Have you seen modern architecture lately? Doesn’t it seem to you rather…boring? They’re all made out of steel and glass (some adventurous architects use wood). They’re all square or some weird polygon shape. They’re built to be as transparent as possible and evoke a sterility that rivals that of a hospital.
Seriously, it seems as if the pristine whiteness of undulating surfaces scoffed at our plebeian status as organic beings.
“Look mom! A giant mirror!”
Some would contend in saying that the perfect geometry of the building is evocative of our scientific advances. To that, I agree, and well applaud the advances that have been made in this area of thought. It is unfortunate however, that man cannot be wholly expressed in the scientific terms we use to describe a rock, or a chimpanzee. Man is both spirit and body, and as such expresses an infinity of reflections that transcend time and space -akin to a diamond radiating a single light source into a dazzling array of radiance. Shouldn’t we design our houses in much the same way? The great profession of Architecture has always been imbued with this spiritual significance.
Architecture has never simply been about a utility construction, meant to house us from the elements. It’s an art.
It might have been true in the beginning of our evolution, but it developed from there to become a status symbol. A way for great kings to assimilate themselves to the gods (think pyramids of Giza), a dwelling place for those we love (Taj Mahal) or as a sign of defiance against the evil powers of the world (such as the Freedom Tower). To reduce architecture to linear, geometric shapes in flat color tones is severely limiting, to say the least.
Renowned architect Norman Foster agrees with this, saying in an interview with Architecture Daily:
Architecture is an expression of values – the way we build is a reflection of the way we live.
If we are to seek a complete understanding of ourselves, and imbue this insight into solid, standing structures, I would suggest a different approach than the modern trend seems to suggest. I suggest going 1000 years, in fact, to the Gothic cathedrals of Western Europe. These marvelous edifices have stood against the elements and preserved remarkably well the people who dwell inside.
More importantly however, is these building’s ability to make your head look up, and stay there: in other words, it inspires our soul.
The roofs aren’t merely flat, and white, with ventilation systems and electric cables. The arched roofs look like the inner belly of a whale. It’s star-studded patterns evoking a canopy of rock, or a constellation of stars. The cold rock is imposing and aloof, yet it manages to entrance us, to draw us into the deep mysteries of God.
Abbot Suger (not sugar -it’s french) invented Gothic architecture, and after seeing his newly built church exclaimed in De Administratione:
‘When … the loveliness of the many-coloured gems has called me away from external cares … then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven.’
(source: Victoria and Albert Museum)
The “one foot on earth, another in heaven” is a fitting description of the emotions that gothic cathedrals often create. Of course, not everyone want to live in count Dracula’s home, and creating every condo on earth in the Gothic style is overkill.
Looks like Count Dracula is home
However, I would propose a revival of this design to the current generation of architects. It would be a fascinating thing to see this relic of quiet antiquity imposing itself in the bustling streets of New York City, or Chicago. One group of people have thought of this though. A boutique design group, Mark Foster, have submitted a design for what could potentially be the world’s only gothic skyscraper.
With 3D printed Gargoyles and all, this could be the face of what could become a new era in architecture. One where angels and demons are carved in stone, and look intently at us, puny humans, tweeting and posing selfies on the streets below. The true image of the modern era.