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The Story: Architecture and Religion
Architecture and Religion
The church was both a building and an institution. The building was a manifestation of the supreme powers that Christendom established in Rome. During the early Middle Ages, the powers of the church superceded those of the state due to its “divine succession”. The building of churches in villages and towns were of great importance in establishing law and order. Christendom included the Orthodox religion centralized in Byzantine and the Church of England. Many forms of architecture stemmed from this period emphasizing religious decoration and ornamentation as well as advances in building construction.
Gothic architecture is often regarded as the product of a highly religious society under the control of the church. However, many of the buildings from the 13th century onwards were increasingly being funded by a secular society of merchants and craftsmen whose knowledge and education were outside the spheres of Christendom. Colonial expansion brought about great wealth outside of the domain of the church and created a movement of change towards capitalism. Later, the industrial revolution would change the nature of the patron-architect-builder relationship in that capitalists - businessmen and corporations, replaced the churches as patrons. Resistance to change came from the church whose power was based on the social economic structure of feudalism. Villages and towns where structured on the hierarchy of a ruling nobility, landlords and peasants. The increasing urbanization helped to fuel this change towards a growing working class who found themselves more and more in conflict with the church.
"Gothic buildings stand at a crucial transition-point in history, between the church-dominated early Middle Ages and the free, secular world of the Renaissance. It is perhaps this very fact which makes them arguably the finest achievements in the history of western architecture; they are the perfect expression of the dialectical tension between two worlds: between religious faith and analytical reason, between the serene, closed monastic society of the old order and the dynamic expansionism of the new." [Risebero, 1997, p.84]
The tension between religious faith and analytical reason would continue through to the modern period. The tension between "religious faith and analytical reason" would be replaced by modern tensions between "art and science" in architecture. This would come about in part because of the premodern preoccupation with decoration and ornamentation. Decoration and ornamentation best illustrates the tensions between two worlds. This was not only the case in Christendom but could also be found in Islamic architecture. In fact, Islamic decoration and ornamentation is also a good example of what Foster notes as an occasion where social values represent the architectural integrity.
"An important architectural notion is that it is the nature and working characteristics of the primary materials which determine the appearance and character of a building, and that the structure and construction must reflect these qualities in some way if there is to be architectural integrity. Most architecture can be evaluated in this way because these factors are also representative of the cost or effort of building, which are generally among the more critical determinants. However, occasionally more abstract ones outweigh such practical considerations, sometimes to the extent that buildings become vehicles for the expression of different values. Invariably, architecture reflects the preoccupations of the society." [Foster, 1983, p.194]
Decoration seems to be a key attribute in Islamic architecture. Representation of living beings is forbidden. Abstract patterns and calligraphy provide the basis of a framework for infinite variations. Islamic architects are mathematicians and scientists who place great importance on geometric principles. There are three basic motifs in the framework used in Islamic decoration. The first is writing, the second is vegetal (leaves, flowers and fruit) and the third is geometrical. Geometry is the governing principle of the other elements.
In contrast to the non-picturesque approach of Islamic architecture is the decoration and a preoccupation with space evident in Byzantine architecture. To enter the church was to enter a representation of heaven itself. The image of heaven is achieved in the structural design of a dome covering a polygon or square. Inside the dome a mosaic is created with images of heavenly figures dissolved into the curvature of the dome, thus giving the illusion of infinite space. Movement is also expressed through light, which when reflected off the mosaic creates an illusion of movement.
The effects of light were achieved through the use of glass. The discovery of this transparent material made from heating of sand, soda and lime is considered to have been as early as 1500 B.C. in the Middle East. The Romans perfected this technique and it became a feature of church buildings. In Byzantine church interiors it was used to purposely create optical illusions.
Glass was also a feature of Victorian architecture. Windows were at one point considered a luxury for the rich. However, with the industrial revolution and industrial production came an increase in wealth, prosperity and population. The price of glass lowered with the increased demand for factories and office buildings. The glass roof became a hallmark of the Victorian era proliferating in many public places such railway stations, gardens, courtyards, museums and exhibition halls.
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