There’s a wide chasm between the public’s understanding of architecture and the architect’s intent. Sometimes, this chasm is bridged by years of use until the public appreciates a building, but sometimes this chasm gets deeper and wider. This week, I thought we’d look at what happens when new stuff gets old. Maybe it’s the death of über modernist Oscar Niemeyer last week, or maybe Im biased, but there seems to be a recent bevy of stories that highlight the numbered days of built work. We start the week in Louisiana. In St. Amant, one of the few examples of contemporary church design in the state is undergoing an extreme makeover so that the unique space will more closely resemble a traditional church.
I say extreme makeover because the changes that are being implemented to the church look cartoonish to me. The buildings undergoing this makeover? They’re only six years old. The adult education and administration buildings of the Holy Rosary Church were built by Trahan Architects in 2006. But their architectural adolescence has not been kind. The building committee of the church cites years of problems in their announcement to revisit the church’s design. The pristine concrete cubes were leaky, and their exterior prematurely streaked with black lines tracing water’s movement across the blemished surfaces. So the bulldozers are on site to correct the concrete: the new walls are being hidden by newer ones that actually look older, and the entire character of the space is being subsumed by gothic arches, pitched roofs and new canopies for the exterior walkways.
A statement from the architects says that “it is tragic to see such a beautifully conceived work of architecture succumb to demolition and design changes” and so soon after the building’s completion. And it may be beautifully conceived, but the statement is shy to talk about the works execution, even though it seems like their work is slowly being executed in another sense of the word. Buried in the comments of an article about the building changes, a commenter says: “I wish architects would focus more on what ordinary people love and less on what they wish to express. Architecture is not an art, it is the art of building.” This statement baffles me for several reasons, but it echoes in the gap between the people who make architecture and the people who use buildings. Maybe the parishioners of the Holy Rosary Church will be happier in their updated (or maybe downdated is more appropriate) spaces, and I sincerely hope they will be. It’s expensive to build and then rebuild half a church in such a short amount of time.