Churches past and present…

As I drive along Castle Boulevard each day (on my way to Costa Coffee!) I have watched the new Cornerstone Church gradually come out of the ground – on the site of the old MFI.

It’s not looking pretty. Imposing yes, pretty no. In fact, to date, it looks like a newer version of the MFI trade showroom it has replaced. All steel, crinkly tin and some token brick and stone facades. Theres a bit of a curved section of brickwork and a jauntily angled joint between brick and profile sheets. Although the scaffold remains up, the ‘reveal’ isn’t going to be eureka moment I fear!

I was thinking as I drove past this week what a difference a hundred years makes. Well, perhaps 200. If you have ever seen the Basilique_du_Sacré Coeur in Paris, St Pauls in London or La Salgrada Familia in Barcelona – you’ll understand what I mean. These are great pieces of architecture – that have stood the test of time. They remain iconic and standing! They were constructed of the very best material, stone, slate, lead. They had character and real features. They were more than just canopies to protect people from the wind and rain. They are not buildings they are places.

I wonder in a hundred years if this new Cornerstone church will be standing. I’m guessing that MFI was built in the late 1970’s – a pretty poor lifespan. 35-40 years?

Our world today is all about sustainability. We concentrate it seems to me on the energy and ‘green’ credentials. But surely some of the most sustainable ones are those that were built hundreds of years ago. Their embedded carbon has long since been written down. Look at the Pitcher & Piano in Nottingham – originally a church, now a bar. Re-use at it’s best.

I’m sure cost has featured highly and I gather that congregations are high in number. So, these new churches have done something the old buildings couldn’t do! Perhaps they are sustainable after all?

7 comments on “Churches past and present…

  1. Hi Tim,

    Things have changed in the last 100 years in attitudes towards church buildings, which might explain why their designs have changed.

    In the past, churches were built to bring glory to God. So the more expensive and ornate the church looked, the more glory God got (so to speak). That’s why some old churches have paintings in them, have stuff made out of gold and used different materials when built. Plus, Sacre Coeur was built in repentance to a massacre that took place in Montmarte some years before.

    These days a common phrase is “a church is not the building, it’s the people”, so they try and direct more money away from buildings to helping the church to function generally (by employing people rather than volunteers) or working in the community. Plus, as churches rely more on donations, they can only work with what they are given.

    The same is true of offices. I like The Guildhall in Nottingham as opposed to some modern buildings today. The building where I work in Sheffield is an old mill, although I do like the look of the Digital Campus. I guess it depends on who makes the decisions to build and how much money there is to spend.

    • Hi Adrian, yes I agree with your comments. I know the world has moved on, but I am slightly concerned we are moving toward a disposable society, much the way consumer good are going. A 30-40 year life for a building isn’t exactly inspiring! We place so much emphasis on ‘sustainability’ which is pretty much untested in the most part. At the same time some of our historic buildings are being used again – which surely makes them the really sustainable buildings? As you say, so much modern building is driven by cost – the term value-engineering would have been a sin to the likes of Wren or Watson Fothergill!

      • Compared with The Shard which the architect//builders say would like to last 100 years.

        I think in the UK generally we have a short term view in everything. As they say, “Life’s too short…”!

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  3. Hi Tim
    I am a member of Cornerstone Church, Nottingham and last Sunday was the first Sunday in our wonderful new building that has been four years in the making. It was very emotional because it has been an amazing and emotional journey. I have been at Cornserstone Church since it inhabited an old club off Canning Circus. Before then it was a small church in Hyson Green with a congregation of about 30 I think. Now we number around 600 when students are here with around 170 children and young people. For 18 yrs we were meeting in Blue coat school on Sutton Passeys Crescent – it met our needs in terms of space but as you can imagine for a school built around the 1960’s, ‘church’ definitely meant the people and not the building…It is now being refurbished and we could no longer stay so had to move out and get a place of our own. Now, After an amazing journey and God’s faithful provision we have a building where 4 million was raised mainly by the churches own members and in a location that would have been beyond out reach or expectations had it not been for the recession and answered prayers. We have a built for the next 100 years…that was the strap line of the project. ‘to tell the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord’ because without Him none of this would have been possible and with his help I knew looking round in amazement that every brick was because of his provision and because of the sacrificial giving of church members. That makes the building very beautiful to me and I celebrate every single brick and girder and every person who has given of their time and effort and money to make it happen every time I look at it. That first service was remarkable because we could celebrate all that God has done for us and given to us…Not just a building but His Son Jesus Christ. I welcome anyone to come along and see the building being used. Come to a service 10.30 and 6.30 on a Sunday and see for yourself that the church is the people…the building to us is a remarkable testament to gods faithfulness and provision…Something we want to share with the rest of Nottingham.

    • Jane, I accept that architecture should be about people not bricks and mortar! But the original point of my blog post was about ‘sustainable’ buildings – and the demolition of a 30 year old MFI was a case in pint. Whereas Pitcher and Piano still stands…

      Ultimately it’s great that you love the building!

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