for different reasons than in poor countries.

Whether we believe or not that global warming is happening, and if so whether or not humanity is responsible it is still our responsibility to reduce the burning of fossil fuels which cause pollution and have more important uses. The recent discovery of shale oil reserves and fracking, causing earth tremors in Blackpool, has its cost and environmental problems.


Before concluding there is one more challenge or encouragement from the 19th century, from the architect A W N Pugin. The Victorian period was one of revival, not only of religion, but of Gothic architecture.

A recent reappraisal of Pugin by Richard Taylor for BBC4 in January 2012, subtitled God’s Own Architect set him in the forefront of both aspects of the revival. His gothic style was employed by both Catholic and Anglican, and eventually noncomformist denominations, and his best known building is the Tower of Big Ben, an icon for London, the UK and parliamentary democracy.

Pugin, a devout and complicated man, was born in 1812 and grew up when the industrial revolution was in full swing. The mill owners were getting richer while the mill workers lived in disease ridden back to back slums. There was social unrest which could lead to a revolution, which some thought had begun when the prime minister was assassinated in 1812. Strong moral leadership was required but George IV was a hedonistic dilettante, held in contempt, and his government and politicians were seen as corrupt. When Parliament burnt down in 1834 some thought "good riddance."

George IV’s architect Nash was driving new roads through slum areas, and in spite of their grand appearance the buildings were often of shoddy construction no more than facades one room deep, with stucco aping stone, columns supporting nothing and frivolous decoration.

Pugin’s polemical book Contrasts published in 1836 was aggressive and satirical but had a moral vision at its heart, and became a controversial best seller. Pugin condemned the Regency style as a physical expression of moral decadence. He contrasted it with English medieval architecture of the 14th century with its truthful expression of true construction and function, with its solid workmanship, and caring society. While writing Contrasts Pugin saw he must also take on its spiritual authority and join the Roman Catholic church. It was this zeal of a new convert that gave the book its edge. Pugin was only just beginning to build, but St Giles Cheadle, was "Contrasts brought to life" and it opened to international acclaim. His churches were successful due to his collaborating craftsmen and decorators, and in particular George Myers, his builder, who understood what he wanted and had the technical ability to construct it.

That Anglican architects followed his style was partly due to his next book The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture of 1841 which emphasized the structural rationality of Gothic architecture, and the morality of truth to materials, and what we now call ‘form follows function.’ Decoration was not to be frivolous, but the enrichment of the essential construction. It was the first time a style of architecture was seen as moral, and is Pugin’s lasting contribution, seen even today in the High Tech style.

[click here for review of Pugin – God’s Own Architect?]


Against a background where the welfare state which developed out of Christian principles, is being dismantled, and aggressive atheists and secularists demand that Christianity should have no say in public affairs, and that at best Christianity should be a private affair, there are also those seeking a ‘spiritual’ answer.

Alain de Botton in Religion for Atheists seeks a secular architecture which includes the religious dimension, for new art galleries to be our churches. His intention is to adopt the best bits of religion for use in secular society to, among other things, meet the needs of making community, form lasting relationships, overcome anxiety and restlessness, alienation and frustration, and not least to experience the power of art, architecture and music.

The biblical concept of Development should be open to public debate as continuing growth and consumerism is not sustainable even in the short term Growth is not the answer to the present recession. Its pursuit by the West and the emerging economies will bring disaster to the poorest peoples in the short term, and to all in the longer term.

World development will cease when Jesus returns and ushers in the Kingdom of God; until then we continue developing the Earth according to God’s principles, as expressed in the Bible and outlined above. To ignore or contradict this on the grounds that the present earth will be destroyed anyway, and to concentrate solely on the spiritual not only fails to show God’s love to the physically and economically needy, but is also to disobey Jesus.

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns." (Mt 24 v45-6)

That is the challenge, and one to which Christians have responded positively in the past. And it is in comparing our responses today with biblical principles that arXitecture will attempt to critique buildings and ideas in its reviews and articles.

The Transition Movement, which numbers many Christians amongst its members, is about "making your community more resilient in uncertain times."
It demonstrates that small groups of people getting together in towns or other communities, using just the skills and resources they have can make a difference, and encourage others. Examples are reducing people's fuel bills and producing food locally.  It is made interesting and enjoyable, with celebrations of achievements, and not at all "hair shirt."

To this Christians can add prayer. Since the 1990s Christians have been praying together for their cities. In City Changing Prayer Debra and Frank Green wrote, "The current challenge facing Christians is to pool our spiritual resources and work together across denominations and streams for social transformation, especially in the towns and cities of our nation where the manifestations of evil are increasing.... "  

The achievements of The Message in Manchester are due to this kind of prayer support, which is needed as much in promoting the kind of development advocated by this website, as in obviously spiritual battles.

A well known example is Curitiba in Brazil



God, Justice, and Society
by J Burnside, OUP 2011 investigates how to apply the Old Testament Law today.

A Theology of the Built Environment by T J Gorringe, CUP 2002.

One Planet Communities – A Real Life Guide to Sustainable Living by Pooran Desai, Wiley 2010.

Planetwise – Dare to Care for God’s World by Dave Bookless, IVP 2008.

Rediscovering Values – A Moral Compass for the New Economy Jim Wallis, Hodder & Stoughton 2010.

Religion for Atheists: a non-believer's guide to the uses of religion by Alain de Botton, Polity Books 2012.

The Crisis and the Kingdom by E Philip Davis, Cascade Books.

The Face of God: the Gifford Lectures by Roger Scruton, Continuum 2011.

Radical Discipleship by Christopher Sugden, Marshalls 1981.

The Transition Companion by Rob Hopkins, Transition Books 2011.

City Changing Prayer by Debra and Frank Green, Survivor 2005.

The Nehemiah Approach to Community Development

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