What is a social architect?

To be honest, I really don’t know.

Stephen Bau
10 min readNov 25, 2016

The label is certainly pretentious. It implies two things: mastery of a craft and social intelligence.

Not everyone can claim the designation of architect. Those who have achieved success in the lengthy education process of becoming an architect have demonstrated both creative and intellectual abilities and the stamina, perseverance and discipline to engage in a multi-disciplinary profession that combines art, engineering and social science.

Work Experience

I used to work in a design studio with a cantankerous old man who was a mentor to me in ways I haven’t really understood or appreciated. He was a very generous man who gave me my first real job as a designer and art director. He would say things like, “It’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” It’s not really a fair comparison. I’m sure that there are worse things, but that would be one of the worst things I could think of as someone whose identity has been wrapped up in the desire to be a designer since I was in grade 8. Everything I did was single-mindedly focused on becoming what was then known as a commercial artist. To lose my eyesight would be a devastating blow to my identity.

Another mentor thought I would make a good deacon. Our pastor and their family invited our family into their home to be part of their family. Theirs was the first church where we felt like we belonged. My pastor said to me one time, “Don’t find your identity in your work as a designer.” I never followed his advice, because I wasn’t sure who I was. I identify myself as a husband, a father and a designer. I don’t see myself as a leader. I have not wanted a position of authority over other people because I don’t consider myself to have learned enough to have earned that responsibility. I want people to be free to make their own decisions. I am happiest when I am serving other people and collaborating with them by doing good work with a high level of craft, creativity and innovation.

The worship pastor thought I would make a good musician. I played keyboards — not well, but well enough for our little church. A guest musician came one week to play with our band, and ridiculed me for playing a wrong note. The church grew. Professional musicians joined our church. Then I realized I no longer belonged in that group. I haven’t played much since then.

The lead pastor and worship pastor wanted to get outside of the walls of the church and love God by loving people. They mentored me in what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. They had crazy ideas like doing random acts of kindness in our city. They organized a group to meet on Saturdays to clean bathrooms, rake leaves, give out light bulbs, and offer free soft drinks and hot dogs. They asked me if I could design T-shirts and safety vests that read, “Kindness under construction.” My pastor had this idea that church should be friends sitting at tables and enjoying conversations together over a meal. He called this “Table Sunday” and we did that once a month.

We were having such a good time every Saturday morning doing random acts of kindness that we thought it would be great to invite other churches to join us. Our worship pastor asked me if I could design another shirt that read, in effect, “Love [Your City].” I also designed cards, posters, and an album cover and liner notes featuring the musicians who collaborated to gather large groups of people to hold a concert to celebrate the unified voice we had created in our city to say that God is love, and we are all just here to love each other. The majority of the churches in our city had come together, from all sorts of denominations, to engage their congregations in the work of loving our neighbours. It became a sort of social movement as the idea spread to different cities. The idea had spread to us from Cincinnati where people were engaged in what they called a conspiracy of kindness.

During that time something tragic happened. Early one morning, the worship pastor and I met for breakfast and I said, I just heard something on the radio. A plane flew into the World Trade Center.

Then another tragedy happened. Our church suddenly grew from about 150 to close to 800 people. But it seemed like these were people from other churches who just wanted to be where the popular people were. Things were never the same after that. We stopped eating together, friendships faded, our pastor and his family moved to England, and our family moved to a church where we could get to know our neighbours just a short walk from our home. After the pastor’s family left, people struggled over who should take over the leadership of that church, and the church split into two. Over time, the worship pastor left his position and he doesn’t work for the church anymore. The movement to love our neighbours came to an abrupt end.

Politics happened: people politicking over privilege, position and power. (Politics pooped on our parade.)

It seemed from my perspective that a preponderance of people perpetuated perplexity as pain proliferated profusely throughout our population.

Lately, I have been considering changing my profession, or perhaps adding a new job title to my resume.


I stumbled upon the term social architecture by accident as I was researching for courses in leadership at a local university. My goal was to become an instructor of design at an even more local (for me) university.

Because of my ongoing fascination with the Bauhaus, I was intrigued by the notion of a new kind of artistic community that was formed for the purpose of reimagining the built environment.

The manifesto of the school combined ideas of social structure with art, craft and architecture to form a new unity. So I put the two terms, “social” and “architecture,” together and started my search for people who were already engaged in this work.

That’s when I learned about Cardus.

Cardus (root: cardo) is a think tank dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture. Drawing on more than 2000 years of Christian social thought, we work to enrich and challenge public debate through research, events, and publications, for the common good.

New York Times columnist David Brooks says it better:

We still have one party that talks the language of government and one that talks the language of the market. We have no party that is comfortable with civil society, no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together.

But at least the debate is started. Maybe that new wind will come.


Why is this project called Cardus needed at this moment? Here lies my central argument. Civic, social, cultural and economic flourishing requires a new and different arrangement of our social institutions. This can only happen with a different understanding of culture-change and a new openness to public exchange which allows the sharing of our most deeply held convictions.

Canada’s new social architecture is the recovery or discovery that institutions can play a vital role in mediating between government and the individual, between business and labour associations, volunteer associations, cultural institutions, families, faith communities and educational institutions. Unfortunately, many of these spheres of society have deferred their authority and public space to the state, the market, or the individual.

The Bauhaus was dismantled in 1933 because of a maniacal megalomaniac whose manifesto manipulated men into making a menacing machine to murder mankind.

This creative, collaborative community was a victim of politics. I have seen the effects of politics in family, in businesses, in institutions, in municipalities, in regions, in nation states and in world affairs. I have actively avoided participation in politics because of its corrosive effects on the common good, authentic community, and human flourishing.

Personal Experience

I run from politics when I see people abusing power. I have not wanted to become another of its victims yet again. I merely want the freedom to create and collaborate with my collective.

In hindsight, running from conflict has not been an effective strategy.


Nature abhors a vacuum.

In the vacuum created by the poverty we currently face in our desire and need for good leaders, we have damaged and dangerous demagogues who have dalliances with democracy as they gladly fill the void to determine our destiny.

The current political climate has activated our lizard brains. The amygdala has been stimulated by predators roaming around as would-be leaders whom we perceive to be threatening our very way of life. Our fight or flight instincts are creating autonomic physical responses that we cannot control. Under these conditions, our brains go into a state of emergency, and give us only two choices: fear or anger in the form of adrenaline and cortisone, which are released in situations of high anxiety and stress. These chemicals have real physical effects on our brains and neural pathways, altering our thoughts and decision-making abilities. We respond by lashing out or by fleeing the scene of an incident.

Why are people getting killed in the streets? Because we are physical beings who have an autonomic nervous system that takes over rational thought when confronted with physical and emotional threats and dangerous situations.

The American election has put the entire world into a state of emergency, because the stakes have become so high. The human capacity for destruction has reached such levels that we no longer know how it can be contained.

If there was ever a time to learn the skills that lead to emotional intelligence, it is now.

Some Free Advice

The first hour is always free

Donald J. Trump, I love you, man.

You have masterfully manipulated the media to suit your own aspirations for world domination. And I must say, kudos. No one saw that coming except the man of the people, Michael Moore. (And, perhaps, David Duke.) You wrote the book on the art of the deal and you followed through by making a deal with the American people that they could not refuse. Enough of them bought your TV shopping channel pitch that the other half are experiencing buyer’s remorse on behalf of your entire nation of materialistic consumers. Well played. Well played.

But, as you well know, the power of a brand is to deliver on its promises. It is time to deliver and you need to quickly learn about lean methodology, open source collaboration, human-centred design, and experience design. Most of all, read up on history and trends that have some forecasting value so you can understand our times and where we need to go next. This would be a fantastic read for you:

The Third Industrial Revolution

While you are at it, you need to understand some basic scientific principles, starting with the laws of cause and effect. To this date, you have not been held accountable for your actions and you have not learned that certain behaviours normally result in specific and unavoidable consequences. Unfortunately, you do not live in a nation that believes in the rule of law. Now, you live in a nation that believes in the rule of the market. I know you understand this because you have deftly manipulated the American legal system to bend the laws according to your will by appealing to your imaginary God, the Dollar Almighty. In God You Trust and he is made of paper. He is as thin skinned as you are. But now that you are heading into public office as the market candidate, you must submit to the rules of the market or you will fail. You will be fired.

To avoid getting fired, good leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter and more experienced than themselves. If you hire people who are just like yourself, you will fail and you will be fired. Whatever you do, DO NOT — I repeat — DO NOT surround yourselves with religious political pundits and televangelists. They are con men and hucksters just like you and will be no help at all. Come on, you know that’s who you are. Why do you think they voted for you?

The point is, that does not have to be your identity. You are human. You are alive. And you have the power to change. And I mean, A LOT OF POWER. To Change. Everything.

This is your moment. I know you can do it. Everyone is watching you. This is your time to shine.

Surround yourself with artists, architects, engineers, scientists, sociologists, psychologists, teachers, counsellors, physicists, astronomers, theologians, pastors, rabbis, and, yes, imams, too. And don’t forget the children. Children can teach you so much about sharing, generosity, play, laughter, joy, and love.

A Decent Proposal

Now, back to business. Who will be your Chief Design Officer? What I know from personal experience is that design influences. Ask the most successful corporations in the world how they have come to rule the world. Oh, you thought the presidency was your ticket to world domination? You were sold a bill of goods. The office of president is something different. You are in a democracy and you just became a public servant, a veritable slave to your people. You are now public servant number one. Your example is Jesus, who so loved the entire world that he gave his life for the whole world. Now that is your job.

You are our personal Jesus.

Is that what you signed up for? Who is feeling buyer’s remorse now?

You have an opportunity to become the great social architect of our time. If you succeed, I will be proud to call you an inspiration, and I will regard you as a friend and mentor.

My advice: Do not build walls and borders. Bricks and mortar capitalism is in decline and we are in a new economy. Build institutions that support human flourishing.

A New Economy, a documentary by friend and colleague, Trevor Meier of Domain7 Studios

Now, it is time for your come to Jesus moment. Time is wasting and you are going to have to deliver on your promises, and quickly before the people offer you up for crucifixion. Welcome to adulthood and democracy. It’s a whole new world.

Think different. It will be like magic. I’d like to give the world a Coke as we watch you create world peace and harmony. I’m loving it.

Welcome to the world of market politics.

Donald J. Trump, I would like to personally thank you for your time and attention.

Best regards,

Stephen Samuel Bau

Social Architect
Builders Collective Inc

Chief Design Officer
The Design Administration

Self-appointed Advisor to the President of The United States of America



Stephen Bau

Designer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective. We are exploring how we imagine, design, and build the future together. https://bldrs.co