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Manplan 5, Religion: Conclusions

A new concept of society: a society animated by love, accepting differences

Manplan 5 was originally published in March 1970, and was republished online in May 2016

The theme of this issue is Religion, full stop. Not Christianity. If, in the treatment of actual buildings, we have been concerned almost exclusively with Christian buildings this is only because, having been longer and more closely in contact with the situation created by technology, Christians have been the first to respond to it.

In recent centuries the religious impulse as such has been seen as a divisive principle in a fast uniting world and for this reason has been put on one side by busy men. But recent years have seen a profound change in religious perception which will allow it to resume its more normal unifying role. In proportion as this change takes effect, we may expect the impact of religion on our society to grow again; and it is with this prospect in mind that we have used this subject as an occasion to reappraise our environment: to compare it with the sort of environments man made for himself in periods when he was more directly moved by religious beliefs.

‘The voice of religion leads us to pleasurable survival’

The environmental defects of our world are themselves only the reflection of defects in other aspects of life; and they all stem, in one way or another, from insufficient control over the means of material betterment; that is, over our industrialized technology. Fortunately we now have, in the communications revolution, a means to put this misdirection right: the industrial revolution gave us more power; the communications revolution, if properly used, will give us better control over this power.

The point of this issue is therefore that it is to the medium of religion rather than to the medium of science that we should expect to look, in order to find out how to use this new control. On questions of this sort the voice of science, taken by itself, can only lead to determinism, to unceasing dependence on machines and thus to destruction. But the voice of religion leads us to pleasurable survival.

The church building revolution which has begun to break during the last few years was prefigured to some extent by the British school building revolution. The two go easily hand-in-hand. But their modes and circumstances are different. The schools revolution was something brought about by an enlightened authority disposing of considerable resources. The church revolution is local, the effort of people feeling their way, who must find the money from their own pockets. Architecturally, we are aware of a lowering of the temperature: we are no longer looking at the fruits of a powerful individual imagination, as we were at Ronchamp. Instead we have the impression that architects are standing back to enable the communities they design for to discover themselves.

‘Building users will have a real say in the buildings they occupy’

The church is a model, a sort of prototype, of our ideal society. The difference between a church and any other building (except, of course, a home) is that the users, on principle, love one another; and this initial affection takes precedence over the actual things they do. That is why apparently innocuous planning differences like facing the seating inwards have so much importance, why so much fuss is made over social accommodation and why the Americans are so concerned for encounter. It is tempting to try and foretell what will happen to other building types when church planning ideas finally reach them. Sociability will begin to take precedence over function and administration (just as in activities to do with work, jobs will be re-allocated and designed to be interesting and fulfilling). Buildings will tend to become small again (closed circuit television and better communications will make vast buildings unnecessary-though size ,is on occasion pleasurable and may sometimes be chosen for this reason alone). Building users will have a real say in the buildings they occupy. Buildings will therefore be the outcome of an intimate understanding between users and designers and between designers and artificers. All this is not just a return to the past: the present, for all its faults, is still to be preferred to the past: but the future under this regime will be so much better than the present.

All this is easy for believers to see; and it is not for nothing that the religious component in our society is the first to begin to grope towards, what is for us, a new concept of society: a society animated by love, accepting differences, insistent on freedom and anxious that decision-making should be as far as possible with individuals.