Articles and Reviews



the theme of the Architects Journal on 19th April 2012 


This feature begins with a précis of the AJ's contents in that issue - if you have read it, or are familiar with the contents, then go on to arXitecture's response.


In her editorial Christine Murray recalls one of her earliest memories in a church;

Its ordinary design, with requisite extraordinary moments captures what is sacred and specific to the successful design of places of worship.

Forget the simple demands of shelter – you might argue that religion is actually what ‘Architecture’ was invented for, as Rory Olcayto concludes in his article on Mimar Sinan.

Light is a universal signifier in religion, and what is architecture but the play of light and shadow?

Both architecture and religion deal with polar opposites.

Murray reminded her readers that Religion remains a faithful and long-standing client of architecture.

But devout or atheist, the attempt to capture both the human and the transcendental in built form lends itself to any building type.



Rory Olcayto considers Sinan among the most prolific - and best – architects of religious buildings the world has known though he is little known today.

Sinan gave up a prosperous military career to design mosques, "through which my wishes in this world and the next would be granted."

Reminds me of the little known Christian architect Antonio Barluzzi who designed many of the fine pilgrimage churches in the Holy Land.



Rory Alcayto reports on the oldest temple in the world, discovered in Turkey in 1994

The drive to build places of worship began when hunter-gatherers first erected pillars at Gobekli Tepe 12,000 years ago and hasn’t stopped since.

It seems we chose to design and build places of worship before any other kind of building and that "the human sense of the sacred may have given rise to civilisation itself," quoting National Geographic.

It is proof of the intimate relationship between religion and architecture, distinct from mere construction. And it’s why, for the first time in a long while, this week’s AJ is focused on places of worship.



Saleem proposes that Islamic architecture is cultural, not religious and that mosques can be designed in the style of their cultural setting.

A mosque has an exceptionally simple programme, needing only an open space that is clean, in which people can face Mecca and offer their prayers. Along with running water for ritual ablution before prayer, there is no other spatial, liturgical or sacred requirement. This means that every formal and architectural representation of the mosque we see beyond this is a cultural accretion accumulated across time and culture.

Like Islam Christianity has frequently returned to past or foreign architectural expressions for its contemporary buildings. An obvious example as the 200th anniversary of Pugin’s birth is celebrated is Gothic, which was also promoted as a national style for all building types.

Saleem claims The mosque … is intimately connected to social and cultural identities, and represents one of the most nuanced and layered architectural readings around …. Provoking debate on issues of identity, social change, race, politics, style and taste.



How we approached the design of a new church set within 100 acres of preserved prairie by DRDH.

A more intimate relationship between church and land…. We sought inspiration from Andrew Wyeth’s paintings of barns and prairie farmsteads led us to an ensemble of pitched roofs that [pinwheel round] a series of connected ‘houses’…. The Entrance House, Fellowship House, Children’s House and library tower… around the House of God. …. Each function connects via … an ambulatory …. Circling the perimeter of the sacred space.

Each element has a particular relationship to the landscape ….controlled with a series of windows and covered porches .. Theses will demarcate ‘land-rooms.’

Together these elements draw the landscape into the sacred life of the church.


Felix Mara reviews Van Heyningen and Haward’s New North London Synagogue low key and austere, with moments of beauty.
A long brick wall screens the Sternberg Centre from the road.
Synagogues are often chameleonesque … Bevis Marks … like a Wren city church.

The campus strategy does enable [several Jewish organisations] … to share a single control point for the enhanced security.

New and recent synagogues such as NNLS are usually in contemporary idiom and can feel quite Spartan. They have the puritan qualities of Modernist churches but in a different register, evolving from a tradition that, while including certain types of imagery, place a strong emphasis on words.

VHH’s spaces work hard to give NNLS the flexibility and generosity it needs, helping the community to tackle complex questions involving science, interpretation of tradition and the role of women. The three prayer spaces enable services with segregated seating for men and women to run in parallel with integrated worship, but VHH tried to avoid a rigid hierarchy.

Animation is provided by the synagogue community rather than the architecture, which is there to complement rather than to dominate.



Stephen Dykes Bower battled ambitious colleagues and changing public tastes to redefine and restore our most cherished churches, writes Gavin Stamp.

[At] Westminster Abbey he designed the bright and ordered appearance of the present interior, while to St Paul’s Cathedral he brought the magnificent high altar and baldacchino with the American chapel behind.

Dykes Bower’s unfashionable passion for Gothic

His " career is a tale of the second decline of Gothic, following its rebirth in the nineteenth century … For decades [he] stood completely alone as a worthy successor to the Victorian and Edwardian tradition into the late twentieth century, " quoting the recent monograph by Symondson


THE THEME, of religious buildings and design quality pops up everywhere in this issue;

Architecture centres are being ‘abandoned.’

Churches are being hit by VAT increases, a specific example being St.Brides where Paul Finch is chairing its restoration appeal.

Christchurch NZ is to get an interim cardboard cathedral.

Oman is looking for quality in design.

Project of the week  is Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Inbox features Lyndhurst Baptist Church which unlike the archetypal Baptist church,…. Has been designed in the round.

Continue  to arXitecture's response to the AJ's Places of Worship.

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