Gothic Architecture- Beyond Utility

All public architecture… has significance beyond its mere utility.

-Spiro Kostof

Near the middle of the 12th century, a new philosophy in France challenged the Romanesque precedent of self-denial and austerity. Under the banner of Abbot Suger’s lux nova (God is light) dogma and with the cathedral as a sort of political battle cry, the Gothic style became an intellectual and innovative charge. The impetus was religious and national, and vouched for the new found allegiance of church and state; therefore, the marvel and beauty of the facades of these cathedrals advertised the prosperity and ascendancy, the sickle and the scepter, of the city. These large basilica churches built during the 11th-14th centuries present more than functional solutions to township or religious needs. They are symbols in stone.

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Hagia Sophia- what religious architecture fails to attain

“Because the God who said, Out of darkness light shall shine, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

-2 Corinthians 4:6

I’ve been commenting here and there on how existential views of man or theological concepts have shaped religious building works. Architecture is very philosophical and theories abound as to why or how we should build and what our built environment says about us. Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Modern all, at their core, are tectonic theories about life.

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Culture in Colossians

“We ought not to suppose that what is divine is like gold or silver or stone, like an engraving of art and thought of man.”

-Acts 17:29

I found these style descriptions on a promo website when the W Hotel in Dallas was under construction. I think they were trying to say that the W appeals to all style dispositions, no matter how your chromosomes are wired. Obviously they have made selective reductions in the style spectrum. Which one are you?

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The Architectural Roots of Humanism (2)

Architecture is a powerful force.

It petrifies and lays down once and for all the movement of life. Form places provocations or limits on the use of space. Architecture is not merely a public service to provide an indoor environment for people to live and work. It is a philosophical statement about man.

The major difference between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is their view of man. These views are reflected in their architecture.

A prominent abbot named Suger (he’s French, so sounds like soo-zhay) of St. Denis spearheaded a new philosophy near the middle of the 12th century, that challenged the Romanesque precedent of self-denial and austerity. This happened through his lux nova dogma and conception of “God is light.”

Gothic architecture was a technical response to a theological idea.

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The Architectural Roots of Humanism (1)

Lying quiet in the shadow of the Hellenistic flourish a few centuries before Christ, when Rome appropriated the architecture of the Greek and Etruscan colonies, it was selective in its borrowings and adapted geometry to a new use: the active experience of space through the novelty of the arch.Then there was the dome, and all of the sudden Imperial Rome was heralding its grandeur through large scale, massive, state funded architecture.

Architecturally, the Renaissance was a looking back upon and a scrutinizing of Classical antiquity, with the realization that they had gotten something right.

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When “Going to Church” was Coming Home

Act 2:46 – And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they partook of their food with exultation and simplicity of heart

This is a picture of the earliest discovered (231 AD) Christian home that was used for a meeting place. It was discovered in Syria and is called the Dura-Europos house church. The meeting area is on the left and the baptistery is on the right, toward the back.

I found this interesting quote from Spiro Kostof’s A History of Architecture:

“Indicative of a repressed and plebeian movement, the places of worship were exceedingly modest. Centers for the community were set up in remodeled, outwardly inconspicuous houses… To the first generations of believers the church was where the Christians were. The word ecclesia, “church,” signified the community of Christ that had no need for prescribed buildings to proclaim its faith and reaffirm its bonds. The people were the architecture. In the century or so before Constantine the random gathering places of this primitive Christianity slowly began to be formalized, and with the sudden breakthrough of the imperial conversion, the necessity of a monumental built order to project prestige and authority came to be recognized.”