Sunday, June 22, 2014

Modern Catholic Church Design Dismantling Its Own Religion

Modern Catholic parish councils are designing, approving, funding, and constructing brand new multimillion dollar conference halls for use as temples of worship.  These structures are neither inspiring to the already dwindling masses of Churchgoers nor do they serve as landmarks where Churchgoers can bring potential converts and bring them to the share in our full Catholic heritage and authentic Catholic identity with Christian pride.  Modern parish councils and planners are somehow rationalizing the building of multimillion dollar conference halls even while Catholic Church attendance is in a rapid downspiral with no end in sight.  But what is even more shameful is the waste of our donation dollars to rationalize funding an unnecessary structure that replaces a slightly older, but already perfectly well designed, authentically Catholic, spiritually inspiring, and glorious temple fit for the worship of God, that not only does God the honor, but serves as a rock solid testament to our Faith.  The same people are simultaneously dismantling already constructed beautiful architectural masterpieces to replace them with expensive modern, secular designs that resemble conference halls or banks.  Case in point, the modern idea of Form Follows Function discussed in Randall Smith's article:

The principles of "form follows function" and "functionalism" were, of course, two of the most basic principles of modernist architecture. 

. . . modernist churches tend not to be "functional" in terms of the practical requirements of the liturgy 

. . . Indeed, one of the most characteristic features of modernist architecture is that it obliterated the differences among building "types." Whereas we used to recognize a building from what it "looked like," and we gave it a name because of its form — we called a certain building a "church" because it had the recognizable form of a church, another a "bank" because it had the form of a bank — now if we take the "bank" sign off the bank and put the "church" sign on it, then it becomes a church. In fact, often, if not for the sign, it would be hard to tell the difference.

He then adds:

Far from looking back on the past with scorn and disdain as something passé ("architecture," insisted Le Corbusier, "is stifled by custom"11), medieval and Renaissance architects looked upon the tradition of which they were a part with a sense of both pride and humility as something to be emulated and imitated.

. . . Indeed, the modernists, rather than seeing themselves as part of a tradition, sought to throw off all those "chains" of the past and create architecture anew — from the ground up — much as Descartes had attempted to re-create philosophy by methodically doubting everything that had come before him. 

With modernist "functionalism," however, we are often left with church buildings that make few, if any, references to the iconic heritage or architectural traditions of the Catholic Church. How exactly, then, are the common, working people of the parish supposed to recognize and understand their own building when it is not speaking their own language of form?

And for those elite few who do understand the "meaning" of the building, what can they say to the pious, hardworking churchgoers whose tithes have gone to pay for the building? That it was the goal of modernists to sweep away all the traditions of the past in order to make way for an architecture that would not only "represent," but in fact help to create, the new industrial, technological man of the future? 
How would the non-elite, working-class Catholics for whom most of these churches are built reconcile all this — the elitism, the rejection of tradition and authority, the revision of values — with their faith in a Church based on centuries of tradition and authority? Was the new "technological man" of the modernist architects the sort of human person their Church was trying to inspire them to become? How, in other words, do you function in a building where the philosophy of the designers involves rejecting everything you hold dear?

and he ends with:

What is clear, moreover, is that forcing modernist principles of building design upon unwilling church congregations and passing them off as if they were principles of the Council simply must stop.

And stop it must.  A study by the Institute of Sacred Architecture concluded the following:

the modern design parish's primary emphasis on user-friendly design and communality may have facilitated relationships among church members, but not to a greater extent than the traditional catholic church design.  Moreover, it appears that the modern design did not facilitate a personal or communal relationship with God and the mystical body of the church as much as the design of the traditional church.  The modern church's diffuse placement of sacramental design features throughout the church might encourage congregants to focus on other parishioners and not as much on the character of divine sacrifice and otherworldliness found in the Eucharistic celebration.  Overall, this study seems to indicate that traditional churches designed to house God may well foster communion with God and, in turn, other congregants. 

If future empirical research studies indicate similar findings, then leaders within the Roman Catholic Church could benefit from a reassessment of what they ultimately intend their churches to communicate and what kinds of designs may strengthen or weaken parishioners’ religious place attachment towards their church.  Seemingly harmless alterations like the placement of a tabernacle or removal of iconography to limit “distractions” could influence congregants’ perceptions of the Eucharist, and, therefore, the foundation of Catholic ideology and identity. 

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