The Architecture of Oxford – Ghosts and Clouds of Witness

 The architecture of the University of Oxford is very different from that of Mississippi State University, and most other schools in America. There is no point of me trying to describe the technical phrases of what type of architecture this or that building is. Instead, I will simply tell you about how the architecture speaks to me personally. At the end of the day, that is all that really matters, right? The first main point is to realize how much this university, and the city in general, piles upon one the weight of historic associationism. These buildings are very old, and they are not ashamed of that reality. Quite the contrary, they are proud of it. The rust takes on a beauty of its own. Inside many of the buildings continues in this vein by putting many pictures of wealthy and influential men on the walls. History piles up op top of you. It is quite overwhelming, but it is also inspiring. I was having a conversation about the architecture of the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford with Dr. Snyder one day and he said that schools that follow this Oxbridge old-style architecture have a strong conviction that great architecture inspires great art. I agree because I have been very much inspired by my time here. By keeping the same architecture, in a very real way one feels one is walking in the footsteps of the great people that have walked these streets, dined in these halls, and listened in the same lecture rooms. It reminds of a passage from the Book of Hebrews from the Holy Bible. The author of the books lists the names of the great saints of Israel who have done great things by faith in Chapter 11, and then in Chapter 12 he says that they are like a cloud of witnesses watching and encouraging the present saints that are going through their current troubles. It is a way of the author encouraging the saints in their trials and tribulations. Oxford evokes this same of idea of this “cloud of witnesses” that is watching you, encouraging you to give your very best or else face the inner guilt of not living up to such a prestigious legacy. By contrast, in America, there is a prevalent way of building things called “planned obsolescence.” In other words, the constructors build things with a plan for them to become obsolete in a few years. I am not sure why this is popular. I know that it costs more money to build things to last, but is the trade-off that much different to not build it to last once and not have to continually build, tear down, and then build again. It just does not seem to make sense. Having to continually build and rebuild also separates you from the history of the school. America is utterly convinced that new is better, but England thinks the exact opposite. England prides itself on the old legends and stories, and in remembering that those clouds of witnesses are somewhere in the heavens goading you to do good work. If not, the ghosts come out at night, and scare you into carrying on the sacred tradition or else!

(Christchurch, my college)




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