Photo survey: Religious symbols in the code

The code is not agnostic when it comes to expressions of faith, having a clear a opinion about things religious.

Religious symbols for religious institutions may extend an additional twenty-five (25) feet above the height limit.

Rules about religious symbols are in more than one spot in the code. I thought I would take a quick survey of religious symbols. It ends up that, most often, the religious symbol being used is the cross, the most significant symbol for Christians. The cross is frequently elevated high above a building or nearby. Seattle doesn’t have too many ostentatious crosses or ones that are truly outsized. I found only one other faith expressing itself symbolically, at a local Jewish temple. But there wasn’t anything that seemed to trigger the code. There are likely other religious symbols around town, but the cross alone seems to be the one that would most likely trigger issues in the land use code because of the tendency to elevate it above the roof line of the building. One might ask “why use it this way?” There’s a hint in the lyrics of an Anglican hymn about why the cross gets lifted up.

Lift High The Cross Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim, Till all the world adore His sacred Name. Led on their way by this triumphant sign, The hosts of God in conquering ranks combine. Each newborn servant of the Crucified Bears on the brow the seal of Him Who died. O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, As Thou hast promised, draw the world to Thee. So shall our song of triumph ever be: Praise to the Crucified for victory.

The evangelism (or some might say proselytizism) of the cross is hard to miss when expressed in this hymn. But what does the cross mean architecturally? The cross has long been the brand identifier for just about every form of Christian expression, even without the triumphalism of the hymn. But the cross can be humble. Or grand. But mostly, the cross is ubiquitous, lurking here and there, a traditional expression of the irony of how a brutal method of execution would become the promise of resurrection from the dead. For some, certainly, the cross might be a symbol of cultural oppression, representing cultural imperialism, sexism, and war. Others might say the opposite, suggesting that it’s the cultural of imperialism and capitalism that is blocking out the cross. However one feels about it, the cross was surprisingly easy to find.

Update: Thanks to a helpful commenter Sotosoroto
I found another religious symbol, the crescent near Northgate.

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3 Responses to Photo survey: Religious symbols in the code

  1. Sotosoroto says:

    If you’re looking for other religious symbols raised high, the Northgate mosque has a crescent atop its dome.

  2. Matt the Engineer says:

    I’m impressed you found a post for Easter even here in a building code blog!

    I think this post implies a great case for a different style of code. I’m picturing a 30′ high zone where every building is a box to maximize their building to fit within the code, and one of those boxes is a church. Yes, they get to put a cross (or crescent) on top, but how bland is that? Mars Hill church in Ballard is a great example – it looks like a warehouse.

    Any code that can crush grand churches and turn them into warehouses needs to be seriously reconsidered, in my book.

  3. Mark S Johnson says:

    Some congregations opt for oppulence, and others for capacity. I don’t think the Land Use Code has anything to do with that. I have never heard of a chruch that found the land use code in Seattle to be a problem, except when they wanted build in a setback or an environmentally critical area. Even when they have added uses like a homeless shelter or food banks that might not seem like the components of a place of worship, the City has been supportive, and has not crushed anything.

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