I am often asked why I love Gothic Cathedrals so much. My answer is, why would anybody not?
I first became interested in cathedrals when reading architecture at university. One line from a book became fixed in my mind which was to grow into an obsession.
“Gothic is the precursor to Hi Tech architecture”
At the time, I was a shameless technophile, awed by the towering steel and glass structures of the Hi Tech movement pioneered by the likes of Rogers, Foster and Grimshaw. Their buildings rejoiced in the expression of their structure that liberated the walls from bearing loads, allowing them to become shimmering skins of glass. This followed an eight hundred year old tradition first began by the Gothic Master-builders.
With this new awareness, I remember walking into the nave of Canterbury Cathedral for the first time. Church architecture, until now had not entered my radar, but this time, I was awe-struck by the soaring, light-filled space, absolutely cutting edge, pushing the materials to their limits. That playful web of vaults, columns and flying buttresses, just like the Hi Tech, were masterfully transferring the massive loads away from the walls allowing them to be weightlessly filled with glass. Indeed, the later Gothic buildings, by surface area at least, should be seen not as buildings of stone, but of glass.
In the years to follow, my passion for shiny Hi Tech has since waned. It is an aesthetic born from a triumphant belief in technology that I no longer subscribe to. What’s more, I find the "make-as-much-money-as-possible" aspirations of the patrons of our modern towers mediocre to say the least. This is not to eulogise the past; many of our most splendid cathedrals were the brainchild of the same arrogance and one-upmanship we see today. But with the omnipotent political and economic power of the medieval church now given way to well-meaning volunteers selling cake and tea towels, in these immense ancient monuments I can revel with fondness, the pinnacle of human striving and folly.