I'm here in Orlando, Florida at the WycliffeUSA headquarters. I took my daughter out for a stroll through the parking lot. The heat, humidity and the landscape got me thinking. In anthropology and documentary linguistics we often think about the relationship between people, their culture and social practices, and the land they live on or transverse through. For instance, there is the taxation of land in the Ottoman Empire according to how many trees are on a piece of property (which led to the deforestation of lots of land in the Middle East). In biblical accounts of the depopulation of the Palestinian region there are mentions of "barrenness" or deforestation as a result of the change in population activities.
Sidewalk at the WycliffeUSA headquarters.
More recently we can look at issues of urbanization around the world, be they accounts of roads in Australia or Mexico affecting traditional activities and the use of land by indigenous peoples, or of refugees needing wood fires for cooking in Africa.
So if we take as truth this relationship between us and the land we steward, what then should be our response
? It is also equally striking that if we look back though history, that major architectural features are built and new designs are established based on the priorities of institutional management. For instance, consider The Roman emperors and the colosseum, Egypt and the pyramids, Noah and the ark, the Vatican and St. Peter's basilica, or the USA Vietnam war memorial with the names of the fallen soldiers written on it. Our architectural legacy (which is part of our land use) leaves a testament to our management priorities.
When I was in Africa doing some linguistic field work, I was approached by a local fellow who does a bit of mentoring of local young men; teaching them life skills and stewardship practices. He asked me how many fruit trees I have on my property. I told him "none" (as I had forgotten about the fig tree on my rental property in Texas and the house I was living in at the time in Oregon had no fruit trees at all). This Nigerian continued to tell me that fruit trees are really important because they not only affect the quality of the ground but they also provide income. For him a fruit tree on his property means that he has shade in an air conditioner-less society, and fruit in season -- meaning: He does not have to pay for food and can send one of his kids to market to sell his excess fruit (income instead of expense). He also said, that one must plant fruit trees early in life (and it is therefore important for young men to know) because it takes time (years) for fruit trees to be productive.
My response in the two and a half years since being asked if I have fruit trees on my property has been that I have planted four fruit trees, eleven fruiting shrubs, and two fruiting bramble patches. While I have chosen fruits that I like and grow in my region, my attention to planing fruit trees at all can be directly traced to my conversation with this Nigerian. And now that I am in my 30's it is my hope that my daughter will have fruit from my trees.
I planted a plum tree and a row of blueberries.
I planted three fig trees on the lower course.
So as I walk with my daughter though the walking paths at the Wycliffe headquarters in the 9 AM morning sun and humidity of a Florida August in full swing, I appreciate the few shade trees in the landscaping around the buildings. But I wonder: "why no fruit trees?"
A view over the east side of the Wycliffe headquarters.
In contrast to the trees on the east side of the buildings, the west side contains a rain/drainage pond (an important feature in Florida) and grassy fields.
A view over the west side of the Wycliffe headquarters.
So as I walk the grounds of the Wycliffe headquarters I wonder what the architecture can tell us about the priorities of the organizational management. I wonder why there are (beautiful albeit fruitless) trees on the east side and plains on the west side.The author of the book Rich dad, poor dad
talks about buying assets which make us money rather than buying assets which cost us money. Money is one easy way that American culture can quantify the propensity to be sustainable. That is, profitability and sustainability are not the same, but profitability metics can be used as an indicator for some sorts of sustainability. The principle can be expounded upon even for non-profit organizations. Assets which pay for themselves contribute to the organization's sustainability. I wonder how many NGOs (not just WycliffeUSA) treat their land as an asset which should pay for itself. I think it is particularly interesting to consider in WycliffeUSA's case because sustained use of it's products is one of its businesses goals. That is, how integrated into the corporation's activities is the ideas of stewardship and sustainability?
I am no expert on Floridian horticulture but I wonder what sort of analogies can be drawn between the state of the grounds and the organizational priorities as pursued by management.
I do know that oranges grow in Florida, I wonder if Wycliffe had a grove of oranges and had a you-pick (pay version) if that would add social value to the property in the eyes of local Floridians. Communities form around food and the food gathering process. Or if the orange grove was a free you-pick could Wycliffe organize an open house to coincide with orange season to meet both practical and spiritual needs of local Americans interested in holistic ministry to native and minority language speaking peoples?
In terms of architecture I'm no expert on facility maintenance or on Florida weather but it seems that solar power would also be a financially benefiting venture for an organization depending on fluctuating income streams.