Trends in Design: "Those Blasted Middle-Class Living Rooms"

"In Christianity, although the church may be the 'house of god', this is widely viewed as meaning not that God resides in a church, but that He can best be encountered there.  Synagogues, mosques and churches are not a house for God, like the shrines and temples of many other religions, but a house for God's people as a community of worshippers."6

In conjunction wiht the mid-twentieth century changes taking place in religions to make worship more open and welcoming, designers in this period sought to make the "house of God" resemble a secular house.  The intent was to create a more informal, less intimidating, hospitable space for the worship experience: humanizing the scale of the building, using the building materials harmoniously, and creating a place of comfort for prayer.

Many felt this design trend was taken too far.  A story told in Europe in the 1960s illustrates this point:

"A Dutch parochial group is taking a trip in Switzerland, to visit new churches.  They see ten, twenty of these churches, all as neat and clean and shining as the Swiss watches Omega or Alpina.  One evening, after sunset, they happen to enter accidentally a rather shabby little Romanesque church, and inside the porch they discover a human skeleton leaning against the wall.  the comment of one of the tourists is, 'At last, a real church--one in which a skeleton doesn't look out of place!  What a relief after all those blasted middle-class living rooms!'"7

This story also makes a comment on the design of Protestant as opposed to Catholic churches, but as this and other panels show, in California many faiths built places of worship in the style of a modern residence.

On the panel above, try to distinguish the religious from the secular buildings.  Click on the images for more details.


6) Caroline Humphrey& Piers Vitebsky, Sacred Architecture. London: Duncan Baird Publishers, 1997, p.27

7) Debuyst, Frederic, Modern Architecture and Christian Celebration. Richmond, Virginia: john Knox press, 1968, p.32

Trends in Design: "Those Blasted Middle-Class Living Rooms"