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The Loss of a Loved Building: St Mary's Anglican Church, Bendigo, Australia

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
Sarah Perry
University of Lincoln, UK
This dissertation investigates whether the destruction and consequent loss of a familiar and loved building can instigate feelings of grief similar to those experienced in the process of bereavement.

The dissertation focuses on a specific building: an Anglican church located in a suburb of an Australian city, and its congregation. The church was destroyed in an arson attack, late in 2008. It had been one of the first brick buildings to be erected in the suburb when the area was first settled, so held an important position in the history of the development of the area. In some cases it had been a focal point of worship for local families for generations. The research was undertaken by means of a detailed questionnaire, using a phenomenological approach, which the majority of the congregation completed. Local historical records were drawn upon for supporting information as well as local news reports, church records, newsletters and transcripts of relevant church services.

The dissertation initially discusses the factors which contribute to the development of an emotional connection to buildings and places such as: how we experience architecture through the senses; the meaning of place; how place contributes to cultural identity; how architecture helps to locate us in time and space; and how individual and collective memories affect our perception of buildings and keep destroyed buildings alive as part of our history and identity. Following this, grief and accepted grief/loss theories are articulated.

Finally the specific instance of the loss of St Mary’s Church is investigated. First the contextual situation is presented and then the responses from the church users are detailed. Connections between the responses and the factors which underpin emotional connections to buildings are discussed. Expansive, open and articulate responses from the congregation enabled this investigation to be useful and insightful. The sense of loss and the shifting emotional states described by the participants are compared to accepted grief/loss theories resulting in a clear conclusion that the feelings of loss in this instance could be categorised as grief and followed the same pattern as those emotions experienced during the bereavement process.

Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry’s dissertation explores an evocative subject in a perceptive and informative manner: the burning down of a local church in a town in Western Australia. While the building itself might not have represented the apex of ecclesiastical architecture, its capacity to represent the coming together not only of those of faith but to ‘hold’ the community, and bind a place together with those who lived within its diocese embodies all the best aspects architecture has to offer. The dissertation itself looks at phenomenological notions at a very high level of understanding and combines ideas from philosophy, memory, and human mourning and grief with personal anecdotes that offer an insightful view into what architecture can be.

Perry blends individual opinion (gathered from a questionnaire survey of the congregants) with existential understanding to focus on ‘place’ in a manner that responds to that which is already there. Rather than attempting to recreate the form of the previous building that had been burnt to the ground by vandals Perry offers sensitive information for how to re-construct a new place of worship. Implicit within the discussion is the notion of redemption, for out of the ashes of the burnt church, a new building will arise. Perry’s discussion of ‘place’ suggests that authenticity in architecture resides within us, the people who use or experience a building, space, or place.

The dissertation is well written and organised to bring the reader through the subject with consideration that demonstrates how the theoretical discussion sheds light on architecture and architectural place making.

Renee Tobe
Dr Kathleen Watt
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