I love that moment when you find a book that you weren’t even looking for and it turns out to be one of the more insightful books by the bedside. The Edifice Complex: How the rich and powerful – and their archetics – shape the world is one of those books.

Have you ever walked around a large city like New York or Philadelphia and wondered why the buildings take on their particular shapes and forms? I have, of course there is the ‘period’ reason, you know buildings built in certain periods often times reflect the trends of the time; and there is as well the pragmatic functional reason. Many of the buildings in cities have a minimal aesthetic value to them while the majority of the decisions look like they were spent on the ‘functionality’ question. But there is another reason as well according to Sudjic, ‘power’, listen to him describe the subtle yet necessary relationship between architects and those with power and affluence;

We are used to discussing architecture in terms of its relationship to art history, or as a reflection of technological change, or as an expression f social anthropology…What we are not so comfortable with is coming to grips with the wider political dimensions of buildings: why they exist in fact, rather than how. It’s an omission that is surprising, given the closeness of the relationship between architecture and power. Architecture has always been  dependent on the allocation of precious resources and scarce manpower. As such, its execution has always been at the discretion of those with their hands on the levers of power rather than of architects. Pharaonic Egypt did not devote the surplus from its harvests to the construction of the pyramids, rather than to road building or abolishing slavery, because of any creative urge of the pharaoh’s architects.

Sudjic makes me wonder what role the Church in the city plays as it considers building its own structure. With so many churches today treating aesthetics as of minimal importance in their budgets I wonder if we as the body of Christ are loosing our symbolic power to impact culture? Why is it that so many other faiths and cults develop so much time to the construction of beautiful buildings while we remain content with our box shaped dooms all the while wondering why community and innovation and imagination seem to escape us. Is there a gnosticism at work in our architecture?

I don’t want to conclude anything on these question, rather just raise them. What do you think; how can the Church speak to the Edifice Complex so present in the mega and global cities of today? Is tossing in our token by creating merely functional buildings an honorable way to worship our Creator, our great Architect? What about churches that rent space in the cities, is there a way for them to re-symbolesize their ‘space’, to deconstruct the local imaginations and reconstruct them for the glory of God?