The Cathedral Thinkers


2020032420200330 (R4)

The concept of cathedral thinking can be traced back to medieval times. Architects and stone-masons would begin construction on great cathedrals and places of worship knowing they would never see work completed within their own lifetimes. The challenge was to embrace long-range, multiple-generation thinking based on a shared commitment to a far-reaching vision with the capacity to endure across centuries.

In our uncertain age of rising sea levels, global pandemic and accelerating technology, we may have found ourselves at a pivot point in history where the application of a new kind of cathedral thinking will be required to tackle some of our biggest challenges. Days after the 2019 fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, Greta Thunberg made an impassioned speech to the European Parliament where she implored leaders to tackle climate change by adopting the same long-term planning which had underpinned the original construction of Notre Dame. But in our quick-fix, sugar-rush world of market driven economics, short-term election cycles and quarterly performance reviews, the idea of taking the long view and planning centuries - even millennia head - can seem deeply counter-cultural.

Ian Sansom meets the people daring to dream beyond their own lifespans and wonders how he might go about doing so himself. As he explores contemporary cathedral projects with the potential to shape the future of science, technology and environmental protection, Ian asks what we can learn from the original medieval cathedral thinkers and if cathedral projects are always voyages of discovery into uncharted territory.

Producer: Conor Garrett

Ian Sansom meets the people daring to dream beyond their own lifespans.