Faith Church by Brian Finke via The New Yorker
I just came off of sitting on a bunch of final reviews where exhausted architecture students talked a lot about “program” in front of a distinguished jury. Program, program, program. It’s a term that, like the ubiquitous “space,” takes on a mantra-like effect over the course of the afternoon. Some students had detailed, even quirky, agendas for the programmed space in their final projects: mosques, swimming pools, incubator office space conditioned by hanging bags of reclaimed water, parking structures integrated into art museums, student housing. While others languished in abstraction: public space, community or education center, gallery. Vast white spaces undistinguished in plan.
So, when I came across a kind of program brief while browsing an issue of the New Yorker, I my interest was piqued and I continued reading an article on a megachurch in New England. Frances Fitzgerald’s piece, Come One, Come All, centers on the Faith Church in New Milford, Connecticut and offers, among other things and religiosity aside, a look into the complexities of community programming.
Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard, who has written extensively on the breakdown of social networks, and Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, have both described the megachurch as one of the most successful community-building institutions of modern times. Almost all megachurches have cafes or food courts, bookstores, sport facilities, child care, youth programs, and small groups which can include anything from Bible-study classes to affinity groups for motorcyclists. Most of the larger churches have an array of counseling programs and support groups for those suffering from divorce, depression, addiction, or death of a loved one. Many, including Faith Church, offer classes in how to manage family finances, and many have funds to help church members through financial crises. All have opportunities for community service, and many have drama groups, arts classes, and high-tech recording equipment. In other words, megachurches offer just about everything the newly arrived suburbanite can’t find Wal-Mart or Home Depot.
So there it is: the program is intricate and is everything. All housed in an architecture similar to a big box store and branded with a cross. More images here.