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Our Master Before Money

Words:

Edd Norval
March 16, 2020

Coronavirus sweeps the globe and people congregate together in one place: the supermarket. Other news of businesses closing, stock markets crashing and frequent pictures of financial districts flash across our screen to symbolise the difficult time our master, capitalism, is having. These buildings, both symbolic and physical, represent all that is Holy in the 21st century - products and profit. There's no more room left for the grandiosity of buildings of faith - an architectural mode of expression all but dead.

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The largest and most important construction projects in Western civilization now tend to fall into two categories; either thrown-together housing for an increasingly overpopulated planet or large monuments to capital like offices, banks and new shopping complexes.


Materials rarely differ. Stone, steel and glass make their facades almost identicle to one another, being completed in as short a timeframe as possible for business to resume normally. There are rarely any flourishes beyond works created by the most powerful of architecture's elite.


Rewind any amount of time beyond 200 years and it's easy to see how different things were. Articles of faith, buildings erected specifically for one religion or another to show their admiration and respect for their God, were being crafted by the best in the world, in painstaking detail with materials that are built to last, in styles that stand glorious and eternal, still protruding above skylines with jagged edges bursting out of the ground towards the heavens, a starkly different shape than the surrounding angles and edges.

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In studying these buildings, we're given access to the history of the world, of empires that have risen to great heights and fallen into memory as great stories, myths and podcasts. Where various religions can be found at certain times enables us to chart the routes of tribes and civilizations as they aimed to expand their empire and leave their mark.


If buildings of opposing faiths were left to stand, then their respects were clear, the kind of society they wished to create left out in the open. Others were set on paths of destruction and, what is left of the old religious houses, leaves our contemporary imagination to compose images of what it might have looked like, given what else we know of a certain people.


If future historians are to do the same for us, to look at what we built and try to understand why - what will our generations be remembered for? Their devotion to something greater than themselves? Or the hungry construction of things that are just a mirror of our own desires and greed, places build on the pure function of generating only more money - serving the interests of very few. These are places most of us will never ever set foot in, symbolic not of faith, but social stratification and alienation.

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Here is a collection of the very best from around the world, buildings that use incredible materials, are set in dramatic scenery and one that is even carved into a mountain. These were constructed across generations and will survive through many more, including faiths from all over the world - some with billions of adherents, others which, for their own reasons, are on a steady decline.


In the face of globalisation and homogenisation, these markers of cultural and historic identity stand solid amongst a world rapidly changing. They are the one foot that we leave, crucially, in the past. The physical incarnation of something greater than ourselves - a reminder that there is more than just us, that more than money can drive us to greatness, but a sense of belief in something that may not neccessarily make us richer (at least in the pocket), but can enrich a great many lives in a great many ways.

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