Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Difficult Unity of Inclusion

Religion and architecture - strange bedfellows, perhaps. Yet, I find Robert Venturi's 1966 publication entitled Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture especially relevant to and descriptive of the Unitarian Universalist faith project. Critiquing the reductive nature of corporate modernist design, Venturi advocates for a “difficult unity of inclusion,” thereby praising the poetic value of ambiguity in architectural construction. He suggests that aesthetic simplicity (not to be confused with simpleness or over-simplification) derives from inner complexity (e.g. the Doric temple, Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn, etc.). He writes:

I prefer "both-and" to "either-or," black and white, and sometimes gray, to black or white. A valid architecture evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus: its space and its elements become readable and Workable in several ways at once.

Is this not the thrust of Unitarian Universalist religion - unity in multiplicity, beauty in messiness, faith amidst dynamic belief? Just as Venturi's architecture of complexity "must embody the difficult unity of inclusion rather than the easy unity of exclusion," so too Unitarian Universalists promote a faith that radically affirms and welcomes specificities, contingencies and eclecticisms - that sees a simple grace in hybrids and composites - that values the struggle (and explicit mess) of including more, over the ease (and hidden violence) of including fewer.

This, then, embodies the Spirit of our denomination:

In fact, the connection is already manifest: First Unitarian Church, Rochester, New York, by Louis I. Kahn

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