Erik Johnson is a licensed architect in the state of Minnesota, he holds NCARB certification and is a member of the American Institute of Architects. Erik attended the University of Minnesota where he received his Master of Architecture. He worked for eleven years at Station Nineteen Architects in Minneapolis before starting Stone Tent Architecture in 2015. Erik and his wife, Christine, have four children.
Faith & Building
For the last 20 years, I have been asking questions about the relationship between faith and architecture, how my life and my work could intersect, how they could influence each other, and ultimately how I could be involved in a work that is meaningful and impactful to people’s lives. This ongoing pursuit has fueled both my education and my practice; originating in graduate school, as I pursued opportunities to research and study faith’s influence on architecture, and then being tested in the setting of an architecture firm that focused on church design. Though every building doesn’t find a direct application here, this has developed an underlying approach to search out and strengthen the life and meaning in each project, always searching for a wholeness in design.
I have expressed my personal ongoing study of architecture and faith under the heading: Participating in the Work of Creation. Architecture that looks to the creative work of God around us as the beginning point, the first words, the start of the conversation, and sets out to understand how we as creatures of this masterful Creator can take notice and continue this conversation.
It was partly this pursuit that was at the root of a move my family made in 2014, as I left the architecture firm I had worked at for 11 years, sold our home, and moved an hour out of the city to a 23 acre parcel of land. We wanted to be close to the creation, to immerse ourselves in the work of a rural place and allow the building of a new home to be a true response and continued conversation in the work of the creation.
So we left everything that was familiar to us and found ourselves camping on our land that fall, learning the unique identity of this place, beginning the design of a new home, establishing a new architecture firm and discovering a new life.
A place to grow
I want to build something that has a real conversation with life and with the creation around us and I want to engage others in that. To allow architecture to be part of a conversation means that it has to be more than a picture in a magazine, more than a preconception, it has to unite with real things, real stories and real people. Architecture has to grow out of our situation. My family’s beginnings on this piece of land are an opportunity to grow in this and build it into the foundation of the firm. I am amazed at the relationships we have formed in this place and the encouragement we have received from sharing our story in the community.
As we began work on our land and house we spent a lot of time there in a camping state. When we first came to the land in the summer of 2014, we stayed in a borrowed RV for a short time, then a couple of tents when weather allowed, and then for most of 2015 in what we lovingly call the tent shack. Basically, a glorified in-process platform tent - a gathering place for our family, a symbol, and going forward a gazebo/screened eating area/guest camping cabin/writers shack. There are some permanent aspects to it such as concrete deck footings and a wood floor, and then there is the tent, flexible and thin, barely covering us from the elements. Our family enjoys our time there, the closeness to nature and each other. It was a great way to begin getting to know our land. While camping, the seasons seem more real, the sun more important, and simple elements like cooked food and clean water more valuable. We treasured this time even in the midst of some of the trials a temporary and unsettled life brings. But there is a real desire for something more permanent. And we all desire our tents to be turned into stone, whether they are our dreams, a house, a business or simply our lives.
Architecture is a movement from tent to stone. The tent is the limitless open, the wandering, the hopes and inspiration. The stone is fixed, complete, permanent and grounded. When we make that move through architecture away from the tent to the stone it is a good thing, but we must still retain something of the tent, the desires and hopes that originally moved us, and the fleeting things that first called to us must still be present.
I found this tent shack we were living in, while building our house, as a metaphor, transferring naturally into bigger questions about how best architecture can serve people, and how it best supports our lives. The name Stone Tent comes from a belief that good architecture must engage and make present both the fleeting, meaningful experiences of life, that are sometimes nearly invisible, as well as the permanent necessities of concrete footings, a roof and plumbing. Architecture carries with it the paradox of these light, momentary things joined with heavy, permanent things. The events of our lives that take place within the spaces we build are the real stuff of architecture, and architecture must frame these events with care and purpose or risk being dead spaces.
Stone Tent is a challenge to keep the “tent” present in the work as we move toward the “stone”. To continually remind ourselves of the real aspects of life. It is a challenge that when we turn the tent into stone we are not making an object, but a place. A place for life to happen. Also, since most of us, for the greater part of our lives, find ourselves in some sort of “tent” phase, unsettled and waiting, Stone Tent is also a challenge to see the “stone” present, or at least its hope materialized, in the place of the tent. Architecture is not just a question of taste and style, it is that which shapes and supports our lives on a daily basis. It lends an image to the unseen aspects of our lives, our deeper hopes and desires. My hope is that Stone Tent will be about work that stands at this edge between the tent and the stone.
he lived in tents… For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. - Hebrews 11:9-10