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“Cathedrals are unfinished. It is just the nature of the beast.”*…

 

St John

 

Why do cathedrals take so long to build? Because the finish line is besides the point. Cathedrals are so compelling because they make visible the continued commitment that every building, city, and institution requires of their participants if they are to survive. Cathedral building ritualizes construction; they are compelling because they are never finished…

Cathedrals are distinct from typical megaprojects in a very important way: an unfinished Cathedral is by no means a failure.

As Dr. Atif Ansar, a professor in major project management at Oxford, frames it, most infrastructure projects (the dams and bridges that are focus of Ansar’s research) are binary. They are done, or not; a 99% complete bridge is not very useful. Cathedrals, one the other hand, are not binary. The aspiration may be much larger, but in essence, a single room could act as a cathedral. Salisbury cathedral took a full century to build, but services commenced almost immediately in a temporary wooden chapel. At St. John the Divine, the congregation used the crypt for the first services in 1899, just seven years after construction commenced. Cathedrals, Ansar posits, are accretive – they gain value as they are built, “like a beehive.” Accretive buildings pose a challenge for the iron triangle, because the scope is, by nature, open-ended; the project will never be complete.

Accretive projects are everywhere: Museums, universities, military bases – even neighborhoods and cities. Key to all accretive projects is that they house an institution, and key to all successful institutions is mission. Whereas scope is a detailed sense of both the destination and the journey, a mission must be flexible and adjust to maximum uncertainty across time. In the same way, an institution and a building are often an odd pair, because whereas the building is fixed and concrete, finished or unfinished, an institution evolves and its work is never finished…

A consideration of construction (and on-going maintenance) as a way of being: “Building a Cathedral.”

[This piece is via a newsletter, “The Prepared,” that your correspondent highly recommends.]

* Tour guide, St, John the Divine, Morningside Heights, N.Y.

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As we take the long view, we might recall that it was on this date in 1891 that Carnegie Hall was officially opened, with an orchestral performance conducted by Pyotr Tchaikovsky.  First know simply as “Music Hall,” the venue was formally named for it’s funder, Andrew Carnegie, in 1893.

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

A: Practice, practice practice…

Carnegie Hall in 1895

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Carnegie Hall today

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Written by LW

May 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

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