As masons, we place a peculiar importance on the buildings in which we meet. There are several reasons for this. The most common reason for this importance is because we practice secret ceremonies, which by definition must be held in a facility that can shelter us from the outside world. Furthermore, we place importance on our buildings because the symbolism of our craft is entrenched in the tools of operative stone masons. Our lodge rooms are physical representations of King Solomon's Temple and therefore command a level of reverence uncommon in the halls of other fraternal organizations. Many Freemasons feel as though our buildings are the last bastions of positive idealism and our walls guard us from the collapsing civilization, where we commonly reside in our normal lives.
By thinking about why a Masonic building is important, we can define what exactly is the purpose of these buildings and use this definition to plan out the Masonic building of the future. So, what is the purpose of a Masonic building? In the most simplest terms, the purpose of the Masonic building is to house a Masonic Lodge. Since the purpose of a Masonic Lodge is to make Masons, then the purpose of a Masonic building is to provide a location to make Masons. The requirements for a location to make Masons are simple, a secure location that can hold the number of individuals participating in the degree.
Since form typically follows function, the heart of the Masonic building is the place where Masons are made, the lodge room. I would argue that it takes more than a degree to make a Mason. It takes time, contemplation, research and discussion with well informed brethren. The perfect place to perform these actions is a library. However, very few Masonic Buildings contain a communal study area. There is also the need for spaces to coordinate the organization of the lodge, such as a secretary or Master's office. Obviously, a Masonic Building needs storage facilities for lodge paraphernalia and other supplies.
Now, what is the most common aspect of a Masonic Building that I have not mentioned? What is the first thing that the visiting public thinks of when they think of a Masonic Building? The answer is the Hall.
Why didn't I mention the Hall before? Because, I don't believe that it is necessary. That's right! We don't need a hall in our buildings. This is a vastly different building philosophy then modern Masons are used to. We have become so accustomed to the Masonic Lodge room being built on top of a large hall formula, that we can't think of a building without it. Trust me, we don't need halls in most Masonic Buildings. I know that this is a lofty proposal, but I will give a list of reasons why the "Masonic Building must have a hall" philosophy is outdated and flawed. Here it goes.
- Our halls are too big. Most of our halls were built in the early and mid parts of the 20th century, when Masonry was big. We had a large membership base that needed large spaces to eat. The average number of members at a stated communication could not fit in the local restaurant and therefore needed another place to congregate. Today's Masonry is smaller. We have a quarter of the number of members we had in the 1950's, but our halls have not shrunk to meet with our demand.
- Our lodge buildings do not hold the same social and entertainment role as in the past. The Masonic Building used to be a place to hold dances, concerts, plays, dinners and many, many more events. As modern forms of entertainment, such as TVs, video games and computers, became more popular these types of events became less and less prevalent. No longer do families fill their calendar with events to attend for entertainment. They fulfill their entertainment needs within their own home.
- Halls are a black hole of time and energy. How much time and energy goes into sustaining the hall? In my lodge's old building, we would have to spend several hours a month on maintenance and upkeep. We would have to clean, mop, wax, paint, wash and dust on a regular basis. This was time and energy that the brothers of my lodge could have used being Masons, not custodians.
- Halls cost a lot of money. The bills to support a hall can be staggering. Some common expenses for a hall are heating, air conditioning, insurance, electricity, taxes, maintenance and security. A typical hall can cost $6,000 - 10,000 a year.
- To cover these costs, many lodges will rent it out to the community. By renting it out, the upkeep on the building increases even further. A rented hall commonly costs between $20,000 and $30,000 a year in upkeep. The following is a summary of how these costs increase with rental.
- Heating and cooling cost go up to support the patrons needs for a comfortable environment.
- Insurance rates can double or triple, once the lodge's property is rented to people outside the organization.
- Electricity rates increase to cover DJ equipment, lighting needs and food refrigeration.
- Taxes are based on the assessed value of the property of a building. A hall means more square footage, more square footage means a higher property value, which in turn means higher taxes.
- Renting will add more wear and tear on the property, therefore raising the maintenance costs.
- A semi-public building can attract crime and theft. This will increase the costs of security.
- Meet at a local restaurant before Lodge meetings for your dinners. Many restaurants don't charge a rental fee for large functions during the week because this assures them that they will have a large amount of business. Shop around and you may find a restaurant willing to give you a group discount. This has the added benefits of exposing the outside world to your Masonic Lodge and you may see a membership growth because of it.
- Rent out a hall from another organization for larger events. If another local hall costs $500 a rental and you only have four large events a year, then you pay $2000 a year. Compare this to the $6000-$10,000 needed to keep a hall going ever year.
- Coordinate within your district and have one lodge building serve as the hall for many lodges. This plan is an alternative to renting a hall from another organization. If the other organization is a Masonic Lodge, then you're supporting Masonry.
- During the summer months, rent out your local park and have a picnic before a lodge meeting. Park rentals typically cost $50 to $100. It's a cheap and fun alternative to sitting in a stuffy hall during the hot summer months.
- Brothers who have a large home or yard could host a small dinner or an outside barbecue.