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Build It and There Will Be Space

August 7, 2019

“Build it and they will come.” Says God to Ray Kinsella in ‘”Field of Dreams”.

We want to believe that. But history says otherwise, absent God.

Architects (and I am one) want desperately that a clear insight of beauty, birthed through our good offices, will transform any platform into a new, great reality. We see the thoughtless mediocrities of profit-driven building, the failing built non-sequiturs of irrelevance without appeal, and simply bad ideas that deny hope in anything we make all around us. We offer an alternative: Our Vision.

“If only…” we murmur. So architects launch who we are into what we do not control, hoping our insight, our genius will flip a losing reality into the best aspects of human potential, as seen in our life focus, architecture. But that denies what hope is, let alone faith.

Faith in yourself is required to exist, but faith projected beyond that into the meaning of our culture mostly fails. Modern Architecture was started a century ago as a world wide cultural revolution: it was once dubbed “The International Style” that transcends all the barriers of what existing humanity knew before the genius of architects was inveighed on an unenlightened world. But not much has changed except a hundred years of making some great beauty, and endless failures of extreme effort in the name and cause of Modernism.

It has not been a successful revolution, except for the revolutionaries.

A tiny proportion of what gets built is defined as Modern. But that tiny bit receives the huge preponderance of Glory, Laud and Honor in the halls of the elite lands of journalism, academia and institutional recognition. Why?

Because the choir is judging of its own singing.

In the 21st century Church World, the choir still loves what the Church is singing. Just like in the world of building, where the Choir of Modernism loves what gets recognition, while the vast majority of what is built follows human preference, decidedly not High Modern. Rather than learn from this, architects and organized religion are loath to listen to the overwhelming truth that what has been offered simply is not selling beyond the Market of True Believers.

“If only…” say those who bewail the rest of our culture, the majority in fact, who cannot perceive the deeper beauty that the elite know is the truth, the light and the way.

If you believe that we are all equal, all children of the God that made everything everywhere (even if the God is a godless devotion to natural selection), that reality says that no judgment reigns supreme in the core of any single human’s perception. We are all the same. All equal.

Those church services, those Modernist buildings are, indeed, transcendently beautiful to the believers. Including this Rite 1 Low Episcopalian, and graduate of the Great Modernist School, Cornell.

But I know irrelevance when I experience it.

As do the millions who no longer go to any church and the 90% of housing consumers that run away from ‘”Contemporary” homes.

In matters architectural I simply follow the gifts God has given me.

But I know that if what I do works, then what I channel has been open to the human condition, not that I have seized some magic insight from a well of earned, learned or made genius. If architects can know that they have been given infinite gifts but the first gift, often ignored is to listen, then buildings will become relevant to more than the architects themselves.

It is the same with our churches and any place humans look to connect with something larger than the rituals and traditions and trappings we Church Goers Love. It is the same for architects who might want their designs to mean more than simply being a really flattering mirror.

In that way, we, the builders, do not just make shapes, what architects call “forms”. Whether building a church or a building we are making space, space that harbors, rather than the “formalism” that some architects seek to create to confront and impose upon our culture.

We have a choice. We can hear what is loudly real in the way we create or sustain what we love, or we can try to control it, often to prove that what any of us loves should be what everyone Should Devote Their Lives To.

Perhaps there are better words than “Build it and they will come.” Perhaps the better words come from being open to a larger reality than ourselves. Perhaps “Listen and We Will Build” opens up a place for more than the convinced. Architects are not taught to listen in School, but we are taught, relentlessly, how to project and direct.

Unless those in churches are taught to listen to the multitudes who are not in the churches, we simply lose what we never had: the power to direct, project and ‘save” – that is what God does. Just like architects.

But we have to Listen.

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