onsdag 4 augusti 2010
A matter of taste?
In a previous blog I was taken to task for expressing my dislike of the Catholic cathedral in Stockholm. My critic suggested that it was just a matter of taste.
The cathedral consists of a late nineteenth century red brick building in the Gothic revival style, with an extension constructed in 1983. The latter, which stands in the space formerly occupied by the original sanctuary, is a rectangular space, with facing brickwork inside, and a flat ceiling of gilded hexagons. It is a typical building of its time, which is part of the problem: it now looks thoroughly dated. Expressing the ideals of the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council, it now just seems as much of its time as a pop music hit from the same period. It is barely adequate in the light of the reappraisal of the Council that has been going on for the past decade, and in particular since the election of the present Pope.
But is church architecture just a matter of taste? A church is the setting for the divine liturgy, and its purpose is to point to that which lies beyond the material world. It is unfortunately the case that architects schooled in what is still referred to as the "Modern Movement", though it is now more than fifty years since it reached its zenith, are particularly poorly equipped to the challenge of designing buildings with a religious function, because the Modern Movement was founded on the rationalist ideal.
Worse still, there is the whole question of architecture as symbol. The built environment functions as a symbol system, analogous to a language. Certain combinations of sound have no absolute meaning but by convention, within a language, they mean one thing and not another. These meanings are not a matter of individual opinion. So it is with buildings. Here we are dealing with a symbol system that has evolved over two millenia. A structure that looks as if it could be a suburban railway station is unlikely to function well as a church.
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