The Robin & Boom Show #09 – Conversation with Steven Schloeder on Ecclesiastical and Civic Architecture

What do recent developments in the rebuilding of Notre Dame cathedral tell us about trends in ecclesiastical and civic architecture? How does the sacramental understanding of architecture compare with modern architectural designs, including the proposal to rebuild the spire of Notre Dame cathedral along postmodernist lines? Jason Van Boom discusses these questions with architect and theologian Steven Schloeder. In this conversation they compared contemporary attitudes towards design with medieval understandings, looking at how these competing attitudes reveal a clash in what it means to be human. Van Boom and Schloeder also explored some of the symbolism of Catholic and Orthodox church structures, and what this tells us about God’s relationship to mankind.

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The Robin & Boom Show #07 – Interview with Dr. David Wang on Notre-Dame Cathedral (Part 2)

In this second interview with Dr. David Wang, we continue to learn about Notre-Dame Cathedral and the significance of the recent fire. Dr. Wang explains how Notre-Dame cathedral is an incarnation of a sacramental ordering of the world, a way of looking at creation in which “the small human being is in the embrace of an immensely larger immaterial reality, such that the small human being receives benefit.” Drawing on his experience as former head of the architectural department at Washington State, Dr. Wang contrasts this ancient sacramental understanding of buildings with postmodern architecture. The conversation steered into the implications of living in an increasingly machine-driven culture, in which our reliance on cyberspace and “disembodied communities” (i,e., communities bereft of any organic relationship to the immediate vicinity around where we live) are orienting human beings to new ways of negotiating embodiment.

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Interview With Dr. David Wang about Notre-Dame

Last Friday morning, Jason Van Boom and I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. David Wang about the Notre-Dame Cathedral and its recent fire. Dr. Wang is a widely published expert on architecture who recently retired as head of the architectural department at Washington State University. In this discussion, Dr. Wang explained about the origins of Notre-Dame and what its Gothic style tells us about the people who built it and about us as human beings. The spiritual ideas behind the cathedral stand in sharp contrast with the design of modern buildings and cities, which are based on what Dr. Wang calls “the sacramentality of the machine.” Understanding the sacramentality of buildings points to an important limitation in the process of rebuilding Notre-Dame, Dr. Wang suggested. This is because our culture has lost more than the spire and roof of this historic cathedral: we have lost continuity with the sacramental worldview that this cathedral embodies. These are just some of the fascinating observations Dr. Wang made in this first of our two-part series on Notre-Dame. (If you are receiving this post by email and the embedded video is removed, just click HERE).

The Robin & Boom Show #06 – Interview with Dr. David Wang on Notre-Dame Cathedral

Jason and Robin interview Dr. David Wang about Notre-Dame Cathedral and its recent fire. Dr. Wang is a widely published expert on architecture who recently retired as head of the architectural department at Washington State University. In this discussion, Dr. Wang explains the origins of Notre-Dame and what its Gothic style tells us about the people who built it and about us as human beings. The spiritual ideas behind the cathedral stand in sharp contrast with the design of modern buildings and cities, which are based on what Dr. Wang calls “the sacramentality of the machine.” Understanding the sacramentality of buildings points to an important limitation in the process of rebuilding Notre-Dame, Dr. Wang suggested. This is because our culture has lost more than the spire and roof of this historic cathedral: we have lost continuity with the sacramental worldview that this cathedral embodies.

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Thomism and Architecture

In Philip Bess’ work Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Sacred, he uses a Thomistic-Aristotelian framework (including but not limited to what he calls “my happy participation in and defense of the religious and metaphysical realism of Western culture”) for analyzing architectural trends.

Chapter 2, titled ‘Democracy’s Private Places’, has some interesting observations about city architecture in the post-war era (an era that continues right up to the present day with its architectural folly). One of the hallmarks of this time has been the decline of public buildings and the rise of luxury town homes – specifically, suburban homes intentionally separated from the public life of the city, thus fortifying the notion that the Good Life, whatever else it may be, is essentially a private affair. This deviates from Aristotle’s understanding that a happy society is one in which the members are part of a Common Good that, whatever else it may involve, is essentially civic. Zoning laws that officially separate public from private life (and in the process make the automobile practically indispensable) now force this heretical worldview to be incarnated in the landscape of our cities. Continue reading

Suburban Pretensions

From James Kunstler’s Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century:

51KSTqjpDiL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_“The suburban housing subdivision is not what it pretends to be. It is emphatically not a community, certainly not a village or a town. What you feel most strikingly is the perverse absence of those qualities. The subdivision is an abstraction: a metaphor. It is an essemlage of little cabins in the woods or little manors in a park or some hybrid of the two. It is essential to this metaphor that each of these houses be understood as existing in isolation. The fact that there are, say, 350 of them distributed around a tract of 175 acres only elevates the unreality of the metaphor. We want them to behave as an ensemble, as a living pattern, but the houses refuse. To do so would contradict their splendid isolation.”