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Dr. Grauer's Column - Architecture of Belonging

Dr. Grauer's Column - Architecture of Belonging

Architecture of Belonging:
Archetypes and Ecology in Campus Development

The goal of sacred architecture is to make "transparent the boundary between matter and mind, flesh and the spirit." - Norman L. Koonce, Architect

Click here or click on this image to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Grauer reading this column.

Click here to listen to the audio recording of this column.

I have only met one fox, the strangest encounter I have ever had with another species. It was the day I first wandered onto our future campus on El Camino Real. It was early, still dusky. I approached from the start of a dirt pathway developers had put in that would become our driveway. Then I headed into a thicket. Around a cluster of maritime chapparal stood staring at me, bushy tail pointing down, a small red fox.

We froze. I felt sure I must be the one in greater awe. Spirit animals for one another, we both stood transfixed for a while. Different Native American tribes have varied interpretations, but the general belief is that the animal that crosses your path holds significance for your life at that moment. This concept is rooted in the idea that animals possess unique qualities and energies that can offer guidance or insight.

I wondered what it meant to have this land, not any land, but this land in this place. Was there some responsibility?

At our first groundbreaking, I had red sand from Hawaii I had brought home just for this occasion. In the eleventh hour, I learned of its sacred nature and hired a Hawaiian medicine woman to bless it before mixing it into the earth with the traditional Koa wood Hawaiian O’o stick, an item rushed to me by my buddy Dan, a developer from O’ahu. Today, after four groundbreakings, there are pebbles and sand from most continents spread underneath our buildings, underneath the turf, and in the quad. Each groundbreaking brought more archetypes.

Dr. Grauer distributing special sand underneath the foundation of The Justice Center with Isaac Langen and Grauer students - August 31, 2018

Our second groundbreaking created our airy, high-ceilinged “great hall,” now called David C. Meyer Hall. Our landscape architect, alumni dad Gary Story, wrapped this entire, large building in rosemary bushes.  Rosemary is more than just a a drought-tolerant plant suited to our environment, it provides a soothing, therapeutic, and aromatic environment to anyone walking into our classrooms, a biophilic design, emphasizing the integration of nature into architecture. Gary’s use of odor in architecture adds atmosphere, tranquility and even enhanced memory.

Inside, Meyer Hall is wood-beamed structure is an informal fashioning of the halls of academia mastered by the early universities and libraries, with some “lodge” mixed in. Oxford meets Yosemite. On the north end is a giant wall of windows to let light into the campus, and that light passes through a double-sided stone fireplace. For stones there and on our outdoor columns, we selected light brown flagstones for our columns, matched to the surrounding hillside bluffs.

The hearth is a place of warmth and belonging, and our architects gave us the largest in San Diego. Before settlements, people gathered around the fire, and once they were established, people gathered inside around the hearth. Here, oral tradition developed. In mythology as still today, fire awakens the imagination and search for metaphysical. 

The words "heart" and "hearth" are etymologically related and share a common ancestry — the heart as the core of a being and the hearth as the central, warm place in a home. Symbolically, both represent warmth, centrality, and vital importance. Every time I show it for the first time, I repeat that we have the largest heart in San Diego. 

The subconscious impact native colors have on our students and teachers is impactful and ever-present. All paints and paving stones were selected from natural colors which could be found in the hilly bowl that surrounds us, as well. The inside is out. Our external doors: the color of sky. We use light blue as an accent wall color in our classrooms, as well, for its known impacts on concentration and even for stimulating creativity. Or, we use light green, as psychologists have demonstrated that the color green seems to make positive emotions stronger and negative emotions weaker.

If you follow the light through the two-sided fireplace and out the double doors of our great hall, it will lead you directly into our quad’s stone water feature, especially important in the semi-arid San Diego area. The water element brings softening, green, and refreshment to our campus. The four elements of fire, earth, air, and water have long been understood to sustain our existence, a tradition we can trace back 40,000 years. Greek philosophy supposed the Universe to comprise four elements: Fire, Air, Earth, & Water. But there are close similarities in every tradition I have ever seen, such as feng shui, except perhaps in contemporary life.

The gateway is one of humankind’s most iconic archetypes. Archetypes are universally recognized symbols or patterns of behavior that are found across cultures and eras. They often emerge in literature, myths, religions, and dreams, representing fundamental human experiences, hence they are essential to the education of the mind and spirit. I have tried to discuss these with our architects through the years, knowing they are not considered much in school architecture any more.

The Gottleib Family Tolerance Gateway at sunrise - August 26, 2015

As a part of our third groundbreaking, we created the Tolerance Gateway, or The Gottleib Family Tolerance Gateway, where students and faculty enter each day. Now our campus is oriented into an east-facing bowl which catches the first light of the day. We want the entry passage to be transformative, as various ancient traditions have described. For educational institutions, an east-facing entryway can symbolize the pursuit of knowledge, enlightenment, and personal growth, as well as honoring ancestral practices.

As you pass through the gateway and naturally peer diagonally across the quad, you may first view our bell tower, the Hearst Tower, underwritten by Alexis Hearst of the legendary William Randolph Hearst family, built in our fourth groundbreaking, and there are stones from around the world sprinkled under that, as well.

Bells have long been campus archetypes. They commonly represent joy and freedom in communities. Between the gateway and the tower is the heart of the campus, our green quad. The academic quad has deep roots in academic and community traditions: the ancient agora, the town square, piazza or plaza, the courtyard. To all intact cultures, a central gathering space becomes a heart of community.

As a campus ages, the memorials and nooks deepen, grow in, and enrich it with meaning. Two monuments honoring those who came and went before us are set upon the hillside overlooking our campus, the Knute Memorial Bench, in honor of the benefactor of our campus land, and the Chippendale Peace Pole named for a visionary parent whose celebration of life and dying we held on that spot while he was still alive. These monuments also honor the ancient tradition of “the high place,” another archetype. In the Bible and elsewhere, high places offer space for gratitude, reflection, and respect.

Grauer students relaxing on the Knute Memorial Bench near the Habitat Corridor - February 25, 2020

Gardens and trees grow food all around the campus, and they nourish our students on break as well as our teaching kitchen. “Farm to table,” or “school gardens/orchards to teaching kitchen” practices have positive impacts on mental and physical health, and they enrich our sense of belonging. Why? Fresh locally-sourced produce tends to be higher in nutrients. Engaging in growing, harvesting, and cooking food has been shown to improve mental well-being and reduce stress. Gardening or orchard care is beneficial for both individual fitness and social connection. Engaging with local food systems leads our students to more sustainable habits. Understanding where food comes from and how to grow it empowers individuals to make informed choices. And, as any gardener will tell you, being involved in every step of the food journey provides an artistic, multi-sensory experience. I hope every Grauer teacher will engage classes in growing and in our teaching kitchen, as there is no student or subject areas that cannot gain in depth through this practice.

All of our gardening is backed up by acres of native coastal sage and maritime chapparal, just as the Kumeyaay before us found it. Open space may not be considered an archetype, except for its age-old role in providing for self-organization, a fundamental school founding principle at our school in particular. A great school must be a choice for students, never compulsory. 

Grauer students making waffles in the Teaching Kitchen with Tracy Ahrens - October 14, 2022

On today’s big comprehensive campuses, it seems every square inch is taken to task and developed for efficiency. But open space is not for tasks. Open space defies the blueprint, the fixed form, and the timeline. It may be our purest archetype of all. It is filled with mystery to those who access that, like a fox.

Our campus has integrity. No color used in any of our four phases of construction or on the ground is foreign to the natural ecosystem a red fox might live in, though I have never seen a fox since that day.

Early human civilizations found ways of channeling natural forces as they created enduring human archetypes that we now try to divine. The archetypes we employ as a part of our campus were formed long ago in concert with natural laws, but we must also understand the need to preserve the natural systems that have been there all along in support of the fox, as well as the coyote, the rattlesnake, the bobcat, and the wood rat, along with the coastal sage and maritime chapparal—and not forgetting the small, scrub oak tree we call the encinitas.

I have learned that, historically, churches and temples have often been built on sites that were somehow considered sacred. Sometimes there were earlier structures. Some were crossroads. Other places may have been deemed spiritually potent or powerful, with natural features like springs, caves, or unique geological formations that seemed inherently sacred. There is evidence that our site was farmed by the early, indigenous people in this area.

Throughout history, some schools have been built on sites that were considered sacred or significant for these same reasons. For example, many of the early European universities evolved from cathedral schools or monastic centers of learning. Great schools like Island Wood on Bainbridge Island, Green School in Bali, The College of the Atlantic near Arcadia National Park, and Waldorf Schools all over the world integrate the local ecosystems into their curriculum and campus. This is The Grauer School's intent and great blessing.

Alas, the letters I have written to our architects through the decades have been longer than this too-long, inefficient blog. Maintaining timeless archetypes that students can feel on campus, however subtly, far outweighs any merit we could find for the standard, efficient school goals: increasing class size, adding more programs or parking spaces, or building eye-catching architectural monuments. 

Our higher goal is for our students and teachers to assimilate the spirit and rhythms of the natural world as well as the traditions willed by those who came before us. Call it well-being, cultural preservation, spiritual connection, generative thinking, elder wisdom, or resilience, our campus embodies the sustainable, mindful and far-sighted way of living we want for all with whom we share it, especially foxes and students.

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Click here or click on this image to watch a YouTube video of Dr. Grauer reading this column.

Dr. Grauer distributing special sand underneath the foundation of The Justice Center with Isaac Langen and Grauer students - August 31, 2018

The Gottleib Family Tolerance Gateway at sunrise - August 26, 2015

Grauer students relaxing on the Knute Memorial Bench near the Habitat Corridor - February 25, 2020

Grauer students making waffles in the Teaching Kitchen with Tracy Ahrens - October 14, 2022

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