14 August 2013

But if you want to have a discussion on architecture.....

The 1876 "Deutsche Evanelische Lutheranische Saint Paulus Gemeinde" in Michigan City
We're not about a building.

It's like a badge of honor we wear in our churches today.  What we really should say is we can't afford to be about a building.  I can buy that, or, other things are of higher priority.  That at least sounds spiritual....depending on what the priorities are.  Saving souls of course.  Maybe this is a part 2 to the last post, but the prior post's message was about preserving a place for God in our churches, not so much about the architecture....but if you want to have a discussion on architecture, let's go.

But our lack of attention to architecture goes far beyond ecclesiastical buildings.  This infatuation with starving architecture has also made a tremendous impact on civic and government buildings.  Here we say we're just being prudent with taxpayer dollars.  Well, who could argue against that and not come across as a liberal?

Now, at the same time we expect where we buy our coffee or hamburgers to look and feel like the latest trend because if it doesn't, we'll just go elsewhere.  I always get a little bewildered when I see a building not more than 20 years old get shuttered or demolished in order to make way for the latest and greatest model.  And we're more than all right to open our wallets wide to pay for that, but forget about something that might represent our highest cultural ideas or much more, how we feel about our Creator God.  He's good with just a warehouse, but Starbucks better make me look and feel good about myself.

And then there are the temples that we create for ourselves.  Our mini-castles outfitted with the latest home theaters, craft rooms, a bath for each bedroom, our personal studies, elaborate great rooms, and the list goes on and on.  And we stay in them on an average of 5 years now until we upgrade to the newest neighborhood "Generic Estates".  But collectively, as a society, it's about pinching pennies.

Fountain County Courthouse, 1934, built during the depths of the Depression but with magnificence
At one time the two types of buildings that have suffered most at this shift in our cultural thinking were built with little expense spared as symbols of what we espoused and aspired to be.  Government buildings, particularly city halls, schools, and courthouses were constructed as the pride of their communities almost in competition with their surrounding towns and counties.  Terms such as "magnificent" and "splendor" were often used to describe a community's public buildings during the 1800s and early 1900s.  When was the last time you heard those to describe the newest municipal building?  I'm thinking specifically about Republicania County's new jail as I write this.

Religious buildings have also taken quite a hit.  And a personal hit to me.  The church of my ancestors in Bremen has a date with the wrecking ball and in its place a parking lot and a fancified pole building.  Gone are the iconic stained glass windows and vaults that inspired the soul to better commune with God.  Instead metal walls, white-boxed inside, and little if any natural light define our new churches today.  When only up to the 1970s, congregations still felt compelled to build with a bigger picture in mind.  Church architecture's rich history of not only teaching its members through inconographical representations in murals and windows, but also through subconsciously inspiring its members to contemplate the glory of God in its architecture is gone....long gone.  In its place larger and larger screens, more lights, and more sophisticated sound equipment.  In many ways replacing the real and tangible with hype.

I'm not in favor of waste, or excess in any form.  But it is time to return to a thoughtful and meaningful approach to the design and creation of space in which we live and give shape to our most important civic buildings.  It's what we expect out of our coffee shops-it seems like our churches and public buildings ought to be at least as important.


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