Built Space

Organizations are located; and the question is this:  is the location – the built space in which the organization is housed – consistent with institutional identity and practical and adequate so that the organization can fulfill its purpose? 

Buildings matter:   they shape culture and foster or impede functioning.   And those with institutional intelligence know two things:  first, they know how to read a facility – to understand siting, layout, orientation and function.  How this building works.     And second, they know how to work within that space to maximize its potential for their responsibilities within the organization. 

A teacher may insist that the space is not perfect, but he knows how to work with what she has for the sake of these kindergarten students.   A librarian may know full well that the library is not what she would have designed as a library space if they had but asked her (!), but she knows how to work with this space, with all its limitations, to foster the capacity of the library to achieve its mission – either as a public library in a neighborhood, or the library of a small school. 

They are not naïve about space.   They do not assume that any space will do.   Christian worship needs appropriate liturgical space.   A university seminar for 12 students needs a space that is congruent with the purpose . . .not too big and not too small.   As often as not a “multi-purpose” space or building is not appropriate for any of the multiple purposes that ostensibly are going to happen in that space.   Those who oversee spiritual retreats know that there whether they are located in the heart of the city or isolated from the city, either way, there needs to be the capacity for quiet, stillness and that space can help or impede the purpose of the retreat. 

Buildings need to be maintained, of course; and more, they need constant attention – renovation, re-design so that the organization can respond to new circumstances and opportunities.  In other words, buildings learn.   Thus renovations and maintenance is a part of life in a building. 

And then, of course, there is the space of the world-wide-web:   also, in a way, “built space”.   The internet is a space in its own right; and more, all built space is now lived in and worked in differently because as a rule, we are all “connected.”   Effective organizations have a vital and engaging web presence.

Essential reading: 
Gordon T. Smith, Institutional Intelligence.  IVPress, 2017.  Chapter 9.
Witold Rybczynski.  How Architecture Works:  A Humanist’s Toolkit.   (New York:   Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013).