Sunday, 9 December 2007

Church Architecture

Hi, I just got to you through vaux, through haunted geographies. I've spent a happy little while browsing your blog, some really brilliant thoughts. And Ruskin always gets me going, last year I wrote a piece on Ruskin, atheism and architecture.

My next essays are on the role of design in effecting an 'essence' of sustainable housing and then a critical piece on something since 1985.. I hope a church building, I haven't really started. I want to write on new church architecture, even emergent/ing church architecture. I can't really find a lot written on it. Have you come across anything worthwhile on that?
"Have we lost something here? Are the warehouse churches that we throw up or rent just bland, interchangeable shells for an equally bland and interchangeable God?" I have thought this, currently at a warehouse church, and saddened by the missed opportunity that their new building project represents both environmentally and artistically. I'm torn also by their explicit arguments made for church as a shoe box as primary metaphor. Also on my blog are these questions, I've been going back and forth with some friends with:

Is the church building a shoe box, is it a sheepfold, is it only shelter, is there something gnostic at the end of this train of thought? Do we owe the rich architectural heritage of cathedrals from a former christendom to idolatry alone?

How deep rooted is our damaging abandonment of the arts and disregard of place, and how far reaching are the implications?

What is community? How much slower should we be moving geographically inorder to form better community, what is the role of craft in community, and what would its contemporary expression be?

If God is Green, is this a call to asceticism and does it have implications for christian expression in architecture?

So this conversation finished about a year ago, I'm just browsing, and thought I'd post a few questions that have been on my mind regarding church architecture, I'm writing from the uk, I'm not sure how different the situation is over there, certainly the rich heritage of european ecclesiastic architecture, is on our doorstep and so even more immediately begs such questions regarding the role and nature of contemporary architecture in the framing and communicating of christianity in a post-modern secular etc culture.

Centrally I ache to know why church architecture today is so lacking in substance? I would argue that it is not for lack of means, nor lack of technology, we have never before had such available resource for building to the glory of God. I would currently argue that the source of this change has been theological and sociological. We have changed in our understanding of place, our understanding of congregation and community, in a change derived from our view of work and family, we have become estranged from the divine good in locality, in physical work and craft and we no longer live in any one place long enough to consider a project beyond a generation. Our assimilation to cultural values, the veneration of youth, mobility, speed etc has lead to a transient placeless church for whom primary metaphors chosen for church buildings are a shoe box, a sheepfold, a shelter.. is there something gnostic at the end of this train of thought? Do we owe the rich architectural heritage of cathedrals from a former christendom to idolatry alone? I would say know. How to we put in place an understanding of our incarnation that engages architecture pragmatically, narratively, communally, sacrificially evangelistically.. bleh. I'm at a Vineyard church, whose regard for musical worship lends itself to an, i think, fascinating comparison with the value it places its warehouse and the message the juxtaposition conveys, at least the the architecturally sensitive.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

stats and speculation

A selection of those stats beloved of politicians, preachers and general pessimists.

- 4.6million people die from air pollution per year
- 50,000 species lost per year
- 1.5 acres of rainforest lost per second
- 70% of Chinese rivers are polluted – unfit for human contact
- US dumps 63,000 trucks of rubbish per day
- 2005 – hottest year on record, the decade preceding 2005 had 9 of the 10 hottest years on record

- Climate change is projected to kill 184 million people in Africa alone – Climate Change a More Deadly Threat – BBC, May 15 2006

Since UN report Our Common Future 1987:
- Proportion of collapsed fish stocks has doubled from 15 per cent to 30 per cent and the proportion of fish stocks deemed overexploited risen from 20% to 40%
- A hectare of cropland yielded 1.8 tons of produce, but due to intensification now risen to 2.5 tons with it the burden of soil erosion, water scarcity, nutrient depletion and pollution.
- In Canada and the US, demand for energy up by 19%. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, are about a third higher.
- Species of animals and plants are estimated to be going extinct at a rate that is about 100 times faster than the historical record
- Biologists have now classified 30 per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds as threatened
- In west Asia, available fresh water has fallen from 1,700 cubic metres per person per year to 907 cubic metres, due to pollution and demand

If China becomes us, per year:
- 1352 million tons of grain – 2/3 of the 2004 global harvest
- 99 million barrels of oil – 20 million more than the global today
- 2.8 billion tons of coal
- 11 billion cars – more than currently on the road

- 1951–1991 – American Family has x2 as many cars, drives x2.5 as far, uses x21 as much plastic, and flies x25 as far
- GDP x3 since 1950, House size x2 since 1970, Av number of people decreased per house

Total US advertising spending is expected to increase 1.7% in 2007 to $152.3billion
Worldwide ad spending will maintain a 6% growth rate for the next 2 years, climbing to $427 bln in 2006 and to $451 bln in 2007

- 5% drop in self-reported happiness between 1970-1994 annual study - 'very happy'/'pretty happy'/'not too happy'
- 66% rise in UK GDP 1973-2001 - no increase in 'satisfaction'
- 500% rise in per capita income in Japan 1958-1986 – no increase in satisfaction
- UK national income doubled – coincide with rise in crime and divorce - Richard Douthwaite – 1955-1988
- x3 rise in depression in people born since 1955 over the grandparents generation - Daniel Goleman
- 1985 study – 1.3% born in 1910, 5.3% in 1960 chance of having had a major depressive episode inc tenfold across a generation - not an artefact of increased knowledge about depression – questions on non-medical terms – eg ‘was there a time when you tried to kill yourself?’

- Money consistently buys happiness right up to about $10,000 per capita income and after that the correlation disappears Diener and Seligman – Beyond Money fig 2 p5
- World Values Survey, an assessment of life satisfaction in more than 65 countries conducted between 1990-2000, indicate that income and happiness tend to track well until about $13,000 of annual income per person (in 1995 purchasing power parity) After that, additional income appears to yield only modest additions in self-reported happiness.

- 90% of Americans believe they are kinder than average
- 84% of Americans wanted to be in the top 20% of income distribution
- ¾ of Americans don’t know their neighbours

- The present footprint is equivalent to 22 hectares per person, whereas the natural carrying capacity of the Earth is less than 16 hectares per person

- UK dumps 6.7 million tonnes of food per year, meaning each household jettisons between £250 and £400 worth of food each year. Most of the waste – which nationally costs £8bn – is sent to landfill where it rots, emitting the potent climate- change gas methane.

- 1500miles: the average bite an American eats has travelled

- US cities – 10 persons per acre 1920 – 4 persons per acre 1990 to present developments building 2 persons per acre
- 25% energy used is phantom power
- 95% less energy is used to recycle aluminium than to make new
- 1 ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 3 cubic yards of land fill, 7000 gallons water, 4200 kwh of energy, 390 gallons of oil, 60lbs of air pollution
- 1 acre of land can produce 50,000lbs of tomoatoes, 40,000lbs of potatoes, 30,000lbs of carrots, or 250 lbs of beef.
- 2500gallons of water = 1lb of beef
- 25gallons of water = 1lb of wheat

- 5 million tons of rubbish in the holiday season, 4m of that bags and wrapping paper
- 14m lbs of rubbish into the oceans last year
- 80% more trash than 15years ago, we have 80% less landfills
- If every family in America ate one locally grown meal a week we would save 800 million barrels of oil

- The cost to countries beyond its borders of the environmental damage and exported effluent from the US has been estimated at $73 billion annually
- Americans use energy – x6 mexican, x38 indian, x531 ethiopian per person
- 2004 – World Health Organisation – study of the rates of emotional distress – correlated inequal income distribution and higher levels of emotional distress
- Gini coefficient – inequality – American – 0.4, china .45, japan .25
- Gini Coefficient - 2001 – northwestern University – the top 1 percent of wage earners captured far more of the real national gain than the bottom 80 percent

What Americans and Europeans Spend on Ice Cream: $31 Billion Global
Cost of Creating Marine Parks to Protect the Oceans: $12-14 Billion

Last year
- the rich world spent three times more on bottled water ($58bn) than it did on aid to Africa ($18bn)
- 10 times more on military expenditure ($1trillion) than we did on aid globally ($104bn).
- Britons spent almost twice as much on champagne and other wine
last year as we did on aid
- The French spent more on perfume, German women more on shoes, Italians more on ice cream and the Japanese spent more on luxury goods than their governments did on the world's poor

- Pet food in Europe and United States $17 billion
- Elimination of hunger and malnutrition $19 billion
- Perfumes $15 billion
- Universal literacy $5 billion
- Ocean cruises $14 billion
- Clean drinking water for all $10 billion
- Ice cream in Europe $11 billion
- Immunizing every child $1.3 billion
- Makeup $18 billion
- Reproductive health care for all women $12 billion


We hear much of designing from the 'inside out' among those who consitute what remains of the architectural profession - that sometimes jolly, sometimes sanctimonious, occasionally chi-chi and often pathetic organisation of shelter tailors' Buckminster Fuller, Nne Chains to the Moon.

As members of a profession currently without an ethic, they have not been driving the discussion. Commissioned by clients to install barrier walls and private pathways that can keep out or discourage those who are unwanted or hired to create private commercial experiences out of what may have been public spave, many become complicit in structuring the urban language of separation. Ellen Posner, on Architects.