Articles and Reviews


The Christmas Crib's relevance to architecture -

In her column in Building Design on 15 December 2000 Jeanette Winterson wrote about the traditional Christmas crib and its relevance to architecture today.


 -beyond Christmas  

Crib scenes are "a focus of meditation as well as pleasure. They remind us that the man-made world is only a part-world. There are other worlds that we seldom enter, worlds revealed through religion and art. And architecture."

Her argument is that it is not only cribs and churches or cathedrals that should inspire the imagination, but that all buildings should contain the message of Christmas: "the spirit of God in the things of the world."

What she is saying is more than a plea for a vague spiritual aspect to architecture, whether New Age or specifically Christian, because the crib represents more than that. In reminding us that the birth of Jesus is a concrete fact of history the crib causes us to meditate on that, and ask ourselves whether Jesus really is the Son of God, whether he really did die for us and rise again that first Easter. Whatever we believe the crib causes us to consider a world beyond the material - something which the architecture of the 80s especially ignored with its superficial post-modern styling and scorn for community as an unfashionable sentimentality.

Winterson wrote that "The best buildings, like the best art, outlast fashion, theory and relevance and go on sustaining a truth about themselves and us, long after their contemporary influence is over."

This is important because everyone is surrounded by and uses buildings, even if they do not view art or listen to music. Architecture is inescapable and must meet more than people's physical needs. We probably all agree that buildings which are like grey November days depress the spirit; then equally we must believe in Advent and that good buildings can lift the spirit.

After a period in which community architecture has languished its ideas are hopefully returning "with the extensive current government commitment to 'joined-up' community development in their regeneration and new deal programmes." By coincidence this last quote is from a letter in the adjacent column from Jim Scott calling for the social concerns of architects to be revived.

Editor's response

As argued throughout this website the most important aspect of the call towards ethical architecture is for architects to design with and not for people; to empower them to achieve their aspirations, rather than imposing western middle class professional values on them - or whatever your personal values as an architect are. The crib and its idea of incarnation are again relevant here. Jesus came not to impose his own ideas, but as a servant born into the community he would serve.

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