Sunday, January 15, 2017

The future of religious places (III)

It's mid-January already, way past time to have a good long look at the 2016 International Awards for Religious Art and Architecture announced by the journal Faith and Form. Jurors represent artists, architects and clergy, so there's an interesting mix of considerations in the awards.

A marked trend this year, notes journal editor Michael Crosbie, is the use of natural materials and particularly of natural light. This might represent a long-term trend away from the dark, cozier and more mysterious sanctuaries of the early- to mid-20th century, which of course are the churches in which many people of my generation grew up. (A number of people note that movie theater-style churches are their own, quite different trend.) The Palm Beach (Florida) Synagogue has light coming in all around the worship space, with room for stained glass at the top of the windows:
Chicago's Chapel of St. Ignatius might overdo it, in that it's hard to imagine being comfortable in there on sunny summer days:
James F. White (cited below) wrote a lot about considering what the worship space says about the role of the worshiper. The Chapel of St. Ignatius above has members of the congregation facing each other, with those officiating in their midst, suggesting a more participatory orientation. Many older churches, like the amazing and recently-restored St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, have their services officiated in a space at the front of the church, separated from the congregation. This can put the worshiper in the role of spectator, although that effect surely can be mitigated with hymns and responsive prayers and such.
As I noted last year, the Faith and Form awards focus on the buildings themselves, particularly the interiors, as opposed to how the buildings interact with their surrounding neighborhoods. That interaction matters, however, because it articulates the social role of the worshiper as well as an understanding of society. To what extent does a worship structure relate to the buildings (and people) around it? To what extent does its exterior invite the stranger in? I was rather surprised, in seeing Stefan Haupt's documentary on the spectacular Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, that despite its size and the ongoing construction, to the extent the film showed it, it fit quite well with the streets around it.
Churches of whatever design, surrounded by acres and acres of surface parking, don't do this nearly as well.
Worship spaces matter to our common life because we ask them to provide a number of things--quiet and comfort for individuals (whether members or not), a space to come together in common activity, a base for action in the neighborhood and the world, the familiarity of home for long-time members, a place accessible to potential new members--while they are themselves neighbors as well as important civic buildings. We should celebrate design that can do all this!

Michael J. Crosbie, "2016 International Awards Program for Religious Art & Architecture," Faith and Form 49:4 (December 2016)
Aaron M. Renn, "Why Contemporary Protestant Church Architecture is So Poor," Aaron Renn, 14 August 2014
"Sagrada Familia: The Mystery of Creation" official site (First Run Features, 2012)
James F. White, Protestant Worship and Church Architecture: Theological and Historical Considerations (Oxford, 1964)

"The Future of Religious Places (II)," 24 January 2016
"The Future of Religious Spaces," 8 January 2015
"Homes, Home Churches and Hometowns," 15 September 2014

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't heard of that award until reading this article. Thanks for sharing. There is such a diversity of religious architecture in the world and I love seeing these photos.


Do bicycle boulevards need a purpose?

I was surprised last weekend to find the place where we were staying was on a bicycle boulevard. A bicycle boulevard is "a street ...