Cornell Professor Jim Williamson signing copies of his recently published book at the panel
On the 21st of February there was a panel discussion in front of a large crowd of students and scholars at AAP NYC engaging questions of the both the ‘sacred’ and of the ‘religious’ as viable forms of architectural expression in the early 21st century. The Panel did not discuss churches, temples and other religious structures per se, but instead engaged in a series of topics related to the persistence of ‘the sacred’ and the ‘religious’ as important historical, theoretical and imaginative concerns for the contemporary architect, which act as either a foil or a compliment to current developing practices.
The apocryphal project of Modern Architecture was discussed – modern constructions of space, the sacred, and the architectural imagination. The discussion stemmed from the recent publication of The Religious Imagination, in Modern and Contemporary Architecture: A Reader (Routledge, 2011, Eds. Renata Hejduk and Jim Williamson) and Constructing the Ineffable: Contemporary Sacred Architecture (Yale, 2011, ed. Karla Britton); both of which were available for purchase at the symposium; an enticing sale since the authors of the books were also present allowing people to garner several autographed copies. Apart from the authors of the books, panelists also included Steven Holl, Michael Hays, and Mark Taylor. The latter renowned architectural critics at Harvard and Columbia respectively and the former the famous star architect with several famous projects for religious institutions.
The discussion was lively and well thought out. It began with Executive Director of AAP NYC Bob Balder introducing the panelists with Michael Crosby then briefly introducing the topic on discussion. Michael Hays, who was standing as moderator then gave a short presentation using John Hejduk’s Chapel of the Marriage of the Moon and the Sun as a starting point and leading the discussion off by asking several questions including:
- Has the exploration of the plastic freedom enabled by new animation and parametric representation techniques contributed to or taken away from architecture’s traditional ability to “present the unrepresentable,” that is to say, to give material expression to otherwise ineffable feelings and thoughts.
- Can there be specific sacred spaces without specific religions? (Think of Le Corbusier: “I have not experienced the miracle of faith but I have often know the miracle of inexpressible space.”
- Is there a religious space for the 21st century? (from Peter Eisenman and Mark Taylor)
- Beyond responses to religious building programs how does architectural work under the headings of the “sacred” or the ‘religious imagination” have relevance in early 21st century culture?
- If there is an influence does it go beyond the interest of academics and if so, how?
- Is it possible that architectural work in this regard has anything to offer the categories of the “religious” or the “sacred.”