One of our favorite churches in Louisville isn’t a grand cathedral. It’s actually quite small and is overshadowed by a massive and ornate church next door. In fact, it’s not even a church any longer, but has been converted to offices. The stone neo-Classical structure on Fourth Street near the corner of St. Catherine Street is simple with nice proportions and a stone stair spilling out to the sidewalk.
Under the portico and between the windows and massive doors are three inscriptions. Two simply refer to the place as a house of God, but the third is a quote from an architect, John Ruskin.
When we build, let us think that we build forever.—Ruskin.
Ruskin was a 19th century British architect and thinker influential in the Victorian era and author of The Seven Lamps of Architecture. He was a major proponent of gothic architecture, which makes his name carved in stone on a neo-Classical church somewhat of an architectural joke. He even rejected the Classical tradition in his The Stones of Venice:
Pagan in its origin, proud and unholy in its revival, paralysed in its old age… an architecture invented, as it seems, to make plagiarists of its architects, slaves of its workmen, and sybarites of its inhabitants; an architecture in which intellect is idle, invention impossible, but in which all luxury is gratified and all insolence fortified.
Nevertheless, Ruskin’s quote seems to just now be finding its philosophical revival as we come to terms with building suburban strip malls and big-box stores with a built-in lifespan of about 15 years. When we see new structures under construction, it would be wise to consider their value not just today, but as the potential landmarks of future generations.