“Is modern church architecture always hideous?”
This is the question raised by a leading UK catholic news forum, accompanied by an image of architect Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church, located in Rome. In terms of aesthetics, the building is anything but ugly. It is bold, and modern, with clean lines and features an aspect that is apparent in almost all modern religious buildings, natural lighting.
The difficulty is, when you compare the aforementioned Church with historical associations such as Notre Dame or the Pièce de résistance of The Vatican, this little Roman Church stands as a white block next to architectural exquisiteness.
While the question was posed on a Catholic website, the debate stands for all modern places of worship. Whether tasteful or otherwise, the reason behind such a dichotomy of tastes when it comes to modern religious constructions is that they are simply incomparable.
It must be mentioned that there are two key rules to cordial communication. No discussions of religion, or money. One must always be tentative when discussing the two and it should be noted that the following exploration of modern religion and design is influenced only by architectural and construction standards.
While modern places of worship differ greatly, there are two main elements that feature in almost all. An ultra-modern, almost box-like styling that includes little or no religious idolatry, and a huge emphasis on natural lighting.
Jaime Varon, Abraham Metta, Alex Metta / Migdal Arquitectos’ Midrash Sumiya synagogue in Mexico is a testament to both of these design elements, as is Istanbul-based Manco architect’s Concept Mosque. Both offer a modern, spacious area of worship, that uses natural light as a key design feature.
This could be most accurately interpreted as a release of the physical and a nod to the spiritual, shaking off the constraints of historical religion and using the light as a symbol of the Devine.
Design concept ‘Super Mega Underground Church’ in Seoul South Korea by US and Korean architecture culmination of Beck Group and Gansam and the built Soho Synagogue by Dror in New York also share these traits, but show an unabashed reinterpretation that does not shy away from religious symbols and idolatry, which may account for the latters’ success.
Critics have labeled the reasoning behind the architectural stylings of modern religious buildings as a result of a loss of ideology. It could, however, be viewed as simply a modern interpretation that focuses on light and simplicity, moving away from the darker side of traditionalist fundamental religious views. In turn, this reflects a modern religious movement that promotes spaces of worship in whatever capacity that may be without overwhelming those in attendance.
The limitation to this, is that in order for these buildings to resonate with attendees, they must have their connection to traditionalism, because in reality, modern religion is almost synonymous with tradition.
While there is a precedent for creating modern structures to reflect a modern interpretation, it is simply impossible to separate the basis upon which the different religions were created upon.
While there are various reasons as to why this new distinct religious style has become apparent, what is overwhelmingly clear is that traditional buildings, with their undoubtably exquisite interiors and incredible architecture have been created by the use of a lot more man hours and for far greater numbers. Herein lies the greater issue. Perhaps the real question should be: has a waning interest in religion stumped its design possibilities?