Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

City theology Print E-mail

The first reading I have chosen for today is from Genesis. After what Rod Oram said last night about Jerusalem I decided it was totally inappropriate to use the Jerusalem Version. Instead I will use the more recent Auckland Version. This is not a bad choice because it is not only critical that everyone sees how theology relates to our lives and our city, but also important for people to realise that an understanding of theology makes a difference.







In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was a formless void. God said let there be light. God saw that light was good and divided light from darkness. God endowed Auckland with wonderful sunrises and sunsets, so that in the rising of the sun and the going down there would be a time for contemplating, thinking and remembering. Evening came and morning came. The first day.

God divided the waters into two and so it was. The Manukau Harbour was separated from the Waitemata Harbour by a beautiful isthmus. Evening came and morning came. The second day. God said let dry land appear and so it was. A world heritage site of volcanic beauty with bays, beaches, headlands and islands. God made trees of every kind, unique to every place. Pohutukawa, rimu, and karaka for Auckland. God saw that it was good. The third day.

God said let there be a sun for solar energy by day and stars to avoid the need for streetlights and light pollution at night. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came. The fourth day. God said let the Hauraki Gulf marine reserve be filled with fish and let tui, piopio, gannets and little grey warblers fill the air. And so it was. The fifth day.

God created us to be kaitiaki of all he had made. He created us to love the sunrises and sunsets, to love the volcanoes and the trees, and to love the fish in the sea and the birds of the air. The sixth day. God saw all that he had made and it was indeed very good. God rested on the seventh day unable to think of anything else we might need.

Then the serpent came to Eve said “Did God really say not to sell the assets, not to mine the minerals, not to catch all the fish and not to cut down the trees? You could turn this paradise into money. Sell it. On the day you eat the forbidden fruit you will become like gods. You will be able to employ the best architects in the world to make your own paradise with all the money you have made from selling what God gave you. God was just trying to stop you having cities.” So she took the apple and ate it.

Then they realised they were naked, which presented the first great economic opportunity. God said “Who told you that you were naked?” The advertisements in the Herald said Eve, but I am too busy to talk. I need to go shopping because the sale ends tomorrow and everything is half price.

God wept to see cheap Chinese imports competing with our own fine woollen products, but there was nothing God could do. If you give power away you are stuffed. Manufacturers began kidding people that they needed insulation. It offered comfort but not consolation. Everyone was so unhappy that they wanted to be somewhere else and they asked their new gods to give them motorways to get them there. By 2012 more than half the world’s population were living in cities. Rod Oram then turned up and mistakenly described the city as an economic powerhouse.

My second reading today continues the story from Exodus. By this time the School of Theology had gone up the hill to talk to God and pick up a copy of the Unitary Plan. Meanwhile down in Queen Street the business leaders said to Aaron “We do not know what has become of the University which said it was going to lead us out of slavery. Make us a new god. Aaron melted down all their wonderful jewels and gave them money. They called this new religion the Economy. They built a great city, devoted to money. Len Brown said “This is the most liveable city in the world. It has shops with everything you would want to buy.”

God was understandably upset. Yahweh spoke “they have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten gold and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. I can see how headstrong these people are. My wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them.” However the School of Theology pleaded with God to accept a compromise. Which brings us to today’s seminar. Unlike Rod Oram I do not like the idea of compromise. It is a luxury we do not have time for.

The third reading is all about the meek inheriting the earth, but you do not win architectural awards with that kind of attitude so it might be better to just ignore the third reading. You have heard it all before.

Today’s sermon, in the way that sermons are supposed to do, comments on the readings and suggests that theology has quite a lot to say about the city.

Image Proposition one.

If what God gave us was so good then it does not need improving.
Less architecture is good architecture.

Last night Rod Oram told us all about the stuff we were going to need for new cities. He was completely wrong. When I run a course on Green Architecture the first thing I do is to build the venue. At the end of the course we ask if we have produced more than we have consumed. If we have a surplus we have sustainability. Sustainability simply means you produce more than you consume.




Image For non-believers.

Architecture normally begins by destroying our memories, our heritage, our landforms and almost everything else.
Architecture does far more damage than earthquakes.
The way we build is destroying our world.
Radical change is needed, not better design.

Rod Oram missed the mark again. Trashing our environment adds to GDP.




Image Lesson for Monday for Auckland City.

We need total protection of the volcanic landform of the isthmus. Now.
No building in Auckland should be higher than three stories.
The materialist den of iniquity will go on erecting cathedrals to money.
The economy is their religion. Leave them to it. Try to be tolerant.

We need theologians with some passion and commitment. Do you believe or do you not believe? If you believe get on with it. Do not leave it to pussy-foot planners.





Image Lesson for architects

We might do better to spend time enjoying what we have instead of wasting money trying to improve it. Forget all that triple glazing and insulation trying to protect us from God. God is a friend, not an enemy.

Again Rod Oram completely missed the point. Spending money on the wrong things is great for the economy, but really bad theology.




ImageProposition two.

If we are on a journey to God then too much baggage gets in the way.
Travel light and take time to stop on the way. Life is a pilgrimage.
We journey through time as well as space.

Again Rod missed the point. For a theologian all that baggage gets in the way.






Image For non-believers.

If you take more baggage than you need when climbing a mountain
you will die before you ever get to the top.
A big house does not set you free. It becomes a prison.

Rod was presuming we need more of everything. We need less.




Image Lesson for Monday for Auckland City.

We do not need more roads to allow us to escape from where we are.
We need local communities, with local personalities,
where everything is within walking distance.
The super-city was the most stupid idea Rodney ever dreamt up.

Rod’s idea of economic growth is environmental suicide.





Image Lesson for architects

We need diversity and complexity, not award winning architecture.
Life is not a competition. We want architects to build a world where there are no losers.

The globalisation Rod was talking about is exactly what we don’t need.





Image Proposition three

Our relationship with God is what matters.

I take this as a given.






Image For non-believers

Life is not about the bits of the jigsaw but how they relate to each other.
Integration is the name of the game.

We should not waste our time trying to convert others.
We would be better to convert ourselves.





Image Lesson for Monday for Auckland City.

We need integration, not isolation. We want old people sharing their stories and wisdom with young people, not locked away in retirement villages. The planning process has got it completely wrong. The industrial revolution was a long time ago. With the cloud who needs an office building any more?

We have smart phones and dumb cities.






Image Lesson for architects

Social responsibility needs to drive our built environment. Most of us could work from home four days a week, spending the other day having a great time socialising. This is going to need a different design of house, allowing us privacy. We need houses which are modules, able to be assembled in different ways. Forget the nuclear family. Live close to nature.

A professional thinks about social responsibility. Business people don’t.





ImageProposition four

Our journey to God is always a personal one. We need to follow our own path.

Beware of people who tell you what to do. Beware of people who try to run your life for you.  Beware of planners.







Image For non-believers

Every person is different. Because all our brains are different no one can actually hear what anyone else is saying. Do not waste the only life you have trying to imitate someone else. Be yourself.

Our political structures are completely daft.




Image Lesson for Monday for Auckland City

All concentrations of power lead to corruption.
Fundamentalism is the greatest problem of our time.
The Auckland Council is consumed by the tyranny of fundamentalism.

Collecting rates off people so that you can tell them how to live is unjust. It is oppression of the worst kind. Fortunately we know that empires based on greed always collapse. The sooner the better so that we can be free.






Image Lesson for architects

Forget about plans, submissions, hearings and court cases. They are a complete waste of time. They come between people and life.

We need a built environment which will allow people to be fully alive.







Image Proposition five

The city of God is now.
Today is all you have. Enjoy it.
The process of building is what life is about.
Get involved in co-creation.
Forget consumer products.

A city is not just another consumer product.





Image For non-believers

Do not get fooled by all the people who promise a better tomorrow.
Forget about one day arriving in a heaven where the Auckland Council has finally got it right. I’m sorry. It’s an illusion.

When you get there you will only find another council making another plan.






Image Lesson for Monday for Auckland City

The Wynyard Quarter is not just crass and offensive to Christians. The flaunting of opulence makes everyone feel sick.

Get a life. People who are so insecure that they need to bask in power should be sent off to Great Barrier Island with a one-way ticket.




Image Lesson for architects

Humility has a lot going for it.
We need to focus on doing simple things exquisitely well, everywhere.
Every step we take in life should bring us joy.
Architecture which gets between us and life should never be built.

Theology not only has something to say. It offers a message which should be shouted from the rooftops. If Theology changes nothing then I have been wasting my time.





A paper presented at

Theology in the City: A Focus on Auckland.
A symposium celebrating ten years of the School of Theology
at the University of Auckland.

Held in the Fale Pasifika on Monday 3 September 2012 4-5pm