Nobody builds cathedrals anymore

I can’t stop thinking about Gardens by the Bay. I’ve been to many beautiful places all around the world, but few human-made structured filled me with such awe and wonder. Nature does this effortlessly. The next best thing humans can do are grand concert halls and cathedrals.

Old concert halls and cathedrals, I must add.

None of the buildings that left me awestruck were built in the last 50 years. Modern architecture isn’t even trying to look inspiring and beautiful anymore. Neither does any modern art exhibition I’ve seen, at least in the mainstream West. Between TeamLab Borderless, Gardens by The Bay, and Seoul Museum of Modern Art, it seems that people in East Asia remember something we’ve forgotten.

We don’t build cathedrals anymore, because they’re utterly impractical. What is even the purpose of a cathedral? If you need a place of worship, you can build one for a fraction of the price. If you need a hall to play music or display art, something much simpler will do.

Someone told me we don’t build cathedrals because they’re too expensive. But medieval societies were much poorer than we are. And yet despite the poverty, famine, wars, and plague, they managed to raise structures that still inspire wonder, hundreds of years later.

By today’s standards, medieval cathedrals are absurd.

Who would spend so much money and other resources on a project that takes more than a hundred years to complete, and is guaranteed not to give any return on investment?

I’m not sure what’s the return on investment of Gardens by the Bay, but like cathedrals in the past, everyone can come and see it at no cost. There are paid attractions around like an artificial rainforest hill under probably the biggest greenhouse in the world, and you can buy a ticket to walk between two supertrees and see it all from above, but the main thing is completely free. Even at night, when it dances along to the sound of famous opera arias. Where I live, a show like this would certainly cost a lot.

Everyone craves for hope, inspiration, and beauty.

We all need someone to lead by example and show that a better world is possible. If all of this gets sacrificed for the sake of productivity and profit, we start to run in circles, forgetting why we are even working this hard.

Some people say they don’t need cathedrals when nature is their church. I sympathize with the sentiment, but for the billions of city-dwellers worldwide, nature might not be close enough to where they live. I’m grateful that I had a chance to see a modern large-scale work of art created purely to enchant and inspire, that isn’t yet another office building, theme park, or a shopping mall. Maybe one day everyone will have a place of rest, awe, and inspiration close enough to where they live.

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