National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version


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In: Place, Self, Community: City as Text™ in the Twenty-First Century, Edited by Bernice Braid and Sara E. Quay. National Collegiate Honors Council, 2021.


© 2021 NCHC.


City as Text™ provides a semi-structured learning environment in which small groups of people are challenged to examine parts of a city through “mapping, observing, interpreting, analyzing, reflecting.” In 2014, I (Ron Weerheijm) attended a City as Text (CAT) Faculty Institute in Lyon. During an early session on the hills overlooking the eastern part of Lyon, our group observed a Basilique, the Notre Dame de Fourvière (1872–1884; interior finished 1964). Having a degree in architecture, I looked at this church from architectural and historical viewpoints. I was puzzled. In a quick scan, many different styles competed for my attention, hurting my eyes with all those columns, bases, ceilings, and influences from the Greeks to the Moors and from Ancient Egyptian to French architecture all in one building. My impression was that the church had been built by an architect who had not been able to choose what style to build it in or what tradition to connect it to. At the time, I did not know that locals sometimes referred to the church as “an elephant lying on its back.” I was unconsciously viewing it as an architectural professional with knowledge about the styles and typology of buildings. From this perspective, the church did not fit into any category; it was an outlier. I concluded that the church was bombastic: I emotionally judged it to be ugly. One of our group was a Christian. She looked at the same church I did but reflected on it from a religious perspective: as a place of worship, a place to feel connected to God, and as a place where she could celebrate His “being.” Her upbringing determined her focus of reflections. Our views collided even though we observed the same building from the same hill on the same morning: I thought the church was ugly, whereas she felt it brought her “closer to God.” In our dialogue about why we saw what we saw, we discovered our divergent thoughts and feelings about the same object and could see that they reflected our backgrounds. Her Christian context enriched my perspective on this church, and my architectural context enriched my colleague’s reflections. Instead of accepting polarizing views, we became aware that our inner context strongly determines how we reflect on external cues and that we are frequently unaware of the impact these internal processes have on our communication with others in daily life.