Goodhue's Tomb: Nihil Tetiget Quod Non Ornavit

Goodhue's Tomb: Nihil Tetiget Quod Non Ornavit

The tomb of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue—the greatest American architect of his generation—rests in the Episcopal Church of the Intercession in the far northwest of Manhattan. Here we explore the inscriptions and sculptural contents of this "token of the affection of his friends" and "his great architectural creations that beautify the land."

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Marginalized Modernisms

Marginalized Modernisms

I am excited to announce the publication of the article "Marginalized Modernisms: Progressive Architecture for Minority, Immigrant, and Rural Churches in Texas" in the Journal of History and Culture which is published by Prairie View A&M's Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture.

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UTSOA Lecture on St Martin Lutheran, Austin

Information about a lecture given at the University of Texas as part of ongoing efforts to advocate for the preservation of Saint Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church. This church is by far the best example of non-residential mid-century architecture and holds a special place among the finest modern American churches. The lecture addressed on the influence of the church and the people associated with it on the history of the architecture and building arts community of Austin in the middle of the twentieth century.

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What is God? Length, Breadth, Height, and Depth

What is God? Length, Breadth, Height, and Depth

On the implications of the theologies of two prominent 12th-century abbots in the Benedictine tradition—Abbot Suger and St Bernard of Clairvaux—as they touch on themes relevant to architecture, especially simplicity, proportion, light, and the divine darkness.

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Miriam's Book About Her Dad


My daughter Miriam wrote a story about me at Kindergarten, and they sent it to me at school for Father's Day. And I have to share it because it is adorable.

"Building for Now and the Future" is the tag line of the capital campaign for the new parish hall / activity center for our parish. Here is a photo of the view she's recreating here.


VE is actually making the new building look more like this. We haven't actually started construction yet.


I think that is me on the right in my daily lay cassock/tunic. Lots more praying than building so far... But I'm so glad she sees the connection of ora et labora already!

MidTexMod Tour of St Martin Evangelical Lutheran Church

St Martin Evangelical Lutheran Church, Austin

I am excited to participate in an upcoming tour of St Martin Evangelical Lutheran Church with MidTexMod, the local docomomo_us chapter. Despite its relative obscurity in architectural history literature, it is among the most significant churches of its time with local, national, and international confluences and volumes to reveal about both individual, denominational, and universal aspects of church architecture. My lecture will touch on some of the themes from the article I wrote for docomomo as well as examining how it fits into its larger contemporary scenes in the Lutheran church and in modern architecture (including some photos from my trip to St Dominic in New Orleans, built at the same time with stained glass by the same artist). Dennis Cordes, congregant and Preservation Architect, will address some of the preservation challenges the building presents and give insight into the building's continued use. The docent-led tour will give us a chance to dig into some of the particular details of the architecture.

Here are the full event details from MidTexMod:

St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church: Tour and Lecture Date: Saturday, May 16 Time: 2-4pm Location: 606 W 15th St, Austin, TX 78701 Cost: $5 Suggested Donation

Join us to learn about one of Austin’s most striking Modern examples of ecclesiastic architecture – St. Martin's Lutheran Church. Completed in 1960, the church was designed by Robert Mather of Jessen Jessen Millhouse and Greeven as a Modern abstraction of the Christian basilica. The building features an arresting Modern chapel with a soaring vaulted nave and dramatic stained glass, a remarkably intact sanctuary, and sculpture by Charles Umlauf, as well as a more utilitarian education wing including classrooms, kitchens, and a basketball court.

Dedication Booklet Cover
Dedication Booklet Cover

Mid Tex Mod will be hosting a tour of the church with a lecture on the building's design, significance, and art by MTM member Jason John Paul Haskins, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C. Jason is a church-building researcher and design consultant who writes about liturgy, architecture and history on the blog Locus Iste. He holds a B.S. in Architectural Studies and an M.Arch from University of Texas with additional course work at Columbia University and a research emphasis on the architecture of the 19-20th century liturgical movements. Jason’s lecture will be followed by a presentation on the building’s preservation by Dennis Cordes, congregant and Preservation Architect (retired from the Texas Historical Commission and Texas Parks & Wildlife).

Mid Tex Mod is excited by the opportunity to highlight this remarkable Modern resource. Our tour will be in conjunction with Preservation Month, established in 1973 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to highlight historic preservation across the country.

Please email to RSVP by May 14. Tickets are not required, but we will be accepting donations at the door (with a $5 suggested donation).

Schenectady's Grotesque Grotesques

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

While traveling during the holidays I visited a fascinating (and slightly disturbing) church in Schenectady. Completed in 1899, St John the Evangelist, in the Union Street Historic District (NHRP), is the result of a collaboration between the pastor and architect. The pastor, Monsignor John L. Reilly, outlined the design of the church from inspiration collected while traveling in Europe. Many American churches have been inspired by their pastors' European grand tour, but the end result in this case is not the obvious replica that resulted in the vast majority.

The "supervising architect" (as he is credited in multiple accounts) was Edward Loth, an architect from Troy. This is the most dramatic and unusual of his church designs. Loth also designed a number of churches in the towns around Albany, including my parent's current church in Ballston Spa and St Patrick, Watervliet which was torn down in 2013. Loth studied in Germany, and I wish I knew where and with whom. I would also love to know what specific examples Monsignor Reilly saw and which ones he referenced in the design.

I visited for an evening mass on a cold overcast day as the sun was setting and with the streetlights and exterior lighting on, the lights made for some interestingly lit and colored, if grainy, photos.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

Then as I flew out of the Albany airport, I saw it again. It was hard to miss the dramatic verticality of its presence in the urban fabric.


The axis mundi drew my eye immediately, even before I realized what town we were flying over. It has a similar impact diving up to it.

The striking monumentality and the geometric composition of the building were some of the reasons I wanted to see this church. Another reason was the seating on the interior, with its steeply raked main floor below a circular balcony of more than 180 degrees. Naves based on auditorium seating and balconies are common features of American churches in the late 19th century, but both are rare features among Catholic churches. But even among the auditorium-type churches, the densely stacked configuration inside a square tower is very unusual.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

Unusual among auditorium churches, too, is the configuration of what stands in for the "stage." Since the majority of these churches were for spoken word-centric celebrations, the focal point was generally a raised dais with a pulpit. But here, the focal wall is an elaborately developed tripartite wall of altar apses. The openness of the central apse, its interlocking composition with the circular balcony, and the boolean formation of the volumes combine to strike an easily legible balance between the unity of the interior space and the hierarchy of the liturgical components. Compared to the more typical contemporary basilicas, including those designed by Edward Loth such as in St Mary, Ballston Spa, celebration at the high altar is extremely immanent without losing its dignity and distinction. My sense is that the apse and altar here results in a posture more appropriate to the Tridentine liturgy.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

Of course now we have the two-part altar with the high altar as a principally decorative function and the altar of sacrifice free-standing in front. It is a necessary adaptation both for celebration versus populum, when appropriate, and for churches which were designed such that the rubrics of the Rite of Consecration could not be followed to the letter. In the Rite in the 1895 Pontificale Romanum—which was in effect for the consecration of this church, assuming it had made it over and been put in use locally—the Bishop sprinkles the altar while circling it (circuit altare) and sprinkles the church "starting behind the main altar" (incipiens retro altare majus). I do not have the text of the 1596 Pontificale, but I understand it gives the same instructions.

This arrangement should never be designed for new churches, but does not need to be a regretted adaptation. This is a perfect case where it could be an effective arrangement, if only the forward altar of sacrifice were treated with due dignity and give stature appropriate not only to its function but also to the scale of its sanctuary. This is true of both the Extraordinary and current forms of the liturgy and for the celebrant standing both toward the apse and toward the nave.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

The composition of the focal wall gives a clear hierarchy between the high altar and the two side altars while achieving a balance between the elevation and integration both proper to the sanctuary. At the same time, there remains something slightly off about the whole that I can't quite identify, but that may just be the fact that it is unfamiliar or overflow from the issues with the ornament. Unfortunately, the current usage does not retain the clarity of the composition; there were a number of oddities that reflected a disappointing attitude of apathy in the celebration that did not live up to the nature of the liturgy or reflect the intriguing structure's attitude toward worship.

The church is extremely "modern" in a number of different senses of the word and with both positive and negative results.

On the positive side we have a sophisticated composition of volumes where space (in its modern conception) is a primary element in the overall design. The exterior prefigures some of the geometric Backsteinexpressionismus, with the obvious difference in material. In particular, it reminds me of the early work of Dominikus Böhm, leading up to the Abdij Sint Benedictusberg (1922).

Cloister Exterior | Abdij Sint Benedictusberg

Works such as these highlight continuity of the later architectural developments often characterized with an over-emphasis on rupture and revolution. Something about the proliferation elongated abstractions of gothic windows suggest an active engagement with the precedents not seen in Loth's other designs.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

And St John the Evangelist, Schenectady also has a far greater consideration in structure; we see this most notably in the metal and glass dome within the central spire. (Since I visited in the evening, I did not get to experience the effect of that component. There are some good photos on this page, and if I am able to visit in daylight I will add more photos then.)

And the seating arrangement may be classified as modern because of its emphasis on perceptibility of the celebration in the sanctuary. Closed-minded anti-modernist types might reject this arrangement outright, but with the juxtaposition within the more dominant components of the interior there is much more going on here. In person it really does not feel like an auditorium, in the ways that detract from the "higher" forms of Christian worship. The congregant in his or her seat is much more caught up in the milieu of the whole building. Ultimately the arrangement reinforces the clarity of orientation toward the altar.

Though I have mentioned them together, the auditorium style seating is one thing and the balcony quite another. Balconies in general are problematic for participation because they emphasize the posture and spirit of a "spectator" for those sitting there. This is among the least offensive balconies I have seen, mostly on account its integration and imminence, but it still has problems.

The church is also profoundly modern in its separation of its ornament from the structure. The disunion is particularly evident in the interior; and the very fact that it is more evident in the interior reflects a further disjunction between the interior and exterior.

The church exhibits the problematic type of 19th century eclecticism (where complexity does not lead to richness) in its ornament and a tendency towards individualistic sentimentality in its art. The stark whiteness of the whole composition was interesting, especially since I visited in the middle of writing my piece on the Chartres Polychrome Controversy. I guess it imparts something of Wincklemann's "noble simplicity," but that is ultimately annihilated by the sculptural exuberance of it. On the other hand, this formal exuberance is only possible because it is monochromatic.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

(I'm tempted to do a false color version of one of these photos just to see how ridiculous it would be...)

This is one of the best examples where the ornament is essentially frosting. The clustered columns are clearly false, and only occur as a framing device clearly divorced from any structural function. Note the difference between these and the single slender metal columns supporting the balcony. What is worse, it is all made of poorly constructed plaster with an infill executed in a grotesquely inflated grotesque. The word "grotesque" immediately sprang to my mind and has not departed since. I've since determined that four distinct meanings of "grotesque" apply here. In this case, I mean a "distorted" version of a "fanciful combinations of intertwined forms" that began life as a Roman infill painting technique.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

The commitment to the texture is admirable; its ubiquity is unifying. And I wanted it to work. I kept thinking how wonderful it could have been in the hands of someone more skilled in the composition of organic field textures. Someone like Louis Sullivan, who exhibited greater creativity, more sophisticated subtlety, greater variety of scale, a more effective shallow relief, and, of course, generally worked in terra cotta instead of plaster:


This is something I would like to try to make work even today.

The tendrils in the transepts are much better, since they continue and heighten the rhythm of the actual structure, tie this part of the building to the focal wall, and engage the negative space of the concave ribs.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

Which brings us to the most ridiculous (and grotesque) part of the whole thing: the grotesque grotesques (using two additional meanings, in the sense of "abnormal and hideous" or "absurdly incongruous" rendition of a "face used as architectural element").

The cherubs.

St John the Evangelist, Schenectady

Or more properly, the putti, which are mistakenly called cherubs. The cherubim are awesome beings depicted as multi-winged living creatures attendant to the majesty of God. They originate in Hebrew scriptures and are thus proper to those aspects of Christian worship which cry "Gloria!" and "Alleluia!" and "Sanctus!"

Putti, on the other hand, originate in Classical paganism and come to the fore in Christian art in its lowest and most extravagant period, and more importantly, among the trends that most severed the liturgy from devotion and personal piety. By the late 19th century, any depth that might have existed in their Quattrocento iterations had been reduced to the most pathetic and sentimental. Thus they are two faces of the humanist individualism that is poison to the fullness of Christian worship.

The proliferation of putti—supposedly more than 500—inside St John the Evangelist, Schenectady simply come across as distracting and more than a bit creepy. The intent was most likely to represent the "heavenly host," and childlikeness (not childishness) is certainly an aspect of the Christian ideal; however, the this depiction is of a milksop host and a sentimentally pandering image of an inordinately comforting heaven.

One other item that I would like to investigate further is the electric lights. There are lamps oddly placed in the putti's foreheads and a few in the perimeter of the central apse. Given that Schenectady became the home of both the Edison factory and General Electric in the decades prior to the church's construction, it is possible that they are original, or at least early additions. Their placement seems to be more for effect than for general lighting, which would suggest a different approach to the use of electric lights—one fitting to a city interested in showcasing its technological prominence—than the more utilitarian approach of the last half century.

This was going to be a short post sharing a few photos, but as you can see there is quite a bit to chew on in this one. Much of its interest and peculiarity derive directly from standing among the transitions at the turn of the century. Thus it encapsulates a number of trends in the period of church building (1833–1962) I find the most fascinating and under-appreciated.

Chartres Controversy

Chartres Controversy

"Without doubt, Our Lady of Chartres is still a majestic and sublime edifice. But for all the beauty she has maintained with age, it is difficult not to sigh with indignation before the damage and countless mutilations to which men have subjected the venerable monument." (Thus spake Victor Hugo)

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Docomomo Central Texas Tour Day 2014

This Saturday (11 October 2014), the MidTexMod chapter of docomomo_us will host their component of the national Tour Day event which highlights modern architecture across the country. Last year's tour featured the architecture of John S Chase in East Austin. This year's will focus on the midcentury houses and churches of Milton Ryan. I will be speaking on Ryan's church architecture and its relation to the concept of domus ecclesiae in modern church architecture as we visit University Presbyterian Church. Adjacent to Trinity University, O'Neil Ford initially designed a lift-slab church with translucent marble windows for the congregation before Milton Ryan drew from the best of modern residential architecture to create the award-winning tent-form building that was eventually built. We will compare the two designs and explore the history of this church and Ryan's other church in Victoria.

University Presbyterian Church, San Antonio

Here are the event details and schedule from MidTexMod:

Mark your calendars and join us for docomomo Tour Day 2014. Mid Tex Mod is pleased to partner with Nest Modern to host a tour of three Milton Ryan properties in the San Antonio area.

Milton Ryan, born in Rockport in 1904, was an architect who started his career designing neo-classical tract houses before turning to Modernism in the 1950s. Ryan is best known for his Mid-Century Modern houses in the Terrell Hills neighborhood. As his work has often been overshadowed by that of his San Antonio contemporary O'Neil Ford, our organization is excited to highlight some of Ryan's residential and institutional work.

We are thrilled to begin Tour Day with lectures about Milton Ryan by Stephen Fox and Jason John Paul Haskins, followed by tours showcasing three of Ryan's commissions. Below is a general schedule of the day's events. A brochure with more specific information and addresses will be provided at University Presbyterian Church. Tickets are not required, but we will be accepting donations at the door (with a $5 suggested donation).

Please email to RSVP.


1:00 p.m. – Meet and tour University Presbyterian Church at 300 Bushnell Ave., San Antonio. (The church's parking lot is accessed from Shook Ave.)

1:30 p.m. – Lectures on Milton Ryan and his work:

The Architecture of Milton A. Ryan” by architectural historian Stephen Fox, Fellow of the Anchorage Foundation of Texas.

“Milton Ryan and the Domestic Modern Church” by Jason John Paul Haskins, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C.

2:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. - Tours of two Milton Ryan houses in Terrell Hills. The houses are located on Eventide Drive. More specific information and directions will be provided at University Presbyterian Church.

5:00 p.m.- Reception at NEST Modern, 340 East Brasse Road in San Antonio, with light refreshments and wine

NYC and Princeton Trip (A Preview)

The Cloisters Since it is probably going to be a while before I can process all of my photos and write longer reflections on the places I visited during my time in New York City, here is a preview made up of some of the photos posted to Instagram while on the road. It was admittedly an unusual New York City trip; a co-worker was quite disappointed that I neither partied nor went to a Broadway show.

What I did do was to visit churches, of course. But one of the stand out highlights was a day trip excursion to visit Jean Labatut's Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, New Jersey.

Sacred Heart, Stuart Country Day School, Princeton

Joinery Details, Stuart Country Day School, Princeton

The school hosted a series of events marking their 50th anniversary over the past year that included a lecture given by Jorge Otero-Pailos and J. Robert Hillier. Hillier served as draftsman and designer on the project as a recent graduate in Princeton. Otero-Pailos wrote Architecture's Historical Turn as a history of the development of phenomenology within the American architectural discourse. He credited Labatut—and specifically Labatut's Catholicism—with providing the ground for Princeton to become "the first academic hotbed of architectural phenomenology and soon thereafter a major center of postmodern architecture."

Until I am able to write a more full reflection on the building, here is the lecture:

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After the 50th anniversary, the maintenance staff rediscovered the original model of the school (built by Hillier) in storage. Seeing the unrealized design for the "Cor Unum" chapel that was to be the heart of the school was a highlight of the highlight of the trip.


Venturi Scott Brown Associates eventually built a much larger multi-use space in that spot. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown were students of Labatut at Princeton.

There is a small chapel in the cloister wing of the building (now used as offices as there are no longer nuns in the faculty). A narrow stair winds its way around this chapel from the basement to what was a an accessible roof for the cloistered sisters.

Ascending the Stair of Spirituality

And two more material teasers:

Glazed brick


I can't wait to spend more time parsing this incredible building and the ideas behind it.

The New York City portion of the trip became an inadvertent celebration of Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. My only plan was to spend time thinking, reading, and praying in beautiful spaces. It turned out a few that I had pre-selected were designed by Goodhue. I briefly visited St Bartholomew on a previous trip, and spending more time there was a high priority. It happened that they had an evening service on the Feast of the Transfiguration, which meant celebrating that important occasion (and important to my conception of liturgical architecture) beneath this:

Transfiguration apse mosaic, St Bartholomew

The mosaic is the work of Hildreth Meière, who is a new hero of mine. Her work is absolutely brilliant and occupies a similar position between originality and continuity that Goodhue's architecture represents (especially when compared with Ralph Adams Cram's stoic perfectionism which is actually more abstract). Her work occupies part of what I'm coming to view as limb of early twentieth century art that was largely chopped off by what we might call the onslaught of history and the desire for abrupt change.

One of my favorite aspects of St Bart's is the proliferation of lettering on the building. Since Goodhue also designed fonts, I'm assuming the inscriptions are his own designs as well, but I want to look into that more in depth.

Double capital with inscription, St Bartholomew

When I found out Goodhue's tomb was, well a thing, and then also on the island, I had to try and visit that as well.

Goodhue's Tomb, Church of the Intercession

The church second from the right is St Vincent Ferrer, the Goodhue-designed Dominican church attached to the headquarters of the Eastern United States Province of the order. The Friday of my trip was the Feast of St Dominic, which was a perfect day to celebrate at the church. Here is an excerpt from the Sequence:

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Among the fun surprises were seeing the interior of Central Synagogue, which happened to have one of its open times when I walked by:

Central Synagogue

and Xu Bing's Phoenix in the nave of the Cathedral of St John the Divine, which was absolutely gorgeous:

Xu Bing, Phoenix, St John the Diving

I also visited the campus of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. O'Neil Ford designed a new campus for the school in the 1960s, so it was interesting to see his work in an unusual climate and the impact that had on the designs. His buildings there are a study in unity of differences and how to compose a cohesive campus without simply repeating form. One of the most distinct is another little chapel in the woods: the only exclusively timber structure on the campus.

Wilson Chapel, Skidmore College

The chapel features light fixtures and wooden screens by Lynn Ford (presumably). And look who else was there:

Light fixtures by Martha Mood, Skidmore College

We also visited the art museum by Antoine Predock, which was by far one of his best works. It was formally bold, but its form did not overshadow its role as a museum. The galleries were well lit and distinct enough to be interesting and provide space for exhibits to interact with, but not so much as to overpower what was on display.

While we're on the subject of non-ecclesial architecture, Morphosis is exquisite in the sunset:

Morphosis in the Gloaming


Milton Ryan's Mid-century Churches

Milton Ryan's Mid-century Churches

Milton A. Ryan was most well known for his mid-century modern residential architecture, especially in the Terrell Hills neighborhood of San Antonio. But he also designed two award-winning churches: the Victoria church in 1952 and University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio in 1954.

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Demolition Imminent: O'Neil Ford University Lutheran Center

Demolition Imminent: O'Neil Ford University Lutheran Center

Plans are in place to demolish the University Lutheran Center serving the University of Texas at Austin this fall and replace it with high-rise student housing with a ground-level store-front Student Center. While the project is an opportunity to advance the center's ministry and satisfy students' needs, the destruction means the loss of a unique structure with a strong ministerial character and a place significant to Texas heritage.

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Restoring St Patrick Cathedral - How Do They Do It?

The Archdiocese of New York posted this video from the Discovery Channel showing a few of the techniques used for cleaning stone as part of the St Patrick Cathedral restoration project.

For further in formation on the restoration effort, visit the cathedral's website. There are a few other videos there as well.