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By John K Chan
Conversations with inanimate objects can be instructive.
The luminary architect Louis I. Khan famously asked a brick what it wanted – “I like an arch,” it replied. And so, it would seem that a material commonly known for compressive, land-bound functions revealed its aspiration for a higher calling – to leverage physics and its very own properties to fly, spanning a gap in the form of an arch.
I will indulge in the same practice of speaking with an inanimate object, in this case, a building unit substantially larger than a brick, though perhaps equally humble in appearance – the old Fuller Copy Services building, located on the periphery of campus.
I had the pleasure of being introduced to this building when I conferenced with Gideon Strauss, the De Pree Center crew and other experts on how the space might become their future home. Towards that end, I record the following conversation with its previous manifestation, Copy Services:
JC: Copy Services, now that you will house the new Max De Pree Center for Leadership, what advice would you give before the remodeling commences?
CS: Don’t let the irony escape you. From what I understand, leaders are made very differently than how copies are made.
JC: How so?
CS: Something goes in – and comes out the same way. Leaders shouldn’t come out that way! Too flat. No dimension. My advice: Don’t even come in the same way. Change up the approach – I’m tired of keeping up the same formal front. Make a side door, or a back door! Like all the ways people enter a house.
JC: Copy Services, what do you know about houses?
CS: I know a lot about houses. I’ve been watching those pretty little houses across the street making like they’re seminary buildings for a long time, couched in an A. Quincy Jones master plan. In the meantime, I’m at the periphery, underutilized for less than sociable causes. I should be doing more!
JC: I didn’t realize you felt this way…
CS: Not many people do. Hey, I’m not asking to be at the center of attention here, like those campus houses. I just want to contribute – to give back! Maybe I should unload the parking spots out front and give the community a project that is really meaningful… like an edible garden – for the campus and locals around the area! And when we break up the concrete, we’ll give rainwater back to the aquifer!
JC: Sounds ambitious – but will that do it for you?
CS: That’s just the start! A public front yard, leading to a sequence of communal spaces and then function-specific private rooms is just the first step in restoring my inner narrative structure!
JC: Inner narrative structure? Sequence… where is all this coming from?
CS: I-I think… I used to be a house.
JC: Wow. That makes a lot of sense.
CS: Hey, thanks for walking me through that, I’m feeling more at home already.
John K Chan is design director of Formation Association, an environmental design collaborative, integrating creative disciplines to intelligently reformulate the built environment and its relationship to broader ecologies.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series related to the De Pree Center’s relocation. John K Chan was part of a consultation aimed at helping us wrestle with what our new space might become. Read more about that consultation in Part 5 of our series. Read the rest of the related articles: Moving Out Loud 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email The Editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.
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