The Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, (IFRAA) is a Knowledge Community of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). They co-sponsor these annual awards with the journal Faith & Form. The categories of awards given span architecture (new construction, renovation, interiors, landscape, and unbuilt works) and the religious arts (visual art, liturgical furnishings, and ceremonial objects). The judging criteria for the arts categories specifically addresses the appropriateness of the work for a sacred space, so it is no surprise that all of the works awarded were in situ.
[Note that submissions for the 2012 awards open on 1 April 2102, and that this year they will add a student work category for work completed since 2007.]
I've included images of some of the winning projects and a few reflections. If you would like to view the full list of awards, you can find it here.
To start on a positive note, the 2011 awards included a number of admirably restrained renovation and restoration projects.
The projects selected for the New Facilities honor awards reflect a development in the award itself:
"In some past awards programs, individual jurors would not consider work in a style or tradition that challenged their own design or artistic predilections. This was not the case with this year's jury members."
Duncan Stroik won two awards, one for New Facilities and one for Liturgical/Interior Design, representing the continued use of traditional building languages. And rightly so, as his work is among the most thorough and high quality in a field that too often tends towards the reductive.
The interior of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse does fall somewhat into the trap of romanticization, however. The distinctly Italian mode of classicism–especially overlaid as it is with so sugary a palate and reductively sentimental angels–is an odd choice given the dedication. The stone on ciborium directly references the colors of the image of Guadalupe, but the dominant wall color does not complement her with a fitting context. Nor does the design reference the source of the devotion. This would not necessarily be a requirement, but for a site whose stated aim is to "foster devotion to the Blessed Virgin under her title of Patroness of the Americas" and for a project purposefully drawing from existing ornamental language, why choose a language with no relation to the primary image of the devotion? All that said, there is no doubt that the execution exceeds anything else currently being done in the same manner.
On somewhat the other end of the spectrum, the other Honor Award Winner in Religious Architecture was the First Unitarian Society Meeting House (Addition), Madison, Wisconsin designed by The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc. This is an addition to an existing Frank Lloyd Wright designed Meeting House. The prospectus is full of difficulties from the historic concerns to a challenging site. The architect's website has an impressive description and documentation of the project that is well worth a read.
From that image it is hard to believe the project is in Wisconsin.
Another project with similar expressions of structure and material won a Merit Award in Religious Architecture, though it is very different in its approach to massing–one more suited to the northern climate.
Both of these two projects feature extensive use of exposed timber and glulam. As I have said before, glulam is an incredibly promising yet under-utilized option in contemporary church architecture. It combines a relatively cost-effective structural solution while presenting the opportunity for expressed material and structure. Though large spans are possible, there is still a rhythm created by the relatively tight sections that echoes the nave image of traditional basilicas. In fact ribbed timber is closer to a ship than stone vaulting and the image is even less of an abstraction.
The majority of church projects designed by Constantine George Pappas feature glulam as the dominant structure and material in a wide variety of forms. I highly recommend his portfolio to anyone interested in the potential of this material for religious architecture applications.
While we are on the subject of timber, one other project that stands out is the Rio Roca Chapel near Palo Pinto, Texas. Are we still doing this?
To be clear, there is no fault in an architect continuing to build in any particular tradition, and even more so when they are responsible for the genesis of that tradition. The fault lies in awarding a design which is one of the weaker examples of that tradition.
Everything up to the top of the stone walls is commendable: the way the glazed railings turn the outer corners to register into the stone, the slight can to the retaining walls to signify their action, the slight relief of the stone cap. Above that I feel a little bit like Adolf Loos walking by the lake and coming across a villa. I do not know if the architect is skillful or not, but the vista is ruined. It reveals a larger problem with this type of Organic Architecture: the more an architect tries to dissolve a building into the landscape, the more present the building becomes. It works well at a site like Thorncrown because you are hiding a forest in a forest. In this setting it is pure artistic artifice.
Perhaps the drama of the vista and a desire for pure architecture got the better of the jury on this one. I can see myself doing the same thing, and in that regard I would find it hard not to give at least an honorable mention.
I do recommend perusing the remaining award-winning projects and in particular the non-architectural categories, which I did not cover here.