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From Crisis Magazine:




June 27, 2014
Beauty is for the Poor, Too
Duncan G. Stroik



“How many poor people there still are in the world! And what great suffering they have to endure! After the example of Francis of Assisi, the Church in every corner of the globe has always tried to care for and look after those who suffer from want, and I think that in many of your countries you can attest to the generous activity of Christians who dedicate themselves to helping the sick, orphans, the homeless, and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.”  —Pope Francis, Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See

What is the architectural corollary of Saint Francis of Assisi’s “holy poverty”? Is it the shantytowns of the third world or the stylish minimalism of first-world condominiums? When we build churches, schools, and soup kitchens, should they be cheap or at least look cheap? Not if the Franciscans of the past built them. In fact, history teaches how we should build through the example of the great philanthropists, religious orders, bishops, and saints. From the geometrical harmony of the Servites’ Foundling Hospital in Florence to Saint John Bosco’s house for boys in Torino, there is a type of Catholic building that is built to last with a sense of beauty. Some would question why we should spend great sums of money on architecture, when what the poor really need are buildings that meet their functional needs. And yet, following Mother Theresa and other great saints, to serve the poor means serving not only their material needs but their spiritual needs as well. Good architecture does both: it provides buildings and rooms for people to live in, study in, and work in while doing it in a way that can inspire.

Do the poor need beauty? Yes, maybe even more than other people do. The poor need beauty to ennoble them, to raise them up out of the morass of this fallen world. For many, their existing surroundings may not inspire them, so beautiful, durable architecture can have a salutary effect. We see the desire for beauty and tradition expressed in the parishes and schools built by poor immigrants in previous centuries. Their own houses may have been simple, but their communal home sought to be a work of art, full of iconography and richness. It is true that the rich and the middle class can afford many distractions: artwork, books, museums, travel, and entertainment where they oftentimes come in contact with beauty, serenity, and even the divine. Yet for those less well-off, where do they find the richness of culture and the majesty of nature but in the dome of a cathedral or the stained glass of a church?

Some years ago, my students designed and built a house for Habitat for Humanity. One of the leaders of the organization visited the house and was shocked to see brickwork below the front porch (matching the older houses in the neighborhood). “You can’t make this house nicer than the other Habitat homes—you will make the other owners jealous.” In his view, the poor deserved only the lowest common denominator. The house was meant not so much to beautify or dignify the occupants but only to provide for their material needs. In a small way I would like to think these students were unwittingly imitating Dorothy Day, who once gave a diamond ring to a bag lady. Upon being questioned by a Catholic Worker staff member on whether it would have been better to sell the ring and use the money for the poor, Dorothy said, “Do you suppose that God created diamonds only for the rich?”

Vox Wrote:The attitude the writer's talking about reminds me of Shirley Jackson's short story, "Come Dance With Me in Ireland," in which an old beggar man comes to a woman's house, where she's entertaining a female friend or two, and she, in her charitable but haughty heart, proceeds to feed him -- while simultaneously insulting his dignity the whole while. (I love Jackson's stories!).  I so wish that anyone involved with charity work would read that story!

Anyway, it used to be that even the poorest of parishes were filled with parishioners who gave what they could to make their church as beautiful as they could.  My favorite parish in my town, Indianapolis, is Holy Rosary, and it's the "Italian personal parish" (some of my family were the first to have been baptized in the new building, I'm proud to say, and before the new building came about, my Italian-side grandparents were married there). Anyway! I assure you that the people who populated that parish were dirt poor. The poorest of the poor. My Grandpa, for ex, worked on the railroad, getting up around 5AM every day, in Indiana Winters and Indiana Summers, made nothing, and had 8 mouths to feed. Well, 9, including his own. And the other folks at that church were like him. But the church had a gorgeous mural in the apse (now gone, alas), the most beautiful stained glass, etc. They knew it was GOD'S HOUSE and adorned it accordingly. There's inspiration in beauty, and the Mass is the one thing during which we should be inspired the most.

(As an aside, the Italians built and designed that parish -- but then a German priest came in and there went the mural. Sigh!  The Church has been renovated, however -- and I mean renovated, not wreckovated. The earlier German priest's and post-Vatican II wreckovations were UN-DONE, praise God :) )

Do the poor need a different or lesser architecture than other Americans? They too can feel the solidity of brickwork, the generosity of a porch, the human scale of baseboard and cornice, and the quality of natural materials. Likewise, they too are affected by mechanistic façades and oppressive interiors that do not elevate the spirit. When we welcome them to the homeless shelter, the school, the soup kitchen, the medical clinic, the pregnancy center, or the unwed mothers’ home, we welcome them to our house. Nothing less than the best is acceptable. We roll out the red carpet for them, since we believe “as you did it to the least of My brethren, you did it to Me.”

Vox Wrote:Amen!

I'm perturbed by modern architecture in general. It's so sad to have experienced Europe, or even the Old City in Quebec, and then look at what a typical American city's buildings look like. Downtown areas might have their charms if a city's old enough (and Indiana has some gorgeous Court Houses spread throughout her counties), but the outer-urban areas and suburbs of most American cities -- it's soul-killing. Little square 7-11 stores with billboards and telephone wires and fugly gas stations... I've been sensitive to that stuff since I was a wee little kid. It just kills me. I love the Italian "fare la bella figura" approach to things. Why make a building ugly when, for not much more, it can be made to at least look nice and warm and inviting -- maybe even beautiful? I just don't understand it.



architecture, like music and language,  is a reflection of the civilization.  When you debase it or reduce to mere functionality or vulgarity, you are lowering the bar of what you expect from people, and instead of encouraging a man to rise up and overcome, you just fill up the world with a group of automatons who only respond to their basest functions.  I find it absolutely embarrassing that we substitute cold functionality for aesthetics, particularly among the more conservative folks out there. 
(07-01-2014, 10:30 AM)AntoniusMaximus Wrote: [ -> ]architecture, like music and language,  is a reflection of the civilization.  When you debase it or reduce to mere functionality or vulgarity, you are lowering the bar of what you expect from people, and instead of encouraging a man to rise up and overcome, you just fill up the world with a group of automatons who only respond to their basest functions.  I find it absolutely embarrassing that we substitute cold functionality for aesthetics, particularly among the more conservative folks out there. 

Excellent!  Couldn't agree with you more!
That's funny. Ayn Rand had much to say about architecture. She was right. And agrees with you.
(07-01-2014, 01:01 PM)Jaegermeister Wrote: [ -> ]That's funny. Ayn Rand had much to say about architecture. She was right. And agrees with you.

Even people who are wrong about a lot of things can be right about some things. :)
Around here (New Jersey), many of the most beautiful churches are to be found in the poorer sections. I'm talking about the urban areas like Newark and Paterson, etc... The children of the immigrants who built them moved out of the cities in favor of more suburban areas. It's there you'll find the big ugly "steak houses" as Fr. Cekada calls them.  :LOL: I always thought there was some sort of divine justice going on that way.
(07-01-2014, 01:51 PM)J Michael Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-01-2014, 01:01 PM)Jaegermeister Wrote: [ -> ]That's funny. Ayn Rand had much to say about architecture. She was right. And agrees with you.

Even people who are wrong about a lot of things can be right about some things. :)

And yet, even now, people throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

Ignorance and the 20th century, and the 21st century, Satan is in his Glory.  But not for long!
(07-01-2014, 05:32 PM)Jaegermeister Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-01-2014, 01:51 PM)J Michael Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-01-2014, 01:01 PM)Jaegermeister Wrote: [ -> ]That's funny. Ayn Rand had much to say about architecture. She was right. And agrees with you.

Even people who are wrong about a lot of things can be right about some things. :)

And yet, even now, people throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

Ignorance and the 20th century, and the 21st century, Satan is in his Glory.  But not for long!

What are you talking about in this thread? What does Ayn Rand have to do with anything? What baby is being thrown out with what bathwater?

(07-01-2014, 10:06 PM)Vox Clamantis Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-01-2014, 05:32 PM)Jaegermeister Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-01-2014, 01:51 PM)J Michael Wrote: [ -> ]
(07-01-2014, 01:01 PM)Jaegermeister Wrote: [ -> ]That's funny. Ayn Rand had much to say about architecture. She was right. And agrees with you.

Even people who are wrong about a lot of things can be right about some things. :)

And yet, even now, people throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

Ignorance and the 20th century, and the 21st century, Satan is in his Glory.  But not for long!

What are you talking about in this thread? What does Ayn Rand have to do with anything? What baby is being thrown out with what bathwater?

I guess we'll never know the answer to those questions now.  Oh well....<>
(07-01-2014, 10:30 AM)AntoniusMaximus Wrote: [ -> ]architecture, like music and language,  is a reflection of the civilization.  When you debase it or reduce to mere functionality or vulgarity, you are lowering the bar of what you expect from people, and instead of encouraging a man to rise up and overcome, you just fill up the world with a group of automatons who only respond to their basest functions.  I find it absolutely embarrassing that we substitute cold functionality for aesthetics, particularly among the more conservative folks out there. 

Agreed.