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Stewardship

Tell me I’m wrong to think this.

Of all building types in current use–for housing, commerce, education, industry, entertainment, or religion–the one that seems least environmentally conscious is the last one: structures purpose-built for religious activities. (I exempt here buildings adapted for religious activity from some other purpose.) Most of them are, in my view, exactly what architectural historian and critic Reyner Banham said about the new Coventry Cathedral (though I happen to disagree with him): he called it “A gosh-awful, ring-a-ding God-box.”

Now here’s the irony: One of the lessons often preached in those buildings is stewardship. We’ve seen the passion that can be aroused on that topic among ELCA Lutherans, who have lost congregations due to their denominational statement on genetic engineering. But why, he inquired rhetorically, do the structures in which stewardship is taught more often than not fail to meet the standard being preached inside them?

At brunch last Sunday my friend Pastor Carol suggested part of the issue involves original texts from which this biblical para-principle is drawn. I have neither the original text at hand, nor the appropriate dictionaries to translate, but I gather that the smoking gun–in either Hebrew or Greek–has been translated over the centuries as both “stewardship” and “dominion.” Ah, there’s the rub. All this fruitful multiplication we’ve been doing can be viewed from either perspective: we can inhabit this planet with an awareness of our presence or be heedless of any consequences because it is a Divine Plan. As an SOB from the 60s, I’m disinclined to see humanity having dominion over anything, certainly not our passions and specifically not our divinely-sanctioned self-centered greed.

As a glutton for self-inflicted punishment, I wonder if there might be an Agincourt project in all this.

Googling every possible word or phrase that might illuminate the notion of stewardship in an architectural context has turned up some interesting stuff. Clearly there are folks out there eager to engage my question and anxious to offer an affirmative reply. From all this material I’m intent on crafting a client who speaks the unthinkable: let’s imagine a church/synagogue/mosque/temple/etc that practices what it preaches. I have little doubt this project will present a challenge (that’s what studio projects are suppposed to do, aren’t they?) but, also, that it may offend. Treading the fine line between those two reactions won’t be easy for an oaf like me who should never have been loosed in the china shop of ideas.

Any and all who would like to contribute toward the success of such a project are invited to share.

The same goes for those of you who’d like to piss on it.


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