Monday, September 24, 2007

A little shocked at this article in the New York Times...


I have a Google Reader account, and I have roughly 10-12 blogs that I read via RSS feed (which is how I stay up on lots of different topics in a relatively short amount of surfing time). I subscribe to the New York Times RSS feed of any topic having to do with architecture, just to see if there is anything interesting to learn about, especially anything that would impact our home design. But, imagine my surprise to get the following article in my reader over the weekend while I was away...

A Return to Architectural Traditions

This piece is all about the palpable tide shifting towards to traditionally-rooted architecture for churches across the country. And the Catholic Church isn't even mentioned! I think this is a good thing, because it shows how universal the desire is to correct the errors of the past 50-100 years (the article profiles a Lutheran and an Episcopal congergation that built new churches with traditionally-rooted architecture). Some of the more salient quotes...
The Rev. Laurence A. Gipson, then rector of St. Martin’s, started talking to church members about what they might want in a new building.

“In 300 conversations with people, universally, it was clear,” Mr. Gipson said. “Traditional worship within a traditional building was the thing that enabled us to draw most closely to God."
And this...
“In the mid-20th century, there were liturgical reformers who said it was necessary to change church architecture,” Dr. Kieckhefer said.

“Architects began to design churches that were meant to promote a sense of community gathered for celebration,” he added. “While older churches tried to set themselves apart from the world, these were buildings that were meant to blend into neighborhoods.”

These buildings were focused around casual, multipurpose spaces. Pastors asked architects for assembly halls that would allow members and clergy members to be able to see one another’s faces, so sanctuaries were often arranged in circles or semicircles. Pulpits were moved from the head of the church to the middle or done away with altogether. Statues were removed. Pitched roofs became flat. Steeples vanished.

Critics of the movement saw this trend toward plain, functional buildings as an insult to the divine. A flurry of books by influential architects and critics led the attack, including Michael S. Rose’s salvo, “Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches From Sacred Spaces to Meeting Places and How We Can Change Them Back” (Sophia Institute Press, 2001), and Moyra Doorly’s “No Place for God: The Denial of Transcendence in Modern Church Architecture” (Ignatius Press, 2007).
The emphasis in the second to last paragraph is mine. In the last paragraph, the two cited books have both been mentioned on this blog previously, both are by Catholic authors.

I think this article is remarkable because I kept waiting for the "but, so-and-so says this movement towards traditional church architecture is really bad and represents a theme-park-like nostalgia that denies architectural progress..." or something of the sort. But, it never came. And I've said this before on the blog, but to reiterate, I think church architecture is a different case. There are very clear types of architecture that just don't work for worship, and just don't work as a Catholic Church for all the reasons I've mentioned in the past. This doesn't mean one can't innovate, otherwise we'd never have Gothic architecture, or Baroque architecture, or anything new. But that "new" needs to be rooted within the Tradition of the Church. In regard to other types of architecture (non-religious) that is a whole different story for me. I think quite a bit of innovation, use of new technology, etc. can be done there, and I think it's much more dependent on personal taste. There are many great modern buildings which I enjoy, and even prefer. And I think people have the right to create ugly, non-functional buildings now and then, but not ugly, non-functional churches.

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