“Is the church building still an important place in a town? Is it still the place which represents the encounter of the human with the divine?”. These two questions conclude an essay by Maria Antonietta Crippa, in an important book entitled Le nuove chiese della Diocesi di Milano 1945-1993, [the new churches of the Diocese of Milan 1945-1993], edited by Cecilia de Carli. Already at the end of the 1990s these two scholars were reflecting on the role of sacred architecture in our society. Today these questions are still being asked and must be faced and reinterpreted in the light of our contemporary culture.
The knowledge of the regional territorial context and of the social requirements of the place, listening to the community and understanding the ways of life of Christians today are some of the fundamental prerequisites for the contemporary planning of a church. The Church, understood as a Christian community, is in fact a body in continuous transformation as also are her places for celebration.
Several questions naturally arise. What are the needs of inhabitants today with regard to buildings of worship? How does the community inhabit these spaces? And what is the importance of parish complexes in our contemporary cities?
A reflection – presented at the Bose Conference by the young people of the Laboratory for the Preparation of the Conference (cli lab) in which I took part – paused on the observation of how places of worship undergo a series of transformations over time, due to the needs of the community which the architect sometimes fails to consider when he makes his plans, and which on other occasions have changed as time has passed. A listening process thus appears more and more necessary: on the part of the architect in order to know properly who will be living in the spaces he plans, and on the part of the house owner to become familiar with contemporary architecture. The participatory process, thus conceived, must be firmly rooted in a profound educational and knowledge-acquiring process.
Parallel to this is the topic of rethinking the contemporary functions offered by these structures, proposing an interpretation and updating of them.
These are also the main characteristics of my research work which is focused on the observation of the symbolic, religious and social roles which parish complexes play in the contemporary city and especially in the Milanese context.
The study concentrates on making the most of the real use of parish structures, an aspect unknown to the administrations and managers of the patrimony, endeavouring to understand whether parishes can still respond to the needs of society and whether their spaces are adequate.
Indeed this gap in knowledge gives rise to problematic situations: on the one hand the lack of use of available structures, for example, parish housing which has lain empty for years and which could accommodate new uses, and on the other hand uses which fail to make the most of numerous spaces that are sometimes used only at certain times of the week.
Thus a better management of spaces and a broader response to the needs of the neighbourhood and of the community are essential, for example, by envisaging the adaptation of structures, by new constructions or by the proposal of new and compatible services to be integrated within these same spaces.
The aim therefore is to shed light on and to reaffirm how far places of worship, in the broad sense of the term, still continue to provide services for both men and women as well as for the community, and can return to playing that role as a “social infrastructure” and as a reference point for neighbourhoods and for the city, if they are examined, made the most of, interpreted and replanned in the light of today’s needs.
St. Peter’s Square
March 21, 2018
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