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PLACES OF WORSHIP -  A RESPONSE

to the Architects Journal on 19th April 2012 

 


 


 

SO WHAT’S THE MESSAGE?

The message relates religion and architecture, and sees religious architecture as especially being more than construction (mere building) and offering examples of how to capture both the human and the transcendental in built form. Olcayto suggests that religion predates and gave birth to architecture, and indeed civilisation.

This connects with an article in the  contemporary May issue of Third Way which links the beginning of architecture with the change from being hunter-gatherers, collecting food, to food producers with the need to store food, and living in buildings. At the same time the sacred places became fixed, changing from a natural forest grove to a managed clearing, and then into …. henges.

It is a long time since the AJ focused on places of worship, and in today’s climate rightly includes Islamic and Jewish buildings, demonstrating that worship buildings are usually culture-related, rather than having a specific style.

However an important point is missed out; mosques are often built in Islamic style complete with (controversial) minarets (Saleem omitted minarets as being essential) as a sign of community identity and religious victory, particularly over local Christians (and secularists/atheists, as Moslems perceive all westerners as Christians.)

At the other end of the spectrum Synagogues are built to blend in, or hidden away (Bevis Marks does both) for protection from persecution. Similarly in the 17th century noncomformist chapels were plain buildings hidden from the street frontage, and many remain so today.

This only changed in the early 19th century with the toleration of noncomformists and Catholic emancipation, and after Pugin’s catholic/gothic/national revival the denominations built prominent chapels in a variety of revived ‘Christian’ styles.

We might call it branding in today’s consumerist world where former Woolworths can still be identified, and Waterhouse’s Prudential style was rolled out nationwide in the 19th century.
 

 
The17th century Mimar Sinan is promoted as amongst the best architects of religious buildings the world has known

It should be pointed out here that there is a Christian parallel to him in the architect Antonio Barluzzi who gave up the possibility of a lucrative career to design many of the fine pilgrimage churches in the Holy Land, which so well integrate architectural expression with the theme of the particular pilgrimage site.

With this year being the 200th anniversary of Pugin’s birth there is renewed interest in him, and that we can learn from him today. His importance is in bringing moral judgment into design and construction, truth to materials, and in promoting a Christian national style.
 


The last time the AJ looked seriously at the influence of church design on architecture seems to have been in 1970 when Nigel Melhuish wrote (AJ 8/7/70),

The meeting of liturgy and modern architecture may have been a limited encounter, but it involved considerable mental adjustments on both sides. In the process it has enlarged our understanding of the human environment, and the best churches of the sixties embody ideas which are likely to become increasingly relevant in secular architecture as well as in the small world of church building.

In March 1970 the AR profiled the work of Maguire and Murray and wrote about 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.

In his recent book on Maguire and Murray Gerald Adler writes of them as Christians who not only rethought the design of churches but also reinvented the typology of schools and student accommodation.
 


However today the welfare state which developed out of Christian principles, is 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.
At the same time Alain de Botton  in Religion for Atheists is seeking a secular architecture which includes the religious dimension, for new art galleries to be our churches. His intention is to adopt the best bits of religion for use in secular society to, among other things, meet the needs of making community, form lasting relationships, overcome anxiety and restlessness, alienation and frustration, and not least to experience the power of art, architecture and music.
 


Back in 1975 I wrote an undergraduate theory dissertation The Christian Approach to Architecture. It studied three areas in which Christianity was influential in the 19th century - the provision of working class housing, for example Parnel House which still stands in Bloomsbury, communities like Saltaire, and the profession looking at Gothic, led by Pugin,

After looking at biblical principles I gave as a contemporary example, Bob Maguire's approach to a secular building type, student housing, and quoted (see above) the hope of the Architectural Review.

This website, arxitecture.org.uk, seeks an ethical approach to architecture which is more than humanist as it is based on a Biblical world view which believes in a Creator God and the teachings of the Bible.

Finally it is surely no coincidence that the following week’s AJ featured two art galleries often seen as today’s equivalent of the cathedral.
 


 
References:-

on this site
Why do we build?
The Christian Approach to Architecture 1975 2010
Antonio Barluzzi

 

Third Way May 2012 with background reading, reviews of Foraging with God by Bruce Stanley
Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton, The Crisis and the Kingdom by E Philip Davis and The Face of God by Roger Scruton
 
 

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