Story Magazine - Fall, 2012

Engaging design: Luther Seminary graduate combines Christianity and architecture

by Melanie Boulay Becker, Correspondent

The benefits of a theological education go well beyond the potential to preach from a pulpit. Dorothy Probst, '03, knows this firsthand. It was her Luther Seminary education and Luther Seminary President Richard Bliese's book, "Evangelizing Church," that inspired Probst to combine her call as an architect and designer with her Christianity.

"As I read the book, I was filled to overflowing with architectural design concepts, the beginnings of a theological design process and flashing images of building forms in my imagination," said Probst.

This inspiration led her to open nGc Associates--which stands for nature, God, community--in 2011. The company provides services that include research and writing, teaching and curriculum development, speaking and architectural design. Pursuing projects that combine Christianity and American pop culture get special attention Probst prefers to collaborate closely with her clients, an approach she calls "engaging design."

"The process engages people in real time as partners with the architect. The client is physically present and converses with me as I work," she said. "We are truly a team forming ideas and concepts. As a result, the end product--the building or interior space--engages and enhances the spirit of the client's community and lifestyle with God and others."

Probst brings a varied theological background to her work that gives her a unique perspective. "I came to Luther after a lifetime of seeking the right place for me among many denominational and non-denominational congregations," she said. She was raised Presbyterian, and was an American Baptist when she enrolled at Luther. "It wasn't until my last year at Luther that I actually joined Roseville Lutheran Church as a member," she said.

"Because of this journey through many of the mainline American denominations, and extended experiences with nondenominational and charismatic churches, I am uniquely qualified to design buildings and interiors for many Christian groups and denominations."

Probst's current architectural work revolves around her concept of "theological graffiti."

"In my work, theological graffiti is the effective insertion of one aspect, one message, of the canon into a culture, moving that culture one step closer to a relationship with God. Right now, I am focused on American pop culture, researching the insertion of gospel messages into it through built form and space."

Architecturally, Probst currently specializes in 20th century large, solidly built, often brick and stone churches, which she describes as "difficult to access and challenging to redesign for contemporary ministry."

I work with congregations to convey their call from God, as well as their 21st century ministry mission, vision and values, within a revived building space," she said.

In addition, Probst wrote a six-week workshop for creative people from all walks of life called, "Designing the Gospel: Pop Culture and Theology," which she hopes to offer in the Twin Cities in 2013.

Probst's experience as a Luther Seminary Master of Arts student helped her understand Christianity as it relates to our culture today and it taught her how to meet clients' needs. "The pastoral care I learned gives me insight on how to relate to clients and resolve conflict related to ideas and design--whether with people or projects," she said.

"It also gave me the understanding to actually serve a client rather than use a client to express my own design preferences," said Probst, who does not design in a particular style. Her goal is not to design pretty buildings that look good in magazines, but to make inspiring buildings for people.

She stresses that she does not "make up" a design. "I put down what the client and God bring to me. My call is to assist people to take a step closer to the Triune God on their pilgrim journey, whether they are a congregation, a group, a family or an individual."