I hope you found the recent cathedral quiz amusing. The mixture was supposed to show that the brutalist school of architecture produces church buildings that are not dis-similar to parking garages, concrete bunkers and shopping malls.
The problem with many modern churches is a problem with the underlying philosophy of architecture, and underlying that is a problem with the philosophy of life, and underlying that is a problem with theology, remember Chesterton’s quip that ‘every argument is a theological argument’
The modern architect (like the modern liturgist) is a utilitarian. The main thing is “does it work”? Welcome to the Henry Ford school of Theology. A liturgy and a church is considered good if it works. So when you visit the notorious Clifton Cathedral and have a tour and venture to be unimpressed and say, “Well it’s not a beautiful building is it?” the impatient cleric (who actually likes the ecclesiastical parking lot) says in his politely condescending way, “Perhaps you are looking at it the wrong way? You see the building is very good liturgically.” What he means is that it is very good for his kind of liturgy where there is lots of hugging and singing songs with tunes from Broadway and lyrics from Hallmark.
“Form follows function” was modern architectural grandpappy Frank Lloyd Wright’s dictum. But what if the form of a modern church doesn’t follow function enough? What if the function of a church is to do more than provide a place for people to sit to hear religious talks? What if is more than to provide a meeting place for people to think about being nice to one another for the next week?
What if the function of a church were to provide a dwelling place for Christ himself? If the architect and fund raisers believed that perhaps the form would follow the function rather differently. What if the function were to be an escalator to heaven, a threshold of eternity, an entrance to the presence of the marriage feast of the lamb, the communion of the saints and a veritable glimpse of glory? Perhaps then the form would follow the function rather differently.
The anonymous architect of the great abbey of Glastonbury in England said, “I want to build a church so beautiful that it will lift even the hardest heart to prayer.”
Now there’s a church architect who understood ‘form follows function.’
UPDATE: Read Curt Jester’s Chestertonian quotes about Gothic architecture here.