Litugical Arts 101: contextually integrative architecture


To translate this truth architecturally, we can logically return to the older tradition of building our churches in the ordinary architecture of our day, giving them only such differences as arise naturally from their fulfilling a different physical function.
–Frederic Debuyst

In the midst of replacing a cathedral destroyed by arson six years ago, its builders insist it should maintain the context-sensitive nature that had originally made it distinctive.

That is simply this: it was, and will be, in the shape of an igloo.

Iqaluit, capital city of Canada’s Northwest Territory, was proud of the presence of the Anglican Diocese of the Arctic – specifically, St. Jude’s Cathedral. Iqaluit’s 4,000 Anglicans, many of whom are Inuit, found the cathedral to be “a unique icon of the Inuit people of Iqaluit and the diocese,” said Andrew Atagotaaluk, Bishop of the Arctic.

It’s important this be special both materially and in ministry. It reaches out to various people in the community…. It was important we keep to the original design and keep the cultural aspects of the cathedral.

Faithful adherence to the past, however, does not mean casting a narrow eye to the realities of the present.

The new cathedral will retain the familiar igloo shape of its predecessor, from the 1970s, but it will also be modernized: with the latest energy saving technology and an enlarged footprint from 22 to 30 metres, allowing seating of over 400 parishioners. The new cathedral also will be fireproof and could seat another 120 people in a future add-on balcony.

According to diocesan literature, cultural integration has been central to the process of creating the new cathedral.

  • Every aspect of the design has been overseen by Inuit elders who sit on the Bishop’s Building Committee – their goal was to build a cathedral that carried the same religious significance in form and function as the original, but also with enough room to meet the region’s rapidly growing population;
  • the Bishop’s throne is being lovingly restored, the pulpit and communion railing, both of which were made from traditional qamuti sleds have been restored;
  • The new cathedral is shaped like the traditional Inuit snowhouse – the igluvigaq;
  • Local stone will be used on the foundation walls, anchoring the Cathedral to the land, symbolizing its solidarity with the land and its people;
  • Even the very building blocks of the cathedral’s dome structure, a trademark design of Vancouver based Canadian Wooden Domes, are a reflection of Inuit tradition – the Building Committee has described them as “igloo blocks,” and calculated that it will take 765 of them to erect the dome structure…
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Paul Woodrum
Paul Woodrum

And not a single mention of how any of this enables the liturgy. Hmmmm.

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