Monday, 24 November 2008

Theology and Architecture

It has been said that you can take a property valuer out of the real estate industry but you can never take the interest in real estate out of him. That is so true of my personal experience. My fascination and interest in real estate continues on today even after having left the industry for more than 10 years already. I am still very interested in architectural design of buildings and conceptual and land use planning of property development.

Last Saturday, I decided to take some time off from working on my book project to satisfy my fascination, curiosity, and interest in some of the interesting architectural designs of some prominent religious buildings in Singapore.

I visited the Church of St Mary of the Angels, a Franciscan parish, in Bukit Batok. The design of the sanctuary has won the prestigious President’s Design Award, Singapore's highest recognition award, and has been favourably mentioned in numerous publications and exhibitions.

The sanctuary of the Church of St Mary of the Angels is one example where the creativity of the human mind, the simplicity of contemporary design, the indigenous use of sculptures and spaces, and the emphasis on spiritual awareness for both the congregation and visitors collide to create an architectural wonder, inviting a sense of awesomeness from those who step into the sanctuary, calling them to worship the Creator and issuing a call for them to pause and reflect on their existence in this world.

I am struck at the minute details that have gone into the design of the sanctuary. Not only is the concept contemporary, but what amazes me is that its simplicity does not rob the sanctuary from being reduced to a mere functional space, as seen in many construction and renovation of large church halls in the Klang Valley in Malaysia.

The strategically positioned gigantic crucifix hanging from the ceiling, and placed above the altar in the mid air, reminds me of Christ’s work of redemption. I can only imagine as I walk towards the altar to participate in the Eucharist, this sculpture would naturally evoke in me a reminder of the passion of Christ.

As this sculpture invites me to focus on Christ, it also draws my attention to gaze upon the ceiling of the sanctuary where the shape of the cross dominates my attention. The clever design of using glass panel in the shape of the cross allows natural lighting to penetrate the sanctuary, giving one a sense of warmth. As my attention focuses on the crucifix, my thought is drawn to the finished work on the cross. But as I lift up my head looking at the cross on the ceiling, I am reminded of the truth that it is God who initiates this work of redemption by sending his son for all humanity. At I reflect on this, it is only natural that it draws me to fall down on my knees in worship of the creator God, constantly being reminded of my sinfulness and wretchedness who is in need of God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness that flows through Christ on the cross to me. My thoughts lead me from the earth to the cross, and from the cross to the heaven, and from the heaven back to the cross, and from the cross to the earth.

A visit to this church has not only reminded me of the work of the cross, it has also caused me to pause for a moment to ponder over the purpose of my existence in this world, to reflect on the calling of God in my life and to reorientate my focus on Christ and his cross.

This visit to the Church of St Mary of the Angels is truly unforgettable. This is one excellent example of how by paying close attention to architectural and conception design would go a long way in inviting those who walk into the sanctuary to rightly focus on God and to worship him and him only. It is a real beauty where theology and architectural design converge to make a powerful and dynamic statement concerning our vibrant faith.

I could only wish that more churches in Malaysia would not have compromised the fact that the architecture of the church does make a strong theological statement of our faith. It is unfortunately that many churches would rather settle for pragmatic design for the sanctuary, where in the end, we are being bequeathed with space which is merely functional as a place of meeting and not a place of worship.


Perng Shyang said...

Thanks for the sharing. I might go to visit this church if I have a chance to be there in Singapore as well!

Kar Yong said...

Hi PS,
Yes, do visit this church. It's very close to TTC, less than 10-min bus ride.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi KY,

That's very interesting. So far i haven't got the opportunity to visit the church yet.

The ceiling's design is really amazing... didn't notice it from its website previously. It do gives me the sense that the cross is "covering" the congregation...wonderful.

pearlie said...

Thanks for the pictures and highlighting it -- I don't quite see much from the pictures -- I suppose one must really be there to see it.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Joshua,
Yea - worth a visit! Perhaps it's just me - just because of my background, I am naturally drawn to design and architecture, more so if theology are incorporated.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Pearlie,

As I said in my earlier response to Sze Seng, maybe it is just me...a property valuer and biblical scholar combined together - you know what you get!! hahaahahha.

I would recommend the visit to the church!

Florence said...

i looovve sculpture, and this is, wow, a good one!
contrary to many art pieces that are but "selfish-arts," i.e; arts that merely display the artist's own interest, this piece invites a worshipful response... an art that points to the Master.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Florence,
Thanks for dropping by. I really like this particular sculpture a lot.