CEC WEEKLY TIES – Humility and architecture

Dear colleagues, 

What we do matters, but how and why we do it matters even more. The challenge, as Solon declared around 550BC, is unlearning old habits.

Hundreds of cancer patients‘ treatments have been impacted by the pandemic, including mine. Breast cancer came into my life at a pivotal point in my career, right before I was promoted to Full Professor. With three research projects, a book contract signed, and two editorial positions, many called me a superwoman. There were times when I thought of myself that way too. For the next year and a half, I embarked on a journey of inner reflection, vouching to reframe my life and relish the power of non-doing, the power of imperfection, and the power of being. I also vouched to embrace my vulnerabilities and share my story in hopes that others may benefit.

Cancer taught me that we are all made of flesh and blood after all, that no one is invincible, and that when you view the world from above, we are all part of a larger whole–in short, it taught me the transformative power of humility. The pandemic reinforced these connections in my mind. Both the virus and cancer, for the most part, do not ask you who you are, what is your age, what color is your skin, what is your ethnicity, how much you make, or where you live. Yet, many of these factors determine the odds that you will survive and recover, placing them at the center of our work as advocates for healthy and connected communities in which everyone can thrive.

Below are some examples of how spatial elements can help us remember our common humanity and reinstill a renewed sense of meaning in our lives. 

Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Editor
[email protected]


Adopt A Humble Frame Of Mind

 How would our approach to work and life change if entering spaces required us to “bend” and be reminded of the importance of humility and equality, such as in this Japanese tea house at the
Minneapolis Institute of Arts?


Image credit: http://archive.artsmia.org/art-of-asia/architecture/japanese-teahouse.cfm


Mama Safia Kitchen - CEC Designs
Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service
Midoris Floating World Cafe
Jalisas Gorgeous Extensions

Don’t let the small and inconspicuous presence of these buildings fool you. Mama Safia’s Kitchen, Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service, Midori’s Floating World Cafe, and Ja’Lisa’s Gorgeous Extensions are prime examples of women-owned, Black-owned, immigrant-owned, and minority-owned businesses.
For more of their stories see Landscapes of Hope.

How can the design of cities, neighborhoods, and buildings be more intentional in supporting creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship?  

 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Engaging With Others And Ourselves

What kind of spaces can nudge us to engage with someone different than us, be it due to race, age, gender, ability, background, income, religion, ethnicity, beliefs and values?

And, how can architecture prompt us to find ways to connect the many different facets of ourselves – the one who judges and the one who loves, the one who reaches out and the one who shuts down, the one who stands up for what they believe
and the one who shies away?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni 


Breaking Barriers Painting


A mirror dilutes the seemingly invincible materiality of the wall that surrounds the West Bank. Although one cannot see through the wall, the reflection of what is in front of the mirror humanizes the wall, opening up opportunities to reflect on the impermanence of our present times and histories as well as the role we can play in forming and structuring those discourses.

 How can architecture create forums where we can pause and examine who we were, how we came to be, and who we hope to become?

 Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Church Of The Nativity In Bethlehem

Architectural responses to notions of hierarchy often imply going up–think penthouses. Lower levels are often reserved for services, such as mechanical rooms. To access Christianity’s most sacred space, the grotto where Jesus is said to have been born in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one needs to climb down a tight and narrow set of stairs that takes you underneath the main altar.

How can humility aid in our search for space, a need exacerbated by the pandemic’s reliance on physical distancing and reduced sharing?

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni


Create Connections To Truths

“Through the window, Kofi was able to foster bonds with God, the sun, and the universe, reaffirming his conviction that all people are interconnected and part of a larger whole…..The certainty of the sun rising and setting everyday offered Kofi hope. As a symbol of the constant cycle of birth, death, and re-birth, it reminded him of the world beyond the here and now, giving him the courage to face life’s uncertainties. A new sun is a new beginning, one that will only restart the next day to flood the earth with the divine presence of light and protect his people from the dangers of darkness they have faced for centuries. Stepping back and examining life from afar, from the perspective of what lies beyond, helped Kofi detach from the emotions he carried at the present and see things differently, prioritizing what is worth fighting for and what he needed to let go.”
(The Right to Home, Chapter 7 – African American Stories, p.235).

How can walls, ceilings, windows, and other interior elements help us create connections to truths that cut across time and space?  

Image credit: Tasoulla Hadjiyanni 

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