The Embrace of Buildings

The Embrace of Buildings

Basic information

  • Author(s):
  • Published: September 15, 2017
  • Publisher: Calvin College Press
  • Page count: 172
  • ISBN: 978-1-937555-25-2
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-937555-26-9

The Embrace of Buildings

In a culture long enamored of the suburban ideal, Lee Hardy invites readers to reconsider the many advantages of living and working in walkable city neighborhoods.

The Embrace of Buildings provides an overview of the key factors, topics, and issues in Anglo-American urbanism: the origins and development of the suburban ideal, the role of federal policies and spending priorities in shaping the built environment, the rise of the private automobile as the primary mode of transportation, the effects of functional zoning laws, the relation between the public realm and the quality of civic discourse, the influence of modernism on city planning, the impact of low-density development on public health, the connection between development and city budgets, the impact of urbanism on the environment, and the problem of gentrification. In a culture long enamored of the suburban ideal, Hardy invites his readers to reconsider the many advantages of living and working in walkable city neighborhoods—compact neighborhoods characterized by a fine network of pedestrian-friendly streets, mixed land uses, mixed housing types, and a full range of transit options. In addition, he investigates the role religion has played in defining American attitudes towards the city, and the difference church location makes in Christian ministry and mission.

Illustrated Companions to The Embrace of Buildings by Lee Hardy

ND design studioThe illustrated companions to The Embrace of Buildings are free online resources. These companion sites provide a visual tour of good and poor uses of our built environment as described by Lee Hardy.

Part 1: Preface - Chapter 5

Part 2: Chapters 6 - 10

Part 3: Chapters 11-16


"Lee’s brief responses to the typical academic criticisms of New Urbanism are the most elegant and concise I have ever read."
—Stefanos Polyzoides, Partner, MOULE & POLYZOIDES, Architects and Urbanists, Pasadena, California

"With the precision of a philosopher, the patience of a teacher, and the depth of a theologian, Lee Hardy has deftly combined autobiography, history, economics, anthropology, biblical wisdom, and common sense to produce The Embrace of Buildings. Intended for fledgling urbanists generally but with a special nod to Christian congregations, Lee's succinct and engaging account of the elements and principles, personal pleasures, objective benefits, and sacred implications of life in traditional city neighborhoods is both a fine introduction to urbanism and an attractive invitation to further on-site study."
—Philip Bess, Professor of Architecture at The University of Notre Dame and author of Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and The Sacred

"In this marvelous little book, Lee Hardy performs a feat of inverse magic: he makes the city that’s right in front of you suddenly appear as if for the first time. Imagine a Christian philosopher taking you on an intellectual tour of your built environment: you’ll see sidewalks and subways with new eyes. You'll begin to see how your commute and zoning codes are matters of justice and love of neighbor. You'll realize that bus stops and bike lanes have something to do with the kingdom of God. This is discipleship for the streets."
—James K.A. Smith, Calvin College, editor of Comment magazine and author of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

"The 'built environment' is a topic that almost nobody knows they care about until someone helps them see that it is the hidden key to almost everything else. One would be hard pressed to find an area of social concern that doesn't have a central built environment component. Christians who care about their neighbors and the health of our culture should care deeply about this topic. I can think of no better guide to help Christians navigate this topic than Lee Hardy. Lee has been thinking about and teaching on the built environment for a couple of decades now and his mastery of this subject comes through on every page. I can't recommend this book highly enough."
—Eric O. Jacobsen, author of Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith

"The Embrace of Buildings is a vital, mind-expanding, and paradigm shifting read for anyone sensing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News for everyone and everything. Setting his sights squarely on the built environment Lee Hardy not only helps us to see the places we inhabit afresh, but dares us to wonder how our personal and ecclesial practices might actively participate in realizing more fully God’s Shalomic imagination within our neighborhoods.  This book represents a new frontier in Christian mission."
—Dwight J. Friesen, Associate Professor of Practical Theology at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, co-author of The New Parish, co-founder of the Inhabit Conference, and core faculty of Leadership in the New Parish

Review from The Banner

by Eve Clayton, February 2, 2018

How did urban sprawl get its start? What do walkable neighborhoods and mixed-use zoning have to do with loving our neighbor? Why should we care about the way our cities are built?

Lee Hardy, a philosophy professor at Calvin College, explores these kinds of questions in a compelling new book about urban design and city life. Thoroughly researched and rich with examples from dozens of places, The Embrace of Buildings reveals the author’s love of vibrant communities and good design—as well as his concern for economic justice and creation care. Readers will see the cities around them with new eyes.

The book looks at how 20th-century zoning and urban development trends shifted the focus—especially in the United States—from compact, inclusive neighborhoods to spread-out suburbs and exurbs. From public transportation and foot traffic to private automobiles. From engagement with neighbors to increased isolation.

Hardy argues for a return to walkable cities with shared public spaces.

Perhaps it’s time, he says, “to rediscover the virtues of urban neighborhoods, to recognize their unique features and assets, to appreciate their social and cultural diversity, even to consider dwelling in them and trying to make them both good and affordable places for others to live.”

Using stories from cities like Seattle, New York, and Hamilton, Ont., Hardy paints a convincing picture of what can happen when citizens—and churches—work to (re)claim their communities for the common good.

Readers can bring the text to life by scrolling through an online companion to the hard copy—a chapter-by-chapter collection of photos and drawings that illustrate the book’s themes and examples.
Used by permission, The Banner, April 2018.

About the Author

A native of Southern California, Lee Hardy received his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at Trinity Christian College in Chicago and his graduate degrees in Philosophy at Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1981 he has taught philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Specializing in modern philosophy and phenomenology, Prof. Hardy has published works on David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Edmund Husserl, including Nature’s Suit: Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenological Philosophy of the Physical Sciences (Ohio University Press). He is also the general editor and co-author of The Little Logic Book (Calvin College Press). For a more general readership, he has published The Fabric of This World (Eerdmans), a study in the philosophy and theology of work and vocation.

Since the late 1990s, Prof. Hardy has turned attention to issues in urbanism and urban design, publishing in the cultural history of urbanism in the Anglo-American tradition, and teaching a course on urban design during the January Interim at Calvin College. Over the course of his academic career, Prof. Hardy has lived in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Valparaiso, Cologne (Germany), Aberdeen (Scotland), and London (England); his adult children live in Chicago, New York City, Washington, DC, and Baltimore.

The Shape of God's Church is Changing

(An article from the Christian Reformed Church, November 15, 2017)

As pastor of Awake Church, a small Christian Reformed congregation on the outskirts of downtown Seattle, Wash., Andy Carlson can sometimes feel disconnected from larger CR churches in the area.

The focus of his ministry is different from that of more traditional churches, many of which are outside the city. Read more.


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