Restoring the Sacred

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Words of Relevance: Churchill on Architecture

Colette Arredondo, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame's School of Architecture, wrote an interesting piece at City Journal yesterday entitled: Sacred Revival.

Her essay is actually a review of a recent book by Duncan Stroik, a professor of classical architecture at the University of Notre Dame, entitled: The Church Building as a Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal.

Early in her essay, she provides us with the quote of the day from Sir Winston Churchill, but she goes on to list examples in Stroik's book lamenting the loss of the sacred, most especially in the architecture of Catholic churches.  Some examples:
Stroik seeks an architecture that is inherently Catholic. For him, the “form follows function” concept is at odds with the purpose of a church building, which needs to do more than just serve the programmatic function of the liturgy. Catholicism is a religion of the senses, he explains. The architecture of its buildings should contribute to an atmosphere of transcendence.
In Catholic architecture today, fan-shaped and semicircular churches, with sloped seating for sightlines, are all-too-common. High altars have been replaced with priest’s chairs. The tabernacle has been displaced from the central axis of the church and moved to a distinguished but separate location... “the greatest loss of the sense of the sacred in our churches in recent decades is the disregard or demotion of the sanctuary within the house of God.”
Stroik clearly favors the traditional basilica and cruciform churches, in part because they are instantly identifiable as churches, which many modernist church buildings are not.  
Arredondo, as stated, opened her essay with the quote of the day by Churchill, who, in May 1941, after German bombing had destroyed the Commons Chamber of the U.K. House of Commons, and when discussions were underway as to how to rebuild "in a way that preserved the 'form, convenience, and dignity' of the destroyed chamber, which dated to 1852," said the following in a speech before the Commons:

Here's the quote:
 “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.”