Friday, December 10, 2010


Devan Sudjic,then architectural critic for the London Observer wrote a  book  several years ago about the "world's most notable architectural triumphs and the masters who commissioned them".  It's subtitled "how the rich and powerful shape the world".   

I suppose it depends what you mean by 'world'...the sum total footprint of all the great buildings Sudjic talks about is less than two square miles.  All that effort, all that ego, for a raggedy poor two blocks.  

But in fact most of the inhabited world is just average people dwelling in huts and houses, on boats and in bungalows, in a self-built shanty or a McMansion.  Their choices shape 99.9% of the built environment, and they don't know from Libeskind.

Similarly, much of what is written about church architecture is targeted at 0.1% of congregations--those with a large membership or a lot of money.  The rich and the powerful.  The other 99.9% think architecture and design isn't for them, and it shows in their timid choices, in tiny steeples perched on low roofs, in unimaginative interiors, in ill-fitting facades that look ashamed to be the house of God.  The house of God!  That's something any building would aspire to.   

But for all the 0.1s splashing out in the pages of magazines and the occasional coffee-table book on religious architecture (and if you have 10mill or so of the Lord's money and you DON'T get an awesome building you're just negligent), it's the 99.9ers that are really shaping the built environment of the sacred.  

The thoughtfulness of your choices matters, matters to people who may never see the buildings of the rich and powerful but will touch the door handles, traverse the aisles, gaze at the baptistery or out the window, repeatedly in your own church.  And those things should say to them that this is the house of God, made and kept with love and care and deliberate, thoughtful choices that are the absolute best we as a congregation can do for this special place.

I hope that most of you that read this blog are in a church that--like mine--falls in the 99.9.  Many of the examples I show are from the 0.1 (for inspiration), but I'm hoping we can change that.  

[Image of Little Cataloochee Baptist Church, c 1889, North Carolina, by Ariel Bravy.  In a small space, you can't go wrong with glossy white paint and the contrast of dark wood against a way this is a reversal of the feeling in Tadao Ando's Church of the Light, and every bit as effective.  And it was an artistic soul that chose the ochre for the benches.]

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