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THE CHRISTIAN APPROACH TO ARCHITECTURE

 A Review  1975 - 2010

 

The Christian Approach to Architecture was an undergraduate theory option dissertation written in 1975. It studied three areas in which Christianity was influential in the 19th century - the provision of working class housing, firstly as simply housing, and then as communities with various facilities.

The third area looked at the profession which was concerned with church design based on Gothic (i.e. Christian) architecture. Though this would be seen as misplaced now, indeed shown to be so by the work of Maguire and Murray described in the dissertation, even today Gothic churches often appear on the covers of Christian books.

Chapter 4 of the dissertation brought out the Christian principles underlying these movements, and the final chapter looked at contemporary examples of this approach. This included Maguire's approach to a secular building type, student housing, and the hope of the Architectural Review in March 1970;

"The church is a model, a sort of prototype, of our ideal society. The difference between a church and any other building (except, of course, a home) is that the users, on principle, love one another… It is tempting to try and foretell what will happen to other building types when church planning ideas finally reach them. Sociability will begin to take precedence over function and administration. Buildings will tend to become small again… Building users will have a real say in the buildings they occupy. Buildings will therefore be the outcome of an intimate understanding between users and designers, and between designers and artificers …. All this is easy for believers to see: and it is not for nothing that the religious [ in fact Christian] component in our society is the first to begin to grope towards, what is for us, a new concept of society: a society animated by love, accepting differences, insistent on freedom and anxious that decision-making should be as far as possible with individuals."

Secular society does not seem to have latched onto this, and indeed today the welfare state which developed out of Christian principles, is now being dismantled, and aggressive atheists and secularists demand that Christians should have no say in public affairs, and that at best Christianity should be a private affair.

Nor has humanism developed the theme. The Sustaining Identity Symposium in 2009 "to prove that the creation of uniquely localised, people-centred space is still possible"  served to show that it had not.  Its keynote speaker, Juhani Pallasmaa called for an "architecture of resistance" in the face of globalisation, and denounced starchitects and their iconic buildings.

In 2009 the Building Relevance conference on post-disaster housing found that architects needed to radically alter their approach. A follow up conference in 2010, Improving Learning and Practice in the Humanitarian Shelter Sector, asked what had been learnt in the last 40 years of experience. A student contribution concluded that what was needed John Turner had been saying all that time.

On the Christian scene, following the first conference of Christian architects and planners in 1980, the Association of Christian Architects and Planners was formed as one of the UCCF professional groups, now Christians in Architecture and Planning. Through its conferences, seminars, magazine and other publications, and now through CAP's website a Christian approach to architecture has continued to be promoted, looking at contemporary issues.

At the same time the Shaftesbury Project on Christian Involvement in Society, now the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, had a number of study groups. Subjects related to architecture included those on the environment, inner cities, and housing.

Other Christian organisations founded include Habitat for Humanity (housing the poor world-wide), the John Ray Initiative (sustainable development), A Rocha (ecology) and the Jubilee Centre (public policy), best known for its Keep Sunday Special campaign, which has done much work on relationships, which are fundamental to all human activity, and runs 'secular' courses.

A CHRISTIAN APPROACH TO ARCHITECTURE  FOR THE 21st CENTURY


The intention is to follow up this review with a major new feature on The Mission of Architecture taking up the Baptist Missionary Society's question Can architecture be missional?
 

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