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Pagan vs. Catholic Spirit in Architecture

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira


The United Nations building New York

The United Nations Organization (UN) stands at the summit of the modern world. The building designed to house it, therefore, should express by the majesty of its lines and proportion the high function for which it is destined.

Our photo shows the UN administration building. In spite of its huge size, we would hesitate to call it a palace. It is certainly immense, very expensive and overwhelming, but its lines are as common as a matchbox. It is as monotonous, plain and harsh as a penitentiary. And its air is gloomy like a Gestapo or KGB headquarters.

Everything about this immense crate of concrete, steel and glass seems calculated to make a man feel like nothing more than an ant, a grain of sand, an atom.


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Middleburg town hall
Middelburg is a village in Holland that constructed its town hall in the 15th century. In size, what is this building compared to that of the UN? It is next to nothing. Nonetheless, we would not hesitate to call it a palace; the nobility of its lines do not permit it to be given any other name.

Is this a mere difference in architectural styles? Regarding literature it is said that "the style is the man." Regarding architecture, it could be said that the style is the epoch. Every style results from an ensemble of tendencies, ideas, aspirations and mental attitudes of society in a determined epoch.

More shocking than the contrast between the two styles, in this case, is the contrast between the two mentalities, the two epochs, the two cultures - one neo-pagan and the other Catholic.

Translated from Catolicismo, n. 7, July 1951
Posted June 1, 2013

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