Leaping from Steeples

Why, I wonder, have architects avoided designing steeples into residential construction? Or have they? Perhaps I am simply unfamiliar with a school of residential architecture in which steeples play a prominent part. But if steeples have not found their way into home designs, maybe the architects are not responsible for the omission; perhaps homeowners have rejected designs in which steeples were incorporated. As I understand the term, steeples are ornamental elements of construction, not functional; at least, not functional in practical terms. Maybe steeples are functional to the extent they symbolize a building’s purpose as a religious (primarily Christian) sanctuary? This is supposition on my part. I’ve done no research on the matter; the topic of steeples just popped into my head, a fragment of half-formed curiosity that is insufficiently important to me to warrant even cursory research…beyond a quick Google search, I mean.

Hah! A “quick Google search” reveals an enormous volume of resources about steeples, their history, their design, their symbolism, etc., etc. Apparently, I am not the first person into whose head the topic of steeples has popped. The architecture of steeples has its own terminology, referring to specific components of the ornamental unit we call “steeple:”  spire, lantern, belfry, and tower. My quick search for information about steeples revealed a rich tapestry of the evolution of Americana, including the “fact” that church steeples served purposes similar to coastal lighthouses, except these “lighthouses” are landlocked.

Given my preference for Usonian-inspired residential design and more recent iterations that lack even the limited ornamentation favored by Frank Lloyd Wright, it’s unlikely that I will ever design (or have designed) a house that incorporates a steeple. But, then, one never knows, does one?  Even in my preference for clean lines and the absence of ornamentation, I have room for aberrations. I remember, for instance, falling in love with an apartment building, born of a converted old church, in Chicago when my wife and I were looking for a place to live back in the late 1980s. The building’s Gothic arched windows with meticulously restored stained glass won me over, along with the massive stonework and huge carved entry doors, restored to their original grandeur.

My appreciation for a wide variety of architectural styles, despite strongly favoring a limited number of rather spare styles, echoes my enjoyment of a wide array of music. While I have preferences, I like almost all types of music. That eclecticism is a relative newcomer to my personality, developed sometime in the most recent two-thirds of my lifetime to date. I remember a time when I absolutely detested country music and rap music; today, both genres have their appeal. The same is true of architecture. I once found Gothic and gingerbread styles of architecture patently offensive; while I consider neither my favorites, they both have aspects I find pleasing.

So, what is the point of this morning’s post? I haven’t the faintest idea. It’s just what happened to be on my mind. Steeples. And steeples led to architecture and my experience in broadening my appreciation of architectural styles recalled a similar experience in broadening my appreciation of musical genres. If I continued along with this style of thinking, I suspect I might jump from music to dance and from dance to footwear and from footwear to the sensation of comfort one feels when walking barefoot on a hard-packed sandy beach. Our minds are capable of making enormous leaps, triggered by commonalities as frail as spun glass. That reality is part of what makes being human so fascinating, I think.

In finishing this random diatribe, I want to recall that, when I walked outside this morning around 5:15, I looked above me in the sky and my eyes were drawn instantly to a bright reddish “star” in the sky. I wonder whether that celestial attraction was Mars? If I had been thinking clearly, I could have used my smart-phone sky-mapping app.  Perhaps I’ll remember to inquire of the app tomorrow morning. Or, more likely, my mind will be somewhere else entirely, like exploring the architecture of Islamic mosques.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Leaping from Steeples

  1. Phil, if we look at the Notre Dame steeple, we see what happens, in the end, when cathedrals take on residential overtones. Maybe that’s a cautionary tale for those considering the addition of steeples to residential structures (or, conversely, converting steeple-laden buildings to residential use). 😉

  2. phil2bin says:

    How about the Hunchback of Notre Dame? (the position has largely disappeared from modern football). That was a residential steeple, although perhaps not by design.

  3. John says:

    Ah, yes, divine inspiration! 😉

  4. Pat Newcomb says:

    Delightful “stream of consciousness” – divine inspiration perhaps?

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