Design as a Catalyst Towards Redemptive Imagination: Part 1

By Suzie Sang , suziesang

May 8, 2023

De Pree Journal

For a really long time, I have been fascinated by interior designers. I love to see a designer walking into a space that is dated or in disrepair and, alongside the client, reimagine what that space could become. Sometimes the client wants an upgrade to a more modern feel or they want to do significant repairs to an existing space. I especially look forward to the “before” and “after” photos.

Some time ago, I watched a makeover show on HGTV that featured a bathroom remodel. The bathroom was from the 1950s, showcasing cotton candy pink bathtub tiles with yellow flowers and plasticky vinyl flooring with a design that didn’t really complement the tiles or the mint green wall color. And the vanity, apparently made of bagasse board or some kind of fiberglass whose heyday was 50 years prior, reminded the viewer that it was obviously time for an upgrade.

Early in the episode, the client and designer met to do an evaluation of the space. The designer asked specific questions about what the homeowner envisioned and what they wanted to keep (if anything) from the current bathroom. Only then did they make a plan for the next phase of the process¬—demolition. (Doesn’t it always look like so much fun? Swinging a huge sledgehammer while knowing a makeover is pending seems weirdly cathartic.)

After the demo was done, all you could see was the bathroom’s bare bones—exposed piping, a hole where the toilet was, wood framing, and completely exposed walls. New materials were brought in, and thirty minutes later the bathroom makeover was done. TV magic.

It Takes Creative Imagination
Here’s what I want to know: How did the designer know that moving the tub and putting a walk-in shower would turn out like that? Or, how did they know that choosing those tiles would bring a much lighter and airy feel to the bathroom? And that if they designed the cabinets this way it would free up that much space? It all requires creative imagination. It asks those doing the redesign to envision something beyond what the space was and to also imagine the bathroom beyond its state after demolition.

So, what does it take to have this type of creative imagination? As I think more about it, I am reminded that God has given all of us the capacity to be imaginative and to be creative. We are created in God’s image and a dimension of that image is God’s own creativity and imagination. How else would there be thousands of types and species of flowers around the world? And how could humans continue to use science to discover cures for diseases, create medicines, and find more advanced ways of saving lives? It all takes creativity and imagination (and a few other things, of course) to do all of that, right?

Now, back to the bathroom makeover. The designers on these shows have a particular eye for design that goes beyond ‘basic creativity’ which I would label as an artistic skill. Having this skill is unique to some but it doesn’t negate the truth that we all have the ability to be creative and imaginative. Unlike God, we are not able to create things ex-nihilo (out of nothing) and therefore we use materials that have already been created to create something else. In the new bathroom on the HGTV show, those brand new tiles they will install and the fancy new glass walk-in shower use materials that are already in existence to showcase the makeover. The designer has also repurposed the space in the bathroom to engineer a new layout that will accommodate the vision that the homeowner desires. And sometimes, a designer may reuse a piece of old wood from the vanity to create a frame for a decorative mirror that may be installed over the sink. All of these reflect some of the ways we use our creativity and imagination to ‘redeem’ and reimagine existing spaces and raw materials.

Redemptive Imagination at Work
So what does this have to do with Redemptive Imagination at work? I am glad you asked. As a mid-career leader, I think of the work that I do daily against the backdrop of my imagination and the reminder that I serve a very creative and imaginative God. When I think about Redemptive Imagination, what comes to mind is using my imagination, which is informed by the values of the kingdom and the way of Jesus, to bring shalom to broken places. In part 2 of this article, I will discuss four elements we need in order to engage in redemptive imagination at work.

Banner image via Unsplash.

Suzie Sang

Research Associate

Dr. Suzie Sang is a research associate at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership where she provides support for the research and resource arm of the De Pree Center. She has a BSc in International Relations and Management from the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, an MDiv degre...

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