Monday, April 7, 2008

Collaborative Architecture Exhibit: Dwelling in the House of the Lord

A new offsite exhibit, Dwelling in the House of the Lord: Spirituality and Space in Tuscaloosa County was developed by Sarah Murchison Campbell, a graduate student in the Department of History. The exhibit project is a joint project of the Summersell Center for the Study of the South and the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library. Working with professors Kari Frederickson and Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Sarah Murchison Campbell's exhibit explores some of the most prevalent architectural styles in the Tuscaloosa area. This exhibit will be on display during the Race & Place conference to be held on April 11-12 in the AIME Building on The University of Alabama campus. The exhibit will be displayed in Gorgas Library following the conference. The Hoole Library holds a great deal of material relating to local and regional church history including published congregational histories, archival collections from local churches and church groups, and photographs and other materials from local churches and other religious organizations.

Sarah's introductory exhibit label explains her research goal for this exhibit:

"Architectural structures stand as valuable historical sources. The architectural language of those structures illuminates the nature, values, and personalities of a region as profoundly as any statistic or human voice. Whether expressed in courthouses, schools, houses of worship, city halls, libraries, or houses, the architectural language of buildings both shapes and reflects the organization, character and caliber of the communities in which they come to life. In a region historically distinguished by the persistence of a deep strain of Christian evangelical Protestantism, church buildings in particular have made a significant contribution to the South’s architectural identity.

The exhibit documents and interprets four major architectural styles embodied in Tuscaloosa County churches. The goal of the exhibit is to illuminate the important role church architecture plays in our community’s built environment. Though the architectural subjects chosen for this analysis represent a diverse body of denominational and congregational cultures and create a colorful portfolio of architectural styles, the project seeks to determine through visual and historical analysis whether there is a common language regarding “what is church?” By examining the ways in which each religious structure depicted uses, manipulates, or avoids altogether the traditional architectural concepts of place, form, light, space, movement, materials, scale, and beauty, this analysis seeks to reach a more nuanced understanding of how and why church buildings speak in the language that they do. What makes a church a church in the eyes of the building’s architect, its congregation, and sightseers and church shoppers passing by? How do church buildings define the space around it? Is structural functionality more important than aesthetic delight? Is the architectural composition and design of a church a reflection of the body of believers worshipping inside its walls? How do churches affect what our community looks like and how it operates?"

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