When an Architect Should “Take a Mulligan”

from Nov 02, 2008 Category: Articles

I was recently skimming a book about Cambridge University and ran across a picture of the new Divinity Faculty building completed in 2000. Having looked at page after page of pictures of the centuries-old buildings of Cambridge, I was taken aback by the design chosen for this new structure. I decided to do an online search to see what the old building looked like.  It’s quite a contrast. Here is a picture of the old Divinity Faculty building:

Old Cambridge Divinity Building.jpgNow, compare this with a picture of the new Divinity Faculty building:

New Cambridge Divinity Building.jpgIt’s the difference between the classic Gothic Cathedrals and the Crystal Cathedral.

I’m not sure how the actual Cambridge Divinity faculty reacted, but had I been in the old building for many years and then saw the plans for the new building, I would have been disappointed. Adding a building that looks like this to the existing old buildings of Cambridge is akin to adding a heavy metal drum solo to the end of Pachelbel’s Canon. Putting the Faculty of Divinity in it is even worse. If it had to be built, it seems more suited to the Computer Science faculty than to anything else. On the other hand, the New York Times has reported that “ugliness” has recently emerged as a serious subject of study and academic interest, so perhaps the Cambridge Divinity Faculty could offer a course on the subject using their own new building as an object lesson.

Dr. Sproul has often said that every form we see is an art form, and every art form communicates something. The architecture of the new Cambridge Divinity Faculty building communicates something modern and sterile. Within the context of the other buildings of Cambridge, it communicates a deliberate rejection of the old and the traditional, of that which has withstood the test of time. Of course, many within the Anglican Church have been doing this for years, so perhaps the change in architecture is appropriate.

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For related study see: Recovering the Beauty of the Arts.