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Sacred games.


By Phyllis Richardson, London: Laurence King. 2004. [pounds sterling]45

With its glossy illustrations and brief case studies, this book is, like the churches, synagogues and mosques it features, certainly easy on the eye. Sacred architecture is alive and well, it seems. The book packages recent examples by the likes of Hadid and Lynn, Monco and Meier, into five sections: 'New Traditions', 'Interventions', 'Retreats', 'Grand Icons', and 'Modest Magnificence'. Following New Stone Architecture (Laurence King 2003), it is in the tradition of the architectural pattern book. Examples from various denominations and cultures are grouped together more according to aesthetic merit than theoretical principle. Occasionally we glimpse a link between spirituality and space, as with the feeling of 'emptiness' in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Germany by Lamott Architekten. But a nagging feeling of superficiality prevails, something that Richardson does little to dispel with phrases such as 'symbolism is used from the ground up'.

The book raises more questions than it answers; for example, why exactly did Meier design the Jubilee Church in Rome around a series of squares and four circles? This is not a book that claims that a new sacred structure can, or indeed should, express an entire cosmology (as with, say, Guarini's St Lorenzo in Turin) or reorder a city (like St Peter's in Rome). Rather, Richardson's new sacred buildings try hard to fit into their surroundings, and avoid offending the neighbours with too much overt symbolism. Grouped into Richardson's categories, the buildings appear interchangeable in their expression of both denomination and physical context. If they are more than examples of the joy of materiality and structure to be found in most modern art galleries across the world, then this book is certainly not letting on.

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Article Details
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Author:Hart, Vaughan
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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