[BOOKS] Sacred Revival by Colette ArredondoPosted: January 11, 2014
A Catholic architect calls for churches that “look like churches.”
The Church Building as a Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal by Duncan G. Stroik (Hillenbrand Books, 182 pp., $60)
Colette Arredondo writes: In May 1941, German incendiary bombs turned the Commons Chamber of the U.K House of Commons in London to rubble. While there was no question of whether to rebuild, how to do it in a way that preserved the “form, convenience, and dignity” of the destroyed chamber, which dated to 1852, was very much an issue. In a speech before the Commons, who met for the remainder of the war in the Lords Chamber, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Perhaps no other sentence has more clearly defined the responsibility of architecture, and no other sentence more neatly summarizes the thesis of Duncan Stroik’s book, The Church Building as a Sacred Place.
A devout Catholic, Stroik is also a professor of classical architecture at the University of Notre Dame and principal at an architectural firm bearing his name in South Bend, Indiana. He is one of a select few architects that the Catholic Church calls when it seeks to build a church that “looks like a church.” His knowledge of sacred architecture informs his charge that the church buildings of the past 50 years have failed to serve the faithful well either as structures for spiritual nourishment or as houses of God. The Church’s alignment with the architectural movements of our age, he says, has “unwittingly undercut its own theological agenda.”
Stroik offers his own vision for church architecture (one steeped in tradition) and dispels the notion that the Second Vatican Council required a rejection of traditional church architecture and design. Rather, Vatican II stated: “The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own. . . . The art of our own days . . . shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor.” The question is: Who decides whether this standard is met—the Church or the architect?
To Stroik, the villain isn’t Vatican II, but the Church’s dependence on a secular modernist architectural movement. Modernism, by nature, is dismissive of history—Tom Wolfe described this as “starting from zero.” It’s a philosophy at odds with a Church premised on continuity. The modernist emphasis on self-expression has led to a breakdown of building typology. Architects trained to see architecture as a medium for self-expression have difficulty embracing the “noble ministry” of church design. So we see churches that do not look like churches.
Stroik seeks an architecture that is inherently Catholic…
Colette Arredondo lives in New York and is an associate at Allan Greenberg Architect. She is on the advisory committee of Manhattan Institute’s Young Leaders Circle and is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture.
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