arXitecture

 

A Christian Approach to Architecture

1: A Brief History

2: Relating Architecture to Christian Truth

3: Christian Principles Applied to Architecture

 

1: A Brief History

 

Following the 19th century Battle of the Styles when Pugin equated the Gothic style with Christianity it is only during the last twenty to thirty years that Christian architects have begun to seek an approach to architecture based on truly Christian principles.

The first Conference of Christian Planners and Architects took place in London in 1973, and following a second conference ten years later the Association of Christians in Planning and Architecture was founded.

Not that there wasn't a Christian approach being applied in the 19th century. Indeed it was during that century that Christians were amongst the first to pioneer affordable housing for the working classes, while Christian industrialists built complete communities, like Bournville, for their employees.

However it is only recently that evangelical Christians have re-engaged with society and sought Christian understanding of, and approach to, such areas of life as politics, housing, and community development, and that Christians in the professions have established Christian organisations within their professions.
 

2: Relating Architecture to Christian Truth

THEORY

Every major doctrine has something to say on architecture.

Creation

We are made in God's image as creative people, not creating ex nihil but using God given materials.

As there is an extraordinary variety in creation so also there should be a great variety in mankind's activities including architecture.

Architecture is part of the cultural mandate to have dominion, fill the earth, explore it, and use its resources for the equal benefit of all, now and for the future.

There is music in Gen. 4v21 and metalworking in Gen. 4v22, art and science - and architecture is both a science and an art.

Cain had already built a city.

Fall

As Adam toiled to grow food after the fall (Gen. 3v18), in the same way providing shelter, protection from the weather, or from wild animals and other people, is also a struggle.

The tower of Babel represents the wrong use of architecture.

Redemption

The Temple, a symbolic and beautiful building, played a role in God's plan for redemption. This is not confined to the Old Testament as the coming Kingdom is the New Jerusalem, a city, not a new Eden, and the cultural wealth of the nations will be brought into it. (Rev. 21v24).

PRACTICE

Architecture is an art and a science, but also a service to people, providing them with the built environment to enable them to fulfil their God given tasks, and enjoy God's good gifts.

Here we are concerned with architecture rather than architects, with the process and product rather than the profession or qualifications of those who produce it. So the vernacular is included, self provided if not usually self built, as throughout most of history and throughout most of the world today, it consists of more than physical shelter. Even slum squatter dwellings with no artistic pretensions have symbolic content in their plan arrangement and use of space reflecting the culture of their inhabitants.

STYLE AND CULTURE

There is no specifically Christian style, just good and bad building, though in their symbolic content, whether decorative or spatial, buildings convey meanings, which may or may not be based on Christian truth. To ignore this aspect is at the least to imply that God does not care.

However a building can only witness by its suitability and beauty, the care shown by its designer, like Creation itself. (Ps.19v1-6). Words of witness (Ps.19v7ff) come through its users or through the architect in his relationship with client, consultants and contractor.

Cultural artefacts are important and can represent continuity (Jer. 30v18) and a people's place in the world; hence the outcry against the destruction of the cultural heritage of former Yugoslavia, and more recently in Iraq.  However for Christians, like Abraham, our city is from God. We have spiritual security and like Paul we should be content with whatever level of cultural goodies we have.
 

3: Christian Principles Applied to Architecture

Much has been written on church design, but that is a subset of what we want to study here - to seek a Christian approach applicable to the design of all building types.

Everyone acknowledges that architecture is an art - otherwise it is mere building and purely utilitarian.

Much has been written on art from a Christian perspective and most of that is relevant to architecture.

However architecture is also craft and/or technology, the application of science and technical knowledge without which the utilitarian aspect fails.

A Christian approach to science is based on our freedom to explore Creation as shown by Adam naming the animals, and the description of Havilah with its minerals awaiting exploitation, both in Genesis 2.

Of equal if not greater importance architecture is a service, not simply architects serving their clients, but exercising their responsibility to the wider community who will be affected by their work. It extends even beyond this to serve the poor and marginalised of the world, to empower them to build environments which meet their aspirations, and which enable them to enjoy their fair share of the world's resources, and to carry out their God-given tasks.

The purpose of a building is therefore important, and a Christian architect may not want to design a mosque or temple which promote another religion, nor a cigarette factory or brewery. However most building types are neutral, indeed positively good, for example houses and schools, and the moral aspect is to do with the behaviour of the building users.

Designing to meet peoples' needs could be covered by the command to love one's neighbour; that is so but needs working out in detail.

Building is part of using the world's resources, part of the Cultural Mandate given by God to mankind to exercise good stewardship over the earth's resources for the equal benefit of everyone. This includes not only material and energy resources, but also labour, tools and machines, and for the Christian the spiritual resources of prayer and discerning God's will.
 

Your response
Read      The Bible on Building

Return to Lifestyle

home

architecture

ethics

To comment, offer contributions, or suggest good books email


editor@arxitecture.org.uk

 

Thank you for visiting arXitecture - please call again