Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oral and His Works

The way I see it, you can't really go to Tusla for the first time without dropping in on Oral Roberts University. Whatever else you think of the man or his organization, he's going to leave behind some interesting pieces of architecture. Period pieces.

The period being the mid-1960s. I arrived at ORU during mid-afternoon of June 6 under a hot and copper sky. The place was nearly empty for summer. "Futuristic" has been used to describe the design of the various buildings -- everything a campus would have, including dorms, classrooms, an auditorium and a student center -- done up in concrete and shiny gold geometric elements.

"Stuck in amber" might be better, since here we are in the future (by golly, the 21st century and everything) and the ORU design emphatically says "past." Not only that, but a specific point in the past when the future was going to looking futuristic. Now it just looks dated. Even further in the future, however, when Roberts and everyone else currently associated with the place have finally been called home, it might be a candidate for historic preservation.

Even so, I wouldn't have visited without the prospect of seeing one particular building -- the Prayer Tower. I'd seen pictures but wasn't quite prepared for standing in person before a 200-foot Christmas ornament. At least that's the first thing I thought of when it came into view: the kind of ornament made for space-age aluminum trees lit by four-color spotlights. I also thought of the Jetsons' apartment block, or rather apartment saucer, though that was less of a fit. I kept coming back to Christmas ornament.

At the base is an entrance, and inside were a pair of well-scrubbed ORU students at the desk. They politely pointed me to the elevator, and up I went. The enclosed observation deck offered a nice view of campus, even if a little obscured by the external design elements of the tower. I was expecting more, though. More about ORU. More about Jesus. A gift shop, maybe. I would have bought postcards. There was a plaque and a couple of photos, but otherwise it might as well have been an office building interior, without the corporate art or any cubicles or office workers. But maybe that was the intention -- nothing to distract visitors from prayer, except the view of ORU.

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