TWI: Tell us a little about yourself. Where you are from? What drew you to architecture? Your faith background, etc.?

Luther: I grew up in a small town in Northwest Ohio. Besides playing baseball, I was enamored with all kinds of art and loved to sketch, but was especially drawn to the places where people lived and worked. In my spare time I redesigned homes, churches and schools imagining how they could be improved, observing that every one of them had a particular character and place in history. As a preacher’s kid, I also learned that every person has a unique story worth hearing and appreciating. Now as an architect, I believe every place has a story and I search for that dialogue between person and place in every project.

During high school, I worked as a custodian cleaning and maintaining our church and school. There, I became intimately familiar with how buildings functioned and the importance of material durability.  I was drawn to construction and learned from the contractors in our congregation.

I have since worked on residential, commercial and institutional projects including Reagan National Airport, The University of Maryland Alumni Center, The Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum at the University of Oklahoma. This period’s highlight was twelve years of working with Hugh Newell Jacobsen on many elegant residential and institutional projects located across the country, also serving as his Chief of Staff.  In 2003, I established my own practice in Falls Church, Virginia.

TWI: What makes a good building?

Luther: Ah, this has been debated for centuries. But, I think a good “building” is more than a building.  It must be conceived in terms of a total environment, which includes consideration of it’s purpose, region, town, civic importance, neighborhood, site approach, landscape, exterior, interior furniture and fixtures. When well executed, it can give meaning, purpose and inspiration to all who experience it. I believe it is important to remember why we are building in the first place.  In order not to get lost in the mire of information and details, everyone involved in the building project must always remember that we are about creating something beautiful that not only shelters, but also inspires living.

I personally think that people know when they are in a good space because it just feels right, but they may not understand why.  We are learning a great deal in neuroscience about how the integrated brain (both of its hemispheres) functions in community with others.  I also believe that it is possible for the brain to “commune” with a particular place, be it God-made or man-made.  This “communion” of human experience and the physical environment creates the “spirit of place.”

TWI: What design are you most proud of?

Luther: I think I am most proud of the Doughty Residence in Arlington, Virginia, known as the “Heavy Timber Tudor”, as it was the first project by my own design practice.

TWI: Why are you proud of it?

Luther: I am proud of it because I think the composition is beautiful and because I feel the design is a good example of a fruitful dialogue between the owner and the existing siteresulting in a warm and appealing environment, which uniquely expresses a spirit of place.  I took some latitude interpreting the Tudor style in manner that compliments the existing brick structure, yet incorporates the owner’s personality, living habits and desire for a warm and friendly interior.  I departed somewhat from the more common traditional dark Tudor expression, which may be cozy in the winter, but can feel heavy and claustrophobic during other parts of the year.  The rich, yet simple detailing was extremely fun to sketch and work out with wood artisans whose care for their craft could also be felt in the final product. I am satisfied when the owner says, “this place just feels right, like its always been here”.

Additionally, the construction was challenging and required three levels of the house to be opened up to the elements and structurally supported while the rear addition was built.  An 80-ton crane hoisted heavy timber bents into place that had been preassembled in the factory and reassembled flat in the rear yard.  Structural insulated panels from a separate company had to be installed the same day.  It all required a great amount of collaboration and coordination, reinforcing the sense of  working together for a common good.”

TWI: You recently stated you think about your work as an architect in terms of the Trinity. Can you tell us more about that?

Luther: Several evangelical trends made me search for what it meant for me to be a Christian obsessed with God and beauty in our physical world.  I wanted to know what it really meant to live “into” God’s purpose for my life.  Yes we live in a fallen world where we meet others who desperately need the saving power of the Gospel.  But, what was God’s original intent for creating me?

When I considered what it means to be created in God’s image, I had to discern what that image was.  If the full image of God is the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then each of these three persons must have attributes that my life should mirror.  So, I looked to the Apostles Creed. The Father is the creator. Christ is Immanuel, God incarnate who came to us to meet us where we are.  He is our redeemer who came to connect God with us. The Holy Spirit is the comforter who cares for us and holds the Christian church together in community. I looked at these titles for the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer and Comforter and wondered how they inform my life’s “doing.” So I turned them into verbs; create, connect, care. Then in thinking about what I do, the design process, these verbs described it well only in a mirrored order–care, connect, create–which are the themes of my work. Simply put, the Scriptures have taught me that God cares about design.

TWI: What are some of the tensions or complexities that still trip you up when you think about your work being God’s work?

Luther: Bill Haley once offered this term to describe the tension of my combined vocation of design and priesthood: “archipriest.” The tension comes from holding the mental construct that I am simultaneously a poor miserable sinner, but also a forgiven co-creator with God. “How in the world can I be both?”  Ironically, without this humbling tension, our motivations to design can become impure and self-serving. I think one of the greatest temptations of any successful artist is to become arrogant and make of themselves an idol.

We, as Christians, have that “something to believe in” that transforms our lives! We have that something that allows us to trust that our present and our future will work out, that all things work together for good as we trust in Christ.   In a certain way, what Steve Jobs said in his address is similar to what Christ was saying in the Sermon on the Mount.  Don’t be trapped by what the Pharisees and Sadducees are teaching you… They want to keep you in your place serving them instead of God and each other.  You are worth more to God than you think.  He doesn’t want you to be stuck in mediocrity.  He doesn’t want you to wallow in self-pity or be blinded by your own selfish pride. He wants you to be creative and thrive!  He wants you to draw near in union with Him so that instead of being conformed to the limitations of your generation, you can be transformed into a beautiful blessing for your generation (my paraphrase).

TWI: What habits or resources have helped you think more seamlessly about your faith, life, and work?

Luther: I like a passage in Tim Keller’s book, “Generous Justice”, where he quotes the author Elaine Scarry, who writes about the relationship between beauty and being just: “She argues that observing beauty radically ‘decenters’ the self and moves you to distribute attention away from self.  That in the presence of beauty you cease to be the hero in your own story.  It no longer is all about you. You experience the symmetry of everyone’s relation to another.” I believe that’s why God values beauty and the creating of it.  It takes us to a spiritual place beyond ourselves.

Luther Weber is an architect in the Washington D.C. area.