A 24K eyesore: Calvary Chapel’s redesign failure

Why a Christian approach to beauty and architecture matters.

Koh Yamamoto, Freelance Writer

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Calvary Chapel has been redesigned. Hailed as an “artistic renovation,” the $1.9 million construction effort, including a 24K gold wall, is a modernization from its previously spartan and iconoclastic design, but with it comes issues of its message.

The redesign matters because architectural design matters. If we believe in an objective God whom we are to follow with all our heart and mind, thus including in what we create, then architecture is no exception. Therefore, we must consider the Christian ideal of beauty and how the chapel fails to realize it.

ARCHITECTURE MATTERS BECAUSE BEAUTY MATTERS

Since there are beautiful things, then there is beauty. Since beauty is a created quality, then it descends from a creator. Since creation carries some qualities of its creator, then creation is a reflection of the creator, meaning God possesses beauty. Since there is no greater beauty than God’s, nor any other origin of beauty than God, then God himself is perfect beauty. Since God’s qualities are objective, not subjective, then what is beautiful ought to be judged by its closeness to God.

In the same way we measure morality or truth by its proximity to God‘s morality and truth, beauty should be too. Beauty then is both objective and important. Therefore, beauty, an aspect of God, matters because God matters.

While this redesign wastes donors’ money that could have gone toward other goals, it is wrong to say the idea of spending donors’ money on architectural beauty is a waste. There is a danger of self-righteousness in condemning the pursuit of beauty, considering how beauty is an intrinsic good. Such self-righteousness risks being like Judas, who condemned the woman for pouring perfume on Christ’s feet, denouncing it as a waste of money that could have been spent on the poor.

The redesign is a waste not because it was expensive, but because it does not pursue a Christian ideal. This can be recognized by how beauty can be tied to the message of a piece.

ARCHITECTURE MATTERS BECAUSE IT REFLECTS PHILOSOPHY

There are many problems with the redesign. The cross over the entrance resembles elementary school paper mâché projects. Currently, most of the pews are replaced with individual, further isolated lounge chairs. However, the main issue  is in the stained glass art, specifically its message.

A message can be found in any design. To illustrate this, we can compare the contemporary chapel with traditional Christian architecture, and how there is a neglect of preaching via the visual.

The artists, whatever their intent, have unclear figures and scenes in the glass art, which neglect the audience. The neglect, in turn, harms the beauty of the design. An example of audience consideration was in the medieval approach to stained glass art, a way to visually show scenes from Scripture that even the most illiterate could comprehend. The goal was to illustrate Scripture to uplift and invite meditation for one’s congregation. The beauty was in the good it reflected: bringing attention to God.

The chapel instead communicates pretentiousness. The artists, knowingly or not, say, “Look at what you cannot understand, but what I do.” It is not about the audience, but only the artist who made it. Instead of inviting worship in a place of God, it distracts at best, desecrates at worst.

All these can be changed in not just the chapel, but also in the general principle behind any attempt of pursuing beauty. Examples of such ongoing pursuits include traditional designers under the New Classical movementO’Briene & Keane, McCrery, and Duncan G. Stroik. Because God can be used as a measure, a way to know that objective beauty exists, then incorporating how the audience will understand a design in a place of worship will add to pursuing beauty, which is God. The chapel could have a distinctive appearance as a piece of Christian architecture, instead of relying on the word “chapel” and a cross to identify it. Without these markers, Calvary Chapel becomes indistinct from a museum, an office or some Hollywood actor’s house due to its neglect of clarity to the audience, fashioning a failure to remind others of our beautiful God.

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This article comes across incredibly close-minded and combative, and reflects a lack of understanding of art or university fundraising. You are correct that beautiful, Godly art should drive people to worship God. And just as people respond differently to various types of worship or liturgy, people’s responses to different types of art can vary. If I do not connect with a certain worship style in chapel, is it fair for me to call it a “waste”, to use your words? This project is part of a broader campus initiative to incorporate different types of artwork , acknowledging that people will… Read more »

While I understand the concern of being close to God’s beauty, I think it is fair to ask what is the role of abstract art? While traditional forms of art reflect God’s beauty, they use creation as a vehicle to communicate those attributes. In the tradition of stained glass as mentioned, the intent was to tell the story to the illiterate. But how do you express the attributes of God that have no parallel in creation such as God’s trinitarian nature. All physical representations fall short and are, dare I say, idolatrous. Might abstract art seek not to represent or… Read more »

Victoria Castle

I totally agree. I found the huge gold relief to be particularly gaudy and pretentious—it’s distracting, and sends a message that Christians are proud instead of humble. I was very disappointed with the renovations.

This is a brilliant article. As an artist I appreciate being brought to a new understanding of what I intuitively knew to be true. It brings to mind the purposes of the Byzantine Orthodox icons, which have always been to teach rather than to serve as objects of worship. I have always thought that to worship in a place of beauty brings one closer to God, as the wavelength of aesthetics is the closest to God in the objective world.

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