Thursday 23 February 2006

Essential buildings for theologians

Here it is, folks—the final post in our “essential lists” series. This final post is by Stephen Cox, a theology graduate who is currently studying philosophy at Sydney University. Stephen is also a practicing architect with Szwaj+Cox Architects, so he’s the perfect person to contribute a list of “essential buildings.”

Another Aussie friend, Rory Shiner, will be posting a much fuller version of this list of buildings in a number of instalments. So for more details, check out his blog, Frankly, Mr Shankly. Anyway, here’s what Stephen has to say about buildings:

Just as one doesn’t need to have written, or even read, a systematic theology in order to have and to live by a theology, so every building has an idea, a raison d’être, and thus responds to Christianity in some way. Granted, there might be disagreement about the extent and importance of this response—but it is something that is at least worth noticing. An obvious but crucial point is that buildings are built by people, meaning that they reflect who we are (or were). Therefore as we look at any building—for example, at its style, layout, or budget—we can learn something about those who built it.

This list is an attempt to provide some insights into what is worth noticing about the built world around us, and why our buildings reflect who we are, and to what we aspire.

1. The Parthenon Athens, Greece. (built: 447-438BCE, architects: Iktinos and Kallikrates) Note: Beauty, Ancient Wisdom.

2. The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel. (built: [temple] c.950BCE—destroyed 586BCE, 526BCE—destroyed 70CE [Dome of the Rock] 690CE) Note: Politics, Eschatology

3. The Pantheon, Rome, Italy (built: 25-27BCE destroyed 80CE, rebuilt c.125CE) Note: Beauty, Ancient Wisdom, Precedent

4. The Basilica of St Peter, Rome Italy (built: 1505-1615 architects: Giuliano da Sangallo, Donato Bramante, Raphael Sanzio, Antonio da Sangallo the younger, Michelangelo Buonarroti, etc) Note: Beauty, Politics, Precedent

5. Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France (built: 1145-1220) Note: Beauty, Statement

6. Fallingwater, Bear Run, PA, USA (built: 1935-1937 architect: Frank Lloyd Wright) Note: Precedent

7. Basilica Santa Maria del Fiore , Florence, Italy (built: 1296-1436 architect Arnolfo di Cambio dome: 1429-1436 architect: Filippo Brunelleschi) Note: Technological Prowess, Beauty.

8. Villa Capra , (La Rotunda) Vincenza ,Italy (built: 1566-1580 architect: Andrea Palladio) Note: Beauty, Statement, Precendent.

9. Tempieto San Pietro , (built: 1508- architect: Donato Bramante) Note: Beauty, Statement.

10. Chrysler Building, New York City, NY, USA (built 1928-1930 architect: William van Alen) Note: Precedent, Technological Prowess.

11. Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia (built: 1957-1973 architect: Jørn Utzon) Note: Beauty, Politics.

12. Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project, St Louis, Mi, USA (built:1951- architect: Minoru Yamasaki) Note: Statement, Modernism.

13. Zeppelintribune, Nuremburg, Germany (built: architect Albert Speer) Note: Statement, Politics.

14. The Alhambra, Granada, Spain (built: 1248-1354) Note: Beauty, Statement.

15. Casa Milà, Barcelona, Spain (built: 1905-1970 architect: Antonio Gaudi) Note: Beauty.

16. Barcelona Pavilion, Barcelona, Spain (built: 1929 architect: Mies van de Rohe) Note: Statement.

17. Wainwright Building , St Louis, MI, USA (built: 1891 architect: Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan) Note: Statement, Precedent.

18. Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (built: 1997 architect: Frank Gehry) Note: Statement, Community Focus.

19. Taj Mahal, India (built 1631-1653) Note: Beauty, Statement.

20. Your House, Note: Statement. The type, style and form of your own residence, whether you own it or rent or whether you even have a house, is a product of the culture in which you live and also of your own personal decisions and circumstances. Have you thought about the house you live in? Why have you decided to live where you live? How important is housing in your life? How do you live in your house? What does your house say about you?


Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with #13, designed by Albert Speer. Speer was the architect for Adolf Hitler - so how can his design reflect anything redeeming about Christianity? I'm attempting not to be judgmental, but it's hard to see how this is redeeming in any way.

Jim said...

Appalling list as it leaves off
1) the Grossmunster
2) The Castle Church at Wittenberg.

No list of important theological sites can bypass these two.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Anonymous: I understand your point. But even if there were nothing "redeeming" about it, I think it would still be very significant. For a more extreme example, each year many people continue to visit Auschwitz -- not for anything "redeeming", but precisely because it has no redeeming qualities.

Rory Shiner said...

I'm a big fan of the list, and I think Speers was a bold stroke. I'm glad Ben mentioned Auschwitz--I think that deserves mention as group of buildings theologians would do well to visit.

Jim: I appreciate your point, but I wonder if there is a distinction to be made between "20 Great Buildings for Theologians" and "20 Great Sites for Theologians to Visit". The latter would not be so concerned with Architectural significance or the significance of buildings qua buildings, but with the historical and cultural significance of the sites (though this is starting to sound a lot like Jo Cathey's Essential Travel for Theologians...)

Anonymous said...

In response to my earlier comment: if I understand you correctly, you propose that the designing and implementation of buildings are human endeavors that point beyond oneself to something greater, to something more beautiful - an aesthetic of sorts. You bring up the good point of Auschwitz - as the antithesis of such a statement - one of the most horrid of human endeavors. But, if we are to see these buildings in theological value, I fail to see how a by-product of the Nazi machine has anything positive (as your other entries most certainly do) to contribute, save that of, perhaps, the antithesis of the beauty of such projects. In short, I cannot see the positive value of Speer's project. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

Anonymous said...

We moved here 25 years ago because my husband got a job & we loved the natural beauty. We bought land, built a cottage (with 3 small children & no building experience) then the house. We have avoided having a mortgage as we do work on the house when we have the funds. It has also meant we could start a small business. We built in adobe, timber & stone because these materials were cheap, local, & aesthetically pleasing. We have designed the house to be energy efficient & a place for family & friends to be. I think everyone needs to be thoughtful about their housing on planet Earth.

Alan Bandy said...

Twin Towers? The problem of evil or Theodicy.

Anonymous said...

Gee, the only one I've actually visited is number 20...guess I need to get out more often.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

#20 Your place of Residence

The house I live in was built for my late father who was a "rocket scientist." It was designed in 1959-60 by Albert O. Bumgardner and Associates. It was his first award winning house. Years later he served as Seattle president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The house won the Seattle AIA award for house of the month and then house of the year for 1960. In 1990 it was featured in a 40 year retrospective as house of the decade. It isn't really that special, just a typical late 50's NorthWest style on a wooded acre with a view of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. The lot is on the west end of an 10 acre estate and to the north is a five acre estate so it is an acre that feels more like five or six acres. The place is a pain to maintain. Living in the woods sounds good until you try it. We had 11 inches of rain in January and the rats in the woods started heading for high ground! I killed six of them in two weeks.

Living in this place when I was a teenager had some impact on my interest in the visual arts.
The impact on my theology? Argument from design :-)


Anonymous said...

the comment about Albert Speers work sticking out "like a sore thumb" is detrimental to the work of a great architect. yes he may have worked for Hitler but he was remorseful at the nurremburg trials. his work deserves to be recognised as a good thing as he worked just as hard on it as any of the other architects listed. the ideals if the Nazi party may have been unchristian but Speer did not necessarily agree with all their policies. i have more to say but not the time. try reading up on Speer and infact Hitler you may learn something more about what they did than just the holocaust.

Kyle said...

I realize my comment is about two years late, but I just found this post through the sidebar links, and I have to point out that the Wainwright Building (17) is in St. Louis, MO, not MI (MO is Missouri, MI is Michigan). We Missourians don't have all that many points of pride, so we have to point out typos to protect the ones we do have.

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