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Building in the Name of God

September 20, 2009

Today I watched a documentary “Building in the Name of God” on History Channel. I already knew many facts mentioned in the program, but I did learn something new and enjoyed watching the construction process in 3D reproduction. Michelangelo alone spent his last 18 years working on St. Peter’s Basilica, but it takes hundreds of years to finish such projects. More importantly, design of the interior space changed dramatically over the centuries.

These cathedrals were highlighted in the program:

One of the challenges of the cathedral architects was to allow as much light passage as possible, while preserving integrity of the structure. This task was accomplished by implementing ridged vaults, flying buttresses, and canary arches among other things. However, one of the most important aspects is design of an experience.

Crystal Cathedral might have achieved the goal of exposing visitors to light, but its interior feels quite different from other cathedral spaces. Although it seems to serve the original goal of its creator, it is not a cathedral I would want to visit. The atmosphere of such structures should be conductive of contemplation and communication with God, without any distractions and somewhat isolated from hassles of everyday life.

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Related Post: Moshe Safdie: What makes a building unique?

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10 comments

  1. the problem is, with all the tourism involved, even an ideal place for contemplation like Notre Dame, becomes a tad inconvenient for your purpose. I would actually support that they separated one day of the week (not Sunday) as non-tourism week (cameras, etc not allowed).

    Also, Crystal Cathedral looks scary.


    • Yes, it would be nice to have some break from tourism. Sagrada Familia is scheduled to open for worship in a year from now, so I hope they will find a good balance.

      haha Yes, Crystal Cathedral is somewhat scary :)


  2. For History of Art, we viewed a documentary about Byzantine. It touches on similar subjects you mentioned, but it was mostly history, haha. It wasn’t bad, but the classroom wasn’t the best environment because the lecturer turned off the lights and everyone began to nod off! I thought that the architecture is amazing, indeed! Sounds like National Geographic’s Ancient Megastructures, when they talk about historical buildings and the technology used to achieve such results. There’s going to be one about Angkor Wat soon, so I’m staying tuned. (: I find places of worship scary as well. Maybe it’s the mural on the walls and ceilings…


    • One of the first instances of flying buttresses were implemented in Byzantine, but they were not exposed like the ones in Notre Dame.

      the lecturer turned off the lights and everyone began to nod off!

      ahaha Oh yes, it happens very often! I really dislike when they turn off the light because you are supposed to take very detailed notes. You know that there will be a question on an exam asking about what the film depicted at 15:36 :P

      Oh, thank you for mentioning about Angkor Wat – I should watch that too! :)

      Some artwork is truly fascinating, but it depends on the place.


  3. I’m absolutely intrigue by one of the world’s most intricate architectural designs in recent times that is La Sagrada Familia. It’s amazing that that the building work is still on going long after Gaudi is gone. I thought of it as a really beautiful work of art but on a really massive and stupendous scale. I’m complete stump by the amount of detailing on the structure. Definitely a study in itself… Hope to see it with my own eyes sometime in the future. Attending mass there would be quite an experience I believe.


    • Indeed, it is a fascinating structure with an interesting beginning that they plan to finish by the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. On the site I liked, there is an entire section dedicated to symbolism of its art :) Another place to visit on a long wishlist :)


  4. That’s why history is made of epic awesomeness <3


    • Yes, history reminds us how much humans can achieve even with limited resources and technology.


  5. Ah st. Basilica, that is a beauty.

    BUT, it is still inferior to the amazing Pantheon!

    In fact, Michelangelo was asked to create a perfectly spherical dome like that in Pantheon. But Michelangelo replied, no I can’t do it, that building was designed not by a man it was by an angel. And I agree…if you want to convert someone, just take him inside Pantheon and he’ll feel god ;_;


    • Indeed, Pantheon is one of the most amazing structures! The opening at the top nicely serves both aesthetic and functional purposes :)



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