Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More Modern Church Architecture

According to the American Conservative, beautiful churches are back. See the article here.

I'm not so optimistic, and for a couple reasons. First, the article touches on mainly Catholic churches. Though there certainly is a movement towards the construction of beautiful Catholic churches, the traditionalists have to fight against the movement to construct more modern and post-modern structures (like the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels). There's no telling which side will win, and over the last 50 years, beautiful churches have lost to sterile and modern designs.

Second, what of the evangelical community? I challenge you to find me a beautiful mega-church. It's not that the size of those churches that prohibits beautiful architecture. It's also the theology of those churches. Can you imagine Joel Osteen's vision of a beautiful church? It'd be a mix of florescent lights and video screens with an alter at every exit to the almighty dollar. We've already seen one mega-pastor's vision (which probably didn't include bankruptcy...) and it wrought upon us the Crystal Cathedral, a cavernous and angular mess without a face and with poor proportions. More fitting for the set of Superman 2 than for Southern California.

Even supposed traditional churches don't want to be bothered with good traditional architecture. See, for example, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Virginia. It's a old warehouse with pillars plastered to the front. But when you get inside, it's a theater. Traditional facade, modern interior. No beauty nowhere.

But the evangelical mega-churches aren't the only problem. Small churches also mock the need for architectural decency, instead opting for cheap materials and steel buildings. (I don't buy the excuse that churches can't afford anything else... we're far richer in 2012 than we were in 1812.)

Without any group leading the charge for responsible church architecture, the modern architects gain power and create lifeless spaces.

See, for example, Louis Kahn's First Unitary Church. The imposing ceiling with remotely controlled turrets. The rectangles of color to give life to the dull interior. What does this building say about God, and what does this building say about Christianity? Nothing good, that's what. 

So then, what's the solution? I can only think of one thing, and it's to move forward by looking backward. Back to architecture that took into consideration Christian theology instead of costs and comfort. (Yeah, costs will always be a factor. But they shouldn't be the sole factor.) Back to architecture that reflected the beauty of God and the beauty of Christianity.

Back to something like this:


  1. You have no idea about TRBC. It is full of BEAUTY!!!!

    1. I am actually experienced with TRBC and have been to it many times. What's so beautiful about it? It's a big box with a false facade.

      There certainly isn't any beauty inside. It's a huge auditorium with fake columns on the walls. There's a reason why people feel comfortable wearing shorts and flip flops to services there - it's because the building doesn't command respect.

    2. Its on a college campus, why would it not have flip flops and shorts. It is all about being there and worshiping, Not what you wear and what the Church looks like.

    3. The TRBC looks like a Walmart with columns out front. If its just about being somewhere and worshipping, then people would just gather in a parking lot and pray. If someone's going to go to the trouble of building a church of this size, they should put more thought and creativity into it.

  2. I think that looking backward will get us nowhere fast. The problem is that the culture of mass-man humanistic democracy makes a virtue out of vices (and Christianity is much to blame for developing the attitude that made liberal modernism possible).

    In order to get something good we won't be able to go back in time - that will just produce hideous crap like Washington D.C.'s faux-Palladian/Roman architecture. That place is one of the ugliest cities on Earth, Detroit looks better than DC by virtue of being less pretentious in its ugliness.

    Modern aesthetics, culture, ideology and - let's face it - people will have to die out before anything new and worthwhile can grow in the burnt out pickup truck shell that is the West.

    1. How is the Palladian and Roman architecture in Washington, D.C. "faux?" It isn't Roman or Palladian to begin with, it's based on those. It is a style known as American Classical. You might as well be saying that Palladian architecture is fake because it was based on Roman architecture but produced over 1,000 years later. Is England's Parliament fake, as it is Gothic Revival, built centuries after the official Gothic movement in architecture. A style does not have to be built explicitly in the time it was originated in to be authentic.