Ten years ago, at a gathering at Lambeth Palace, an “alternative worship” service was vividly described as follows:
“On the first visit to a service, the main impression is visual. Screens and hanging fabrics, containing a multiplicity of colours, moving and static images continuously dominate the perceptions. There are other things: the type of music, often electronic, whose textures and range seem curiously attuned to the context of worship, smells, the postures adopted by the other worshippers…. As the mental picture begins to fill up with details, there is a growing appreciation that considerable technological complexity is sitting alongside simplicity and directness. The rituals—perhaps walking though patterns, tieing [sic] a knot, or having one’s hands or feet anointed—are introduced with simple, non-fussy directions. The emphasis is on allowing people to do what will help, liberate, and encourage their worship rather than on the orchestration of a great event…. Where something is rather obscure, its purpose is to invite further reflection, perhaps teasing the worshippers to look deeper beyond the surface meaning…. For many of those who stay, they have never before had an experience of Christian worship like it. It is as though they have come to a new place which they instantly recognize as home.”
Then, as now, the Rev. Dr. Paul Roberts pleaded for a renewed appreciation of the artistic sensibility in worship, not for art’s sake alone, but as part of a “vibrant missionary engagement” with postmodern aesthetics—embracing its “richer, multi-layered, and more fluid textuality—envisioning meanings and appreciating multivalence through a variety of media.”1
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Contemporary architecture has been trivialized spurred on by a profit-driven construction industry on the one hand and aspiring intellectual designers on the other. At a time of increasing social inequality, threats of nuclear proliferation, widespread spiritual and moral fatigue, disintegration of the social nucleus, lifestyle- and environment-dependant illnesses of epidemic proportions, alarming frequency and intensity of natural disasters, terrorism, global warming, deforestation, air pollution, acid rain, ozone depletion, the extinction of species, limited natural resources and a dwindling food supply, architecture has either been absent or responded with inconsequential metaphors.
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At the current point in history, there is an appropriate concern for the environment, global warming, pollution, and the consumption of natural resources. Although the theories vary and multiple causes are cited, very few people would promote an absence of any environmental goals. Most people care enough about future generations to accept the notion of sustainability as presented by Gro Brundtland: “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”1 I will leave it to others to write further about why this came to pass, who is to blame, and how bad things are. In my role as a professor of environmental controls in Architecture, I have spent a lifetime teaching students the physical aspects of how to go about building sustainable architecture. But I have also seen the profession of Architecture largely ignore the energy crisis and continue to resist addressing issues of sustainability in the architectural movements and styles which are popular among academics, critics, or the general public. They are more interested in aesthetics, and to some extent that is appropriate, but it leaves us with only one option: to define aesthetics in a fashion which incorporates the goals and procedures of energy conservation and sustainability as a whole.
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