My feeling is that as long as you do in fact spend money on the poor, then it’s OK to build great and spacious buildings for God. In fact, it’s not only OK, it’s imperative, as our spiritual aesthetic needs things of beauty to inspire the soul. Case in point, Otto Wagner’s Kirche am Steinhof in Vienna. Speaking of this incredible building, J.A. Lux has said, “Whoever believes that the mystical-religious impulse is nurtured in the semi-darkness of a poorly ventilated, cold and damp interior is brilliantly contradicted by Wagner’s building.”
I couldn’t agree more. Wagner’s church is in the grounds of a psychiatric clinic. I can think of no better place to hear the voice of God, for Gothic gloom and Protestant cinder blocks do not stir the religious soul. I know my old mate John Fowles used to attend the world’s most soul-sucking, depressing, prefab stake center in Salt Lake City. It was so drab it made you want to weep with the cruelty of it all. Truman O. Angell would be appalled.
As noted above, I can imagine certain philistine objections to such ecclesiastical ostentation. Needless to say, die Kirche am Steinhof is more than a church, it’s an exercise in public imagination and we need more of this in our concrete-choked cities.
Wagner was a Secessionist architect, a fin-de-sie`cle art nouveau movement in Vienna.