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In a recent edition of Mission Catalyst (Issue 2, 2010 on the Arts) the Baptist Missionary Society asked whether architecture could be missional. The answer was yes, architecture can be used in the church’s mission, as a base for a church to work from, and as a community building to attract people to.

The article in Mission Catalyst suggested that three components were necessary for this architecture with a mission – a vision, a site (and other resources) and an architect who will design to build the vision, rather than his own ideas.

To be successful missions must act out what they proclaim. If the buildings are really missional, and more than tools architecture must speak to people as do the other arts.

Psalm 19 shows God communicating in two ways, and just as God’s creation communicates so does the built environment, for good or ill, and whether or not designed by Christians. Secondly God speaks through his word, which traditionally meant in the context of buildings, through the artwork and texts they contain. Today we might include the performing arts and interactive displays.

This means everything from the ceiling of the Sistine chapel to paintings displayed by the Sunday school!

A fine 20th century example is the Holy Land pilgrimage churches by Antonio Barluzzi. Each church was designed to evoke the mood of the event in Jesus’ life which it commemorated. Each brings out the appropriate atmosphere, for example the joyful occasion of two expectant mothers meeting at Zechariah’s home at the Church of the Visitation, and the gloom in the Garden of Gethsemane at that church. These moods are proclaimed by the buildings, even without the murals, mosaics, sculptures and texts they contain.

These ideas are readily evident in the design of churches, and their fittings, down to the message which the church notice board actually proclaims; but they are applicable to the whole of the built environment from regional planning down to interior and product design. Looking at all this, or just at our topic of architecture, this means that the mission, or task, of architecture is to sustain, or to play its part in helping to sustain communities.

Part of sustaining a community is to promote, celebrate, its identity, providing personal, local or regional identity in the global village. So architecture, or the architect (and by implication the design team and client) should be sustaining community, whether a household, educational establishment, or business park.

This was the theme of a symposium held in 2009 by the RIBA in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum and Arups, "to prove that the creation of uniquely localised, people-centred space is still possible." It must be acknowledged that in a fallen world it is also possible to use architectural design to sustain totalitarian regimes and oppress peoples.

Hence we can say that the role of Architecture is not to be an end in itself, but to be one aspect, or process, one necessary means to the end of Sustaining Communities.

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Can Architecture be Missional ?           Baptist Missionary Society