Saturday, September 15, 2012
Traditional and Modern... what does it mean?
I ran across a comparison between the architectural statement two different Roman Catholic cathedrals new to the American landscape. At first glance it is easy to see which is traditional and which is modern. One eschews every tradition in form, shape, materials, and design to produce a design which is unmistakably 21st century. The other seems a throw back to an ancient form, a modern repeat of something already existing in the past of cathedral design. In the end it is not quite that simple.
The more modern design is not modern but rather radical. It borrows from the shapes, materials, and details of an airport terminal or mall or public building but for what purpose? Its accouterments have no logical value or symbolic purpose. They are new and fresh but only in comparison to that which is old and familiar. In fact, compared to the rest of what one often sees upon the urban landscape of buildings destined for public use or assembly it is rather traditional and predictable.
The more traditional design is not simply traditional. It is rather modern. The shapes and materials are familiar but the walls and ceiling and ornamentation bear the marks of a reserved brush, palate, and design. It achieves a modern appearance and sense while foregoing the stark, cold, and empty feeling that so many complain about in modern architecture. Perhaps many would have filled in the blank spaces with ornament for the sake of ornamentation's sake. In any case, the architects have a remarkable reserve while allowing the very space itself to make the statement. In case you are wondering, its statement is thoroughly comfortable for the purpose of this space, for the liturgical assembly.
Surprisingly, one is humble and one is infatuated with its own grandeur. The surprise is that the traditional building expresses a fundamental humlity of design and follow through while the modern building goes to excess in ornamention that exists for no purpose whatsoever -- it is certainly not symbolism related to the faith or the Mass which goes on within its walls. But don't just listen to me. Read it all for yourself. It is all right here....
The quality of the discussion within this little article is exactly the kind of thoughtful and careful conversation which needs to happen among those who design and build churches today. I wish that my own Lutheran Church Missouri Synod had this kind of reflective evaluation ongoing over the various buildings being built by the congregations of my own communion. Good job!