Culture At Large

The moral message of architecture; or, why your church building shouldn't be ugly

Andy Rau

My wife recently recommended the Philosophy Bites podcast to me, so I've been listening to it off and on today. One of the recent episodes struck me as particularly interesting, given the discussions we've had here at TC about church building architecture: an interview with Alain de Botton, author of The Architecture of Happiness, about the role of beauty in architecture. Here's the exchange that first grabbed my attention:

Warburton: There's also a sense of the potential moral force of buildings--the way a building might seem to promise to make your life go better.

Alain de Botton: Yes, again, this is a traditional question of aesthetics: can good art make us into good people? The hope is always "Yes, it can." The way I look at it, is I think that works of art do have a moral, in the sense that they do have suggestions about the way we might behave. You can look at a glass, a chair, or a picture, and it has certain suggestions about what might be appropriate behavior if we were to take that work of art seriously. But these are merely suggestions, rather than binding laws. Good architecture is a suggestion of good behavior, but nothing more or less than that.

Much good discussion about the relationship between form and function in architecture. There is much to be said about being as efficient and functional as possible with your church's construction budget; the attractiveness of a church building doesn't affect whether or not God is present in our lives. But if de Botton is correct, striving for beauty in a church building isn't useless extravagance; it communicates something significant to everyone who sees or uses the building.

What does your church building say to people who see it? Does it seem odd to think of a moral message in architectural design? What do you think?

(Related items posted previously on TC: ten beautiful church buildings, is your church building a ministry?, recognizing true beauty when you see it.)

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Art