Transitioning Natures: Robert Schuller’s Garden Grove Experiment

Antonio Petrov

The world interior of capital is not an agora or a trade fair beneath the open sky, but rather a hot house that has drawn inwards everything that was once on the outside. The bracing climate of an integral inner world of commodity can be formulated in the notion of a planetary palace of consumption. In this horizontal Babylon, being human becomes a question of spending power, and the meaning of freedom is exposed in the ability to choose between products for the market – or to create such products oneself.1

Peter Sloterdijk

For thousands of years “world interiors” operated as a metaphor to describe a space in which the world revealed to us is “not the real world but only a poor copy of it.”2 In a passage of Phaedo, Plato described the world as a common set of geographically captured territories that evolve beyond limitations in which the “world” is very large. For geographer Robert David Sack, the world is not a matter of scale but one that is distinguished by “two natures.”3 In his book Human Territoriality, Sack describes the first nature as an abstract system of beliefs and values, the second as social geography that includes rules, regulations, and physical structures. He argues that both spheres are not simply things located in space, but are “places set apart and within which authority is exerted and access is controlled. In other words, they are territories.”4

My current work is developing frameworks for understanding Protestant architecture, in terms of its positioning within territories and new aesthetics that result from the territorialization of its spatial manifestations for worship. My analysis challenges established readings of religious architecture as being manifestations that are “multiscalar, territorially differentiated, and morphologically variegated.”5

Through the lens of Evangelist Reverend Robert H. Schuller’s drive-in walk-in church my goal is to demonstrate how his architecture transcended existing geographies long anchored by the epistemology of traditional “religious” architecture. Designed by Richard Neutra, the Garden Grove Community Church is a unique example where the environment the church is part of creates an aesthetic I refer to as “superordinary.”6

This paper examines how Schuller instrumentalized broader imbrications of political contexts to change or manipulate the traditional religious subject. It also presents how Garden Grove reconceptualized “territory” as an evolving ideological dimension, not as a trajectory, or as transitory space, but as an inhabitable third nature. To do so it poses the following questions: how does this meta-geographical dimension shed new light on questions of (traditional) architectural aesthetics in Protestant architecture? What spaces and politics does it produce? Does the third nature have a history of its own?

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1 Sloterdijk, Peter, and Wieland Hoban. In the World Interior of Capital: For a Philosophical Theory of Globalization. English edition. ed. 2014.
2 Plato, and C. J. Rowe. Phaedo. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Cambridge England ; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
3 Sack, Robert David. Human Territoriality: Its Theory and History. Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography. Cambridge Cambridgeshire ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
4 Ibid.
5 Brenner, Neil. Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization. Berlin: JOVIS, 2014. pp. 23
6 Petrov, Antonio. Superordinary! Aesthetic and Material Transformations of Megachurch Architecture in the United States. Cambridge, MA: My Doctoral Dissertation at Harvard University, 2011.
7 Baudrillard, Jean. America. London ; New York: Verso, 1988.
8 Petrov, Antonio. “Superordinary: On the Problematique of the Ordinary.” MAS-Context Fall 2014, no. 23 (2014): 8-15.
9 Brenner, Neil. Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization. Berlin: JOVIS, 2014. pp. 21
10 Ibid.
11 Latour, Bruno. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Harvard University Press, 2004.
12 Pinchbeck, Daniel. “Embracing the Archaic: Postmodern Culture and Psychedelic Initiation.” In Psychedelic : Optical and Visionary Art since the 1960s, edited by David S. Rubin, 139 p. San Antonio, TX. Cambridge, Mass.: San Antonio Museum of Art ; In association with the MIT Press, 2010.
13 Hollein, Hans. “Everything Is Architecture.” Discourse on Practice in Architecture Reader (1968): 459461.
14 Schuller, Robert Harold. Your Church Has Real Possibilities. Glendale, Calif.: G/L Regal Books, 1974.
15 Ibid.
16 Cohen, Lizabeth. A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.
17 Schuller, Robert Harold. Your Church Has Real Possibilities. Glendale, Calif.: G/L Regal Books, 1974.
18 Lavin, Sylvia. "Drive-through Window." In Form Follows Libido: Architecture and Richard Neutra in a Psychoanalytic Culture, 119-30. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.
19 Schuller, Robert Harold. Your Church Has Real Possibilities. Glendale, Calif.: G/L Regal Books, 1974.
20 Glickman, Lawrence B. Consumer Society in American History: A Reader. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.
21 Schuller, Robert Harold. Your Church Has Real Possibilities. Glendale, Calif.: G/L Regal Books, 1974.
22-23 Ibid.
24 Schuller positive and possibility thinking: “Having the right value system, asking the right questions and making the right decision.” In Schuller’s practice they ask three questions, if one is answered with yes, they move on. Would it be a great thing for God? Would it help people who are hurting? Is anybody else doing this job?
25 Schuller, Robert Harold. Your Church Has Real Possibilities. Glendale, Calif.: G/L Regal Books, 1974.
26-27 Ibid.
28 Lavin, Sylvia. “Drive-through Window.” In Form Follows Libido : Architecture and Richard Neutra in a Psychoanalytic Culture, 119-30. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.
29 Schuller, Robert Harold. Your Church Has Real Possibilities. Glendale, Calif.: G/L Regal Books, 1974.
30 Ibid.
31 Time-Magazine (1975) http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,913788,00.html.
32 Jarzombek, Mark. “The Cunning of Architecture's Reason.” Footprint Autumn 2007 (2007): 31-46.
33-34 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. 2 vols. Oxford ; New York: Clarendon Press, 1998.
35 Steiner, Uwe. Walter Benjamin : An Introduction to His Work and Thought. Chicago ; London: the University of Chicago Press, 2010.
36 Schuller, Robert Harold. Your Church Has Real Possibilities. Glendale, Calif.: G/L Regal Books, 1974.
37-40 Ibid.
41 Smith, James K. A. Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. Church and Postmodern Culture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2006.
42 Smith, Matthew Wilson. The Total Work of Art: From Bayreuth to Cyberspace. New York: Routledge, 2007.
43 Ibid.
44 Snodgrass, Klyne. Stories with Intent : A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008.
45-47 Ibid.
48 Leach, William. Land of Desire : Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. 1st ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.
49 May, Elaine Tyler. “The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home.” In Consumer Society in American History: A Reader, edited by Lawrence B. Glickman, 298-315. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.
50 Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Oxford, OX, UK ; Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell, 1991.