"Make no little plans...they have no magic to stir men's blood."
Daniel Burnham

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

‘Have you looked up in your church or civic building recently?’

…The chances are what you see will not have been designed with care and importance; most buildings do not even have domes and vaults anymore…

David Stephenson the author and illustrator of the book, “Heavenly Vaults: from Romanesque to Gothic in European Architecture”, dares to look up. What he sees is completely different than the drywall clad, acoustical cloud, and exposed structure buildings that many of Americans have become used to their whole lives. From the pre-renaissance through the renaissance, from the renaissance to the Gothic, from the Gothic to the baroque, and the baroque leading to even more eras, the church was the patron of a very high percentage of architecture projects. The life defining project would have been that of a cathedral. From Raphael to Brunelleschi to Michelangelo to Bernini, all of these master artists and architects have had the chances to design cathedrals and they did not disappoint. From as far back as the Pantheon of Rome and the Parthenon of the Acropolis in Athens, Religious buildings have taken full advantage of the skill of the best designers known during that time. Why hasn’t our culture adopted the beauty and splendor of these churches, which are found all around the world, here at home?

Certainly the church still is one of the most powerful and affluent institutions in America, why don’t they build beautiful structures? Instead they ‘design’ a box, similar to a Wal-Mart and place a steeple on it. Some churches with thousands of patrons and incomes in the millions still do not use this money thoughtfully when it comes to building design. What has changed? Shouldn’t God be glorified through the architecture, as well as, the patrons? What has happened to the lofty vaults? What has happened to the bell towers that sound during times of celebration or times of mourning? What has happened to smaller prayer chapels and baptisteries? Is the ‘now’ culture losing the meaning of the important elements of church design? All these questions are clearly stated, but what can be done to reverse this devolution of church design.

To reverse this demise of the church, there must be an increased understanding to the general public. This understanding that looks into the elements of a traditional church must be available. Titles and definitions like, the narthex (the entrance or lobby), the nave (main volume of the church often where the seats are located), the aisle (Circulation space running parallel with the nave), the transept (a cross axis space that often creates a place of importance where it intersects with the nave), the crossing (simply the connecting piece between the transept and the nave, often where the main dome of vault is located), and the apse (the place of focus, the stage). These can and must be understood and implemented in church design, even in our culture of processed steel, laminate, and acoustic clouds. Most importantly, is that those that do understand speak up, whether deacons, or pastors, or even architects and planners. There must be a break through, to break through sometimes it is best to stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before us.

Whether a consistent member or an occasional visitor... Look forward to not just enjoying the service and the people, but the building as well.


Photo courtesy of my trip to Roma taken by yours truly

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