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.Read More
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.
My wife and I were discussing geometric church plans the other day. Looking through a wide range of shapes, she asked, "Why are there no triangular churches?" My first thought was, of course there are. I swore I'd seen many; I've seen just about everything else. But then I tried to name one. I was stumped.
Triangles are such brilliant structural forms. They show up in section all over the place. I wrote a post discussing the tent-form or a-frame that was immensely popular in the US in the 1960s and 1970s that is simply a triangle in section. There are plenty of examples of structural elements, roofs, etc. But what about plans?
Plans were an obsession with church architects in the 20th century, especially 1940s-1960s in Germany. Architecturally, it was an incredibly dramatic formal move to modify the plan of a church. Liturgically, it was seen as a clear way to intentionally modify the arrangement of the different participants and objects in the liturgy to express the desired relationships between them. I suspect the fascination with plans also had to do with the iconic nature of The Church Incarnate and improved technology making it easier to reproduce plans in books.
So I went looking in a few of my go-to plan-happy books. There are of course no shortage of wedge-shaped plans following on radial auditorium arrangements. But we're looking for equilateral triangles. I found a number of interesting plans constructed from compositions of triangles or tripartite in various ways. Here is the plan of the Evangelical Church of the Resurrection, Rottach-Egern, Germany from 1954.
But take a look at the satellite photo. That triangle is a construction tool only and has little to do with the spatial form of the building. Not sure what the triangular object in the center is, either. There are also plenty of modified triangles. Here is an unbuilt design based on an equilateral triangle with its vertices truncated. Or you could describe it as an equiangular hexagon with unequal lengths. But given the triangular sanctuary plinth and three seating sections, I'd call it triangular.
One possible explanation for not using an equilateral triangle plan might be the acute interior angles—in the trade we call those "dead cat spaces." This plan seems to be a solution to that problem. But looking through plans, there are no shortage of irregular polygons with acute angles. (Perhaps only an architect who would be drawn to regular polygons would be offended by acute interior angles?) It also shows a potential weakness of a center-altar triangular plan. The three banks of benches here are more isolated than in one surrounded on four or more sides, or on three adjacent sides of a square center. And it is impossible to bring them together in this configuration, which works against the image of "gathering around" the altar. Now here is the winner. Still not a regular equilateral triangle, but something even more geometrically idiosyncratic. Behold, the Reuleaux Triangle Church:
That is the plan for the Church of St Augustine in Bonn-Duisdorf, Germany designed by Stefan Leuer in 1961. Here's the google maps and street view. A Reuleaux triangle is a fascinating bit of geometry, not unlike a squircle. (Actually, it is not at all like a squircle, other than in level of geometric coolness... I just wanted to say squircle.) It is what is known as a "curve of constant width," which means that as it rotates along a surface, the height from the surface to the topmost point on the curve remains constant. What's more, it can be rotated inside a square (unlike a circle, the center is not stationary, but also rotates as it is not equidistant from all points because it's not a circle (sorry for the tautology)). As it rotates, it covers 98.77% of the area of the square. The practical upshot of this is that you can create a drill bit that drills (almost) square holes. Observe:
[youtube_sc url="http://youtu.be/L5AzbDJ7KYI?t=5s" width="480"]
Here is a video that expands on the curve of constant width and expands it into three dimensional solids of constant width:
[youtube_sc url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUCSSJwO3GU" width="480"]
But all of that is an aside when we consider what the Reuleaux triangle might mean for architecture given that the church does not rotate. The most significant property is in its construction from polygonal and circular components. The most compelling church are in some way hybrids of complementary—if not contradicting—concepts that invoke and then challenge familiarity. Scripture does this, the liturgy does this, and any sufficiently developed theology does this.
The synthesis of angular and circular profiles in plan is on the simple side. Of course, an elegant plan is a necessary but insufficient criteria for a good building and for an effective liturgical arrangement. But it does appear to have deeper implications. For one, it provides the radial seating without sacrificing a grand, dominant sanctuary and focal wall. The auditorium-derived radial seating concept has benefits for lines of sight, audibility, and proximity, but those often come at the cost of a smaller sanctuary tucked in a corner. Rotate the arrangement 60º and it is closer to the typical radial arrangement.
Which is not to say this could not also work, and the curved segments of the Releaux triangle lend a more gracious openness compared to the angular example in Rottach-Egern. But the additional seats needed to make up what I deleted end up further from the altar. As designed it, it puts the width where it is most needed to put the greatest part of the congregation near to the sanctuary.
The comparison of these two versions reveals another contrast in the orientation and directionality created by this shape. In either configuration it acts as a circle with a pointed axis—a clever synthesis of Schwarz's first two plans plus a bit of the typically-parabolic "dark chalice." The corner sanctuary has a stronger "militant" directionality from the image of a ship's prow (prora navis... and we've come back around to the nave). The original has a potential for greater subtlety in its axis. The forward movement could be more of a forward embrace coming from the bi-directionality of point and line.
I say could be, because to make these images effective relies ultimately on their spatial projection. Without direct experience, or at least interior photographs, it is impossible to comment on that component. Again, here is the danger of fixating on plan. Even if we argue that the plan contains the more fundamental truth of the arrangement, it is not the more immediately experienced. There is something we can say generally about the Reuleaux triangle's projection into three dimensions. The idea of being both angular and circular gives the corners an unexpected smoothness without losing the sharp definition, an appropriate gesture for a church interior. A slight variation on this theme would to round the corners to create three parabolas, borrowing from that spatial indeterminacy in each corner. That appears to be the case with Kuratie Heilig Geist (Holy Spirit), Würzburg.
The Reuleaux triangle is a fascinating potential shape for a church that allows the plan to take on the advantages of a number of other arrangements. I would like to see more examples of its use. And if you know of any equilateral triangle plans, please share them in the comments.
Two church buildings with triangular plans came up recently on one of my favorite tumblrs, Architecture of Doom.
This spring I had the opportunity to present part of a seminar for UT FORUM, a program of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Texas. The seminar was entitled "Modern Architecture and the Digital Revolution" and co-presented with Ellen Hunt (who makes exquisite jewelry and ritual objects in addition to her architecture work). My portion was the second half that covered the architecture of the Digital Revolution with its antecedents. The course description ran:
Two technological revolutions shaped Modern architecture during the 20th century: The Industrial Revolution and the Digital Revolution. Each in turn transformed every aspect of conceiving, designing, building and occupying buildings. The first introduced Utopian visions; the second opened up seemingly unlimited possibilities for creative forms and efficient construction.
Building design always reflects changes in society. This seminar will examine how those changes are reflected in our architecture along with the evolution of drawing, thinking and communicating.
It was a wonderful experience. The seminar was very well received, and the membership was engaged and delightful. I realized this would be an excellent environment to test out a seminar I have sketched out a few times—my version of a history of church architecture that emphasizes complexity and continuity while challenging some of the oft-repeated and emotionally charged inaccuracies that tend to govern popular discussions on the subject.
And so, the UT FORUM committee has accepted a proposal for a seminar on church architecture. The outline submitted as the proposal is included below. Each of the six sessions comprises 6-8 brief essays, one of which addresses a "Topic in Theological Aesthetics" pertinent to the time period covered. Frequent readers on the subject will not doubt recognize some of the titles as borrowed from some of the seminal books on the topic. You will note that time does not pass uniformly; the first two cover ~500 years, the middle two ~1200, and the final two ~300. This is an intentional focus on the development of concepts significant to recent history rather than a cascade of visual languages, and also because most histories of western art and architecture tend to focus more on the religious work of 500-1700. (I may be the only who views the Renaissance as a low point in church architecture.) And so each session will also include later interpretations of what developed in each period. We will view history through the specific lens of a post-post-conciliar hermeneutic of continuity.
This outline is a proposal, so it will change as I develop the course. And expect many of these essays to appear on the blog as I develop them, especially those noted as "Topics in Theological Aesthetics."
Once complete, the seminar will also be available to be presented to other groups. It would work well (with a few modifications) for an adult religious education series. In that context, the final session could be a tour of the congregation's own building in which we discuss how the precedents and concepts from the course influence their own space. It could also easily be expanded into a seminary course. If you know of an organization that would be interested in such a seminar, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Architecture of Incarnation: The continuity of church-building
Seminar proposal by Jason John Paul Haskins
The story of church architecture is the story of the church's myriad attempts at the impossible task of making physical the realties of her identity as the Body of Christ. This seminar examines the conceptual foundation of sacred place before exploring the diversity of forms used in their creation and concluding with a discussion of what we should do with them now. Although arranged chronologically, this is not a history but a continuity: it looks forward from each historical moment to examine how different churches adopted and adapted these concepts, forms or actions up to our own time. This approach begins from the perspective of liturgical practice—the service of the people—and its spatial implications rather than the historical progression of artistic styles. In addition to tracing the development of Christian worship, each lecture also includes a discussion of relevant topics in the field of theological aesthetics.
The Sacred Place in Scripture and Tradition (∞–95) 1. What is “architecture”? 2. What is “church”? 3. Locus Iste and Babel 4. The Tabernacle, the Temple and their reconstructions 5. The Incarnation and theological aesthetics 6. “Worship in spirit and truth” / “Where two or three are gathered” 7. Topics in Theological Aesthetics: Embodied Cognition & Spatial Metaphors
Dual Origins of the Christian Domus (95–537) 1. The Social Origins of Christian Architecture 2. Domus ecclesiae: the Roman domus as a communal model of church 3. Domus Dei: the Roman basilica as an imperial model of church 4. Modern interpretations of Domus ecclesiae and Domus Dei 5. Patristic liturgical practice 6. Topics in Theological Aesthetics: Vision & Revelation 7. East & West: Hagia Sophia & San Vitale
Christendom, Monasticism, and Pilgrimage (537–1446) 1. The Rise of Monasteries 2. SPQR: The Politics of Christendom 3. The Gothic Cathedral 4. Topics in Theological Aesthetics: Art & Worship 5. Bernard & Suger debate the material of the church 6. The enduring appeal of medievalism
Renaissances and Reformations (1446–1772) 1. Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism 2. Brunelleschi’s Dome & the return to Classicism 3. Topics in Theological Aesthetics: Iconoclasms & Idolatry 4. Denominations & Diversity 5. Lutheran Worship & Buildings 6. Reformed Worship & Buildings 7. Roman Catholic Counter-reformation Worship & Buildings 8. The Anglican Via Media
Enlightenment and Modernity (1772–1962) 1. Between Ecstasy and Reason 2. Revivals & Identity: The Crisis of style 3. Ecclesiology and the Gothic Revival 4. Topics in Theological Aesthetics: Philosophy & Perception 5. Development of the Auditorium church 6. The Mechanized Man Knows No Fancy: Churches in the Industrial Age 7. Churches in the International Style
Continuity, Complexity, and Contradiction (1962–) 1. The pre-conciliar liturgical movement 2. The post-conciliar liturgical movement 3. Dom Hans van der Laan: Form-play of the Liturgy 4. Mid-century Modern Church Architecture 5. Topics in Theological Aesthetics: Imagination & Beauty 6. Recent developments in church architecture 7. How now should we build?
The National Churches Trust, along with the 20th Century Society and the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association held a competition last year (2013) to name the best modern churches in the UK. The criteria for modern was that they opened after 1 January 1953. The top honor went to St Paul, Bow Common—previously featured here and here and in this flickr set and again in this one, and the subject of my master's thesis. So needless to say it is a favorite.
As part of the competition, the National Churches Trust released a video profile of the church that really helps describe the experience of the space. The potency of the space does not translate well in photographs alone due to its raw appearance, so the movement and light possible in video help. And you have a wonderful guide for the video tour: Prebendary Duncan Ross, who has been an incredible pastor for the neighborhood and steward of the building. I believe his efficacy comes in large part because he understands how those two are related, especially when you have a building of such personality as a partner.
- St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, London by Robert Maguire & Keith Murray, 1960
- St Mary’s RC Church, Leyland, Lancashire by Jerzy Faczynski of Weightman and Bullen, 1964
- St Bride’s RC Church, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire by Gillespie Kidd and Coia (Isi Metzstein and Andy Macmillan), 1964
- Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford by Niall McLaughlin Architects, 2013
- St Mark’s Church, Broomhill, Sheffield by George Pace, 1963
- St Francis Xavier RC Church, Falkirk by A R Conlin, 1961
- Scargill Chapel, Skipton, Yorkshire by George Pace, 1960
- St Paul the Apostle, Harringay, London by Inskip & Jenkins, 1991
- Kildrum Parish Church, Cumbernauld by Reiach & Hall, 1965
- St Paul’s Church, Harlow, Essex by Derrick Humphrys & Hurst, 1959 SS Mary and Joseph RC Church, Poplar, London by Adrian Gilbert Scott, 1954
I am very pleased to announce that docomomo US published my article on St Martin EvLC in a Newsletter Special Edition on Religious Sites. Also featured in this edition are Wallace K Harrison's First Presbyterian Church, Stamford and Max Abramovitz's Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo, affectionately known as the "Fish Church" and "Cupcake Synagogue," respectively. In the article I discuss the threads of continuity that were embedded in Modernism and which came more to the fore after the Second World War. Religion is too steeped in tradition and encodes images too essential to escape in the interpretation even if absent from the design concept, and the monikers of the Harrison and Abramovitz buildings reflect the desire to recognize images in abstract spiritual architecture. Admittedly, on the first is widely used and an image of religious significance.
Docomomo is the International committee for the documentation and conservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the modern movement. I am a member of midtexmod, the regional chapter around these parts.
Read the full article over on docomomo.
Austin, Texas will host the 2014 Society of Architectural Historians Annual Conference in April. In addition to the paper sessions, talks, and events, a series of guided tours will highlight the architectural history of this "rapidly growing city with a diverse architectural and cultural heritage." Timothy Parker and I will lead two related tours to explore Austin's religious architecture.
Tour Leader: Timothy Parker, Norwich University
The oldest monumental religious buildings in downtown Austin are marked by histories of change and adaptation. We will tour significant examples of this architecture and consider the periodic and recent challenges of preservation, conservation, and restoration. Included in the tour will be Gethsemane Lutheran Church (1883), now the Library of the Texas Historical Commission; St. David’s Episcopal Church (1853), the oldest extant stone masonry religious building in the city; and St. Mary Cathedral (1874–1884), a key work in the prolific career of Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton.
12:00–2:30 p.m. Maximum number of participants: 25 Mobility Level: 1 Cost: $40, includes transportation AIA/CES: 2HSW
Tour Leader: Jason John Paul Haskins, Locus Iste
Modern religious architecture in Austin emerged under the dominating influences of state institutions, revealing the tenuous separation of church and state in the American South, while responding to changing congregational identities and liturgical developments through the twentieth century. Each of the buildings on this tour balances distinctly modern developments with an overt commitment to retaining continuity with tradition. We will explore churches built in proximity to the university, the Capitol, and state facilities throughout the city. Our stops will include the Richardsonian Romanesque auditorium church of University United Methodist Church (Frederick Mann, 1909), two abstractions of the primitive Christian basilicas in Central Christian Church (Robert Leon White and Samuel Vosper, 1929) and St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (Robert George Mather of Jessen Jessen Millhouse & Greeven, 1960), and the Interfaith Chapel (David Graeber, 1962) at the Austin State Supported Living Center.
1:00–5:00 p.m. Maximum number of participants: 25 Mobility Level: 1 Cost: $40, includes transportation AIA/CES: 3HSW
Registration for the conference is already underway. The tours are also open to the general public separate from confrence registration; anyone interested in just the tours can register starting 16 February 2014.
Here is a preview of the churches to be included on these tours. There were many others we considered but had to omit due to the constraints of the format. Perhaps a guidebook is in order?
Gethsemane Lutheran Church
Swedish Lutheran Church built in 1882-83 from materials salvaged from the State Capitol building that burned down in 1881. The church is now the library of the Texas Historical Commission.
St David's Episcopal Church
Begun in 1853 according to plans conceived by the Rector, St David's grew in increments revealing variations in the Gothic Revival over time. This is one of the oldest buildings in Austin.
St Mary Cathedral
Architect Nicholas J. Clayton designed a number of Roman Catholic cathedrals in Texas, each with a dramatically different interpretation of Gothic Revival. The cathedral in Austin opened in 1884.
University United Methodist Church
UUMC is an auditorium church influenced heavily by Richardsonian Romanesque. Designed by Fredrick Mann in 1905-1909, it in turn helped establish the architectural character of the UT Campus for the next century.
Central Christian Church
This Disciples of Christ church from 1929, the work of Robert Leon White and Samuel Charles Phelps Vosper, is an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts principles taught in the Department of Architecture at the University of Texas in the first half of the 20th century.
St Martin Evangelical Lutheran Church
The design of St Martin's (1960) is a bold Modernist (post-Miesian?) interpretation of the primitive Christian basilica. Read more here.
Austin State Supported Living Center Chapel
David Graeber designed a magnificent chapel for what was at the time the state group home for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Dedicated in 1962, it continues to serve as the spiritual center of its small village. Read more here.
In addition to being the Feast of St Cecilia, patron of musicians, today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Benjamin Britten. He was a kindred spirit to many of the delightfully complex turn-of-the-century Anglicans (and Britons generally) dear to the heart of this blog. So here is a brief celebration of someone whose work provides an incredible example of whole-heartedly engaging tradition in the creation of new works for the church.
Among Britten's many works (the most widely-known of which is probably the Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34) are a number of pieces written for performance in churches, and in fact, for a particular church building: St Bartholomew, Orford. (And since I can't pass up an opportunity to post photos of East Anglian parish churches...)
One such work was the opera Noye's Fludde. This work was written specifically to be performed in a church—with the attendant architectural and social implications thereof—and combined parts designated for professional performers, amateurs (mostly children), and the congregation/audience.
Noye's Fludde went on to be staged by many churches and community groups. It also played a central role in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.
Britten also wrote a Missa Brevis for Westminster Cathedral:
A memorial window at SS Peter and Paul, Aldeburgh, where Britten is buried, depicts Britten's three "Parables for church performance": Curlew River, Op. 71 (1964); The Burning Fiery Furnace, Op. 77 (1966); and The Prodigal Son, Op. 81 (1968).
The parables were based in part on the "stylized ritual of Japanese Noh theatre" (source). There is an obvious influence in the deliberate sparsity of the music's structure. In much of Britten's music I hear an intentionality proper to ritual (across divers cultures) combined with an engaged earnestness (thinking of the amateur performers in Noye's Fludde or his folk song setttings).
What would be the architectural analog? Perhaps the brick churches of Edward Maufe or the later works of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, at least as countrymen of similar time. But I think there are illustrations of sound architectural principles in this music that I hope to explore further.
One of the special events of the 2013 Texas Architects Convention in Fort Worth was a tour of three small chapels led by James Nader, FAIA. The tour was presented by the Texas Office of Partners for Sacred Places, a national non-profit whose purpose is the preservation of historic church facilities. What is unique about their mission is that they treat preservation as one aspect of ensuring the vitality of the historic church community who calls the building home. They are the "only national advocate for the sound stewardship and active community use of America’s older religious properties."
The Texas Office also just announced the launch of the Texas Sacred Places Project website with the goal of creating an inventory of purpose-built religious buildings designed for worship and more than 50 years old. This looks like a wonderful project and I look forward to exploring it and contributing.
The three chapels on the Fort Worth Sacred Places Tour were the Dorothea Children's Chapel at St John Episcopal, the Marty Leonard Community Chapel at Lena Pope Home, and the Oakwood Memorial Chapel at Oakwood Cemetery. Walking around downtown during the convention I also visited First Christian Church and St Patrick Cathedral, so those two are included below as well. (All of the published photos from the trip are in this Flickr collection. I still need to add the two O'Neil Ford churches in Denton and the non-church projects as well.)
Photos and some thoughts on each of the churches follow bellow.
Dorothea Children's Chapel at St John Episcopal
The first stop on the tour was a "diminutive" English Gothic chapel built in 1966. Architect and church member Joseph J Paterson proportioned and detailed every aspect of this chapel for use by children.
Note the use of "reject" clinker to accent the rustic character. The exaggerated thickness of the walls contribute to the somber weight of the building. Above the door of the chapel, inverse corbeling lightens the wall on the interior as it rises to the small rose window above.
As an adult, the chapel feels like trying to play a 3/4 size instrument. The windows, pews, and other furnishings feature animal figures and depictions of the childhood of Jesus.
The Dorothea Children's Chapel was an addition to the main church which was also designed by Paterson and built in 1952. Paterson modeled the church on his studies of Gothic parish churches found on his travels in England.
A few characteristically Anglican features show this influence, most notably the full chancel with quire. The chancel is missing a rood screen, but the lady chapel terminating the left aisle does have one. A metal rood screen also separates the Children's Chapel from its narthex (above).
The squat central tower is another common feature of Victorian Gothic churches.
View the complete photo set of The Dorothea Children's Chapel and St John Episcopal on flickr.
Marty Leonard Community Chapel at Lena Pope Home
The centerpiece of the tour was an interfaith chapel at the Lena Pope Home, which opened in 1930 as a home for orphans. The Home still housed disadvantaged children at the time of the chapel's construction (1990), but its mission has since changed to focus on enabling families to stay together through counseling, a charter school, and other educational programs. The chapel has remained in constant use by the Home and the community it supports (plus lots of weddings).
The purpose of the chapel was similar to the Austin State Supported Living Center Chapel previously featured on Locus Iste.
A plaque on the floor of the narthex states the Chapel's Mission Statement:
The Marty Leonard Community Chapel provides a serene setting where the youth of Lena Pope Home can give and receive acceptance and forgiveness, develop character, understand the unexplainable, accept the unacceptable, forgive the unforgivable, develop and refine a moral values system, and seek peace and a new beginning. The Chapel provides a peaceful place where the youth can let down their walls and where they can surrender and relinquish control of their lives to a higher power that will not abandon them, will not abuse them, will not judge them, but will love them no matter what, and forever. This interfaith chapel provides an uplifting environment that inspires people to think their highest and best thoughts. It is a place for worship, inspiration, prayer, guidance, celebration, joy, meditation, hope, relaxation, research, education, music, and spiritual enrichment.
Our guide for the tour was Marty Leonard, the chapel's namesake. She wanted to build a chapel for the Lena Pope Home, and her friends gave it to her as a birthday present. Leonard hired the architect E Fay Jones, most well known for Thorncrown Chapel near Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Jones was an apprentice of Frank Llyod Wright, and his influence shows clearly in both of these chapels, especially in moments like these:
Which is not to say that Jones was not a designer in his own right. He developed a unique interpretation endemic to the Ozark forests that was an analog to Wright's prairie architecture rooted in the midwest or his desert architecture based out of Taliesen west. Moreover, Fay Jones was an extremely well regarded professional, as a Fellow of the AIA and recipient of the AIA Gold Medal in 1990, an well as an influential educator. The University of Arkansas named their School of Architecture in his honor after his death.
The timber filigree structure was the chapel's distinguishing characteristic and one that was evident from photographs. And it was indeed impressive, but in person the spatial sequence was the most interesting aspect as it moved from the dramatically vertical façade, through a low narthex, and into an open worship space. Compared to the initial impression of strong verticality add the linearity of the tectonics (along with the Thorncrown precedent), the broad central character of the nave was unexpected.
The entry space with service facilities is unusual among Fay Jones chapels; he typically preferred to use outbuildings for restrooms and other program requirements in order to maintain the architectural purity of the chapel itself. But the Leonard Chapel includes a full lower floor with a meeting room, office, kitchen, and restrooms.
While Thorncrown may be the more pristine formal Architectural experience, the missional program of this chapel and the spatial complexity it required results in a more complete architectural work.
View the complete photo set of the Marty Leonard Community Chapel on flickr.
Oakwood Memorial Chapel at Oakwood Cemetery
Our last stop on the tour was a small cemetery chapel in desperate need of preservation. Oakwood Cemetery was described as the burial place of the "notable and notorious" of Fort Worth.
A group of women raised the funds to build the chapel in 1912. Architects Marion Waller and E Stanely Field provided the design. The timber roof structure in the small chapel was exquisite.
We were also able to visit the basement of the chapel which at one time housed one of the first mechanical coffin lifts.
View the complete photoset of Oakwood Memorial Chapel on flickr.
The next two churches were not part of the tour, but visited during some free time during the convention.
First Christian Church
Walking back from breakfast Saturday morning, I saw a dome across a parking lot that merited investigation.
The building turned out to be First Christian Church, the 1914 neoclassical home of the oldest continually operating congregation in Fort Worth. The architects were E.W. Van Slyke and Clyde Woodruff.
The interior revealed a quarter-radius auditorium about a corner sanctuary. This was an unusual arrangement, given the asymmetry of the choir loft over the baptistry, the interior stained glass opposite, and other irregularities.
The dominant feature of the main worship space was a large domed skylight of stained glass centered over the nave.
View the complete photo set of First Christian Church, Fort Worth on flickr.
St Patrick Cathedral
St Patrick Church started out as the first parish church in Fort Worth in 1888. It was later elevated to co-cathedral of the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth in 1953. It has served as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Fort Worth since its establishment in 1869.
Architecturally, the structure was the Gothic Revival typical of large Catholic churches in 19th century Texas. But the ornamentation and especially the sanctuary were given a more Renaissance treatment.
The result is the kind of indiscriminate traditionalism that feeds sentimentality. All three altar pieces are topped with broken round pediments, emblems of Renaissance absurdism.
View the complete photo set of St Patrick, Fort Worth on flickr.
For anyone with an eye for design who drives down Martin Luther King Blvd in East Austin, two unique mid-century buildings stand out from the neighborhood. One is a house (The Philips House, 1964) projecting from the hillside. The other is David Chapel, the Missionary Baptist Church across the street with its iconic tower and sharply ascending nave roof. Both have dramatic compositions dominated by low angular roofs which engage a steeply undulating stretch of the street, each in a different way. Like many examples of modern architecture, they present a dramatic presence when experience from a car.
I've always wondered about them. Like the vast majority of the countless people who drive by, I never bothered to look closer and discover their true significance despite their obvious quality of design. And now I know they are much more significant than I had guessed, thanks to the organization Docomomo US (Documentation and Conservation of buidings, sites and neighborhoods of the Modern Movement in the United States) and their regional chapter Mid Tex Mod (both of which I joined that afternoon). Its chapters, members, and related groups all across the country participated in Docomomo's Tour Day by visting significant examples of mid-2oth century architecture in 40 cities. The Connecticut tour visited First Presbyterian Church, Stamford (Wallace K Harrison's "Fish Church").
The Central Texas tour gave access to these two buildings on MLK, which it turns out are both the work of John Saunders Chase, FAIA, and included introductory lectures by Fred L. McGhee and Stephen Fox (who provided much of the information that follows below).
Chase enrolled at the University of Texas two days after the Supreme Court forced the desegregation of its professional and graduate schools. So when he completed his Masters in 1952, he was the first African American to graduate from the UT School of Architecture. This milestone was the first of many such firsts. Perhaps the most publicly significant was that he was the first African American to be licensed to practice architecture in the state of Texas. That honor was somewhat backhanded, however: with no architecture firm willing to hire him, he had to have the internship requirements waived. While this is not unheard of, and he did have some professional experience, it seems the state did not want to draw the attention to his plight.
After graduation, he turned down to a position to teach architecture in a newly formed school at Prairie View A&M. But accepting the position would have qualified the program to offer graduate degrees and would therefore have closed access to UT for other African American students under the state laws at the time. Instead he accepted a job teaching drafting at Texas Southern and started his own firm.
Working independently in Austin and then in Houston, John S Chase built a practice based on engaging the churches in African American communities, which he knew to be the heart of the community. Many of his major early works were churches, and these in turn led to business and residences from church members. It was not until well after the end of segregation that Chase began to receive public commissions, but once they started Chase made significant contributed to Houston's built environment. His firm eventually grew to three offices in Texas and worked on many large project collaborations, including George R. Brown Convention Center, Astrodome Renovation, and an unbuilt commission for United States Embassy in Tunisia. Chase designed much of the Texas Southern University campus.
Chase's influence in the profession had a national reach through his involvement in the AIA, as one of he twelve founders of the National Organization of Minority Architects, and as the first African American to serve on the US Commission in the Fine Arts. In that last role, he was part of the selection of Maya Lin for the design of the Vietnam Memorial, an event which has its own place in the history of peoples under-represented in architecture.
While there is not yet a full biography of Chase, following his death in 2012, interest has risen. If you are interested in learning more, an episode of the In Black America podcast (KUT), features recorded interviews with him in the 1980s. [The audio is currently available on the KUT archive site.] He has been profiled or mentioned in many places online: his Obituary in the Houston Chronicle, Texas State Historical Association Online, the Texas Architects, Diverse Education, The History Makers, and a mention of the tour on Architectural Record. His firm's archives are now maintained by the Houston Public Library Architectural Archives and a major exhibition is currently planned for sometime in 2015.
For his Master's Thesis, "Progressive architecture for the Negro Baptist Church," John S Chase designed a complete campus for a hypothetical church in East Austin. This was not a simple design project; it was an incredibly thorough study of the potential of an expanded program that would embody the full breadth of the importance of this type of church in its community. It was also remarkably detailed and data-driven in its approach to the church itself as an expression of the acoustic and visual criteria particular to the worship practices of a Black Baptist church. It may very well be the first such study for its denominational family, which had tended to rely on vernacular and borrowed forms in its structures. From this it is clear that Chase was not just an architect who designed churches, but someone who put concentrated analytical thought into the nature of church buildings.
I look forward to studying this project in detail (it is held at the UT Library), so expect a report on that here in the future. He also included references and influences, which will be an interesting insight into what was taught and read concerning church architecture at the time.
The David Chapel is considerably smaller than the ambitious program of his thesis project, but it does apply many of the individual ideas developed therein.
The nave rises westward from the top of the hill behind a low entrance. Some of the influence of Frank Llyod Wright claimed by Chase, shows in the narthex, especially in angular elements. The detail of the beveled glass joint between two angled planes stands out on the façade.
In a very clever spatial manipulation, the volume of the nave narrows as it ascends utilizing forced perspective to accentuate the ascension towards the focal wall. The height of that wall enables a clearly organized composition of the locus artifacts of the Baptist church: the pulpit front and center, the choir arrayed behind, and the baptistry high above, surmounted by a large plain cross.
The natural light increases from the lower rear portion upward to the pulpit and choir, reinforces the spatial progression and gives the front of the church an exterior quality. (In fact, I did not immediately realize that I was photographing the space with no artificial light.)
In its tectonic expression and openness, the tower has some affinity with Austin's iconic moonlight towers, the nearest of which is two blocks west on MLK.
The remainder of my flickr set of my photos from the event can be seen here.
The hagiography of St Francis, whose memorial we celebrate today, provides one of the foundational quotes of Locus Iste. This makes a good opportunity to put down some of the perspective behind the work on this site.
When the San Damiano Crucifix spoke to St Francis in 1205, its words were:
Non ne vides quod domus mea destruitur? Vade igitur et repara illam mihi.
Do you not see that my house has fallen into ruin? Go, therefore, and restore it to me.
Why is this a foundational concept? The first line appeals to my general cynicism as one who has never been fully satisfied by any specific expression of church as artifact or as event. It is far too easy to be critical of seemingly ruinous housekeeping (America the Beautiful during mass? Srsly?). But the exact command in the second line, with its broader implications and the Franciscan example, challenges that that cynicism not be turned inward. The answer to the shortcomings of the house of God on earth is not retreating into our individual tastes but in returning to God, and that means giving up our individual preferences for physical expression and our immediate concepts of how we might want to make things better.
Francis initially took this command to mean the physical state of the church building in which he was then praying, and so he sold some of his possessions to fund its restoration. He also sold some of his father's possessions, which created a spot of bother. Thus one of the first major publicly visible acts of poverty undertaken by St Francis—and the immediate cause for his disowning of his father's wealth—was architectural.
Here is the fruit of that labor (the left portion of the later expanded façade, with a later expansion to the right). Not sure how much of the composition is original, but if the fenestration is it would be pretty interesting.
However, the command expanded in meaning for St Francis as that "domus" came to have meaning beyond the destitution of a particular church building. The dual meanings of church (people and building) and all of the dwelling images scattered throughout our theologies and liturgies ("Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof...") should never be considered unfortunate or accidental or a problem to be solved.
The foundation of the Franciscan Order, especially its reformational aspects, more fully answers that command. And that is a good perspective to have when approaching church-building activities: it is but one aspect of the turning-over of our common life that is the church—and the dwellings it begets—back to the Lord.
The moral of this story vis-a-vis church-building is not the condemnation of edifice-making (St Francis's first response was not incorrect, just incomplete); however, there are those who make that argument using St Francis as a model for better ways to allocate church funds. I have sympathy for that inclination, and it is a good check for those of us who are active in the profession not to simply assume that a building is the answer to any and all problems.
A better moral is that it does require we consider the place of a building in the context of the whole complex life of the church with its needs variously practical and impractical. We must never build for its own sake or attempt Beauty without seeking the Truth and Goodness that comes before it and issues from it.
[While we're quoting... consider in this context Eric Gill's oft-repeated quote: "I think that if you look after goodness and truth, beauty will take care of itself" and its less-quoted antecedent: "I think an artist is not a person who makes things beautiful, but simply one who deliberately makes things as well as he can." Sorry I do not have the exact reference on hand, but the website myfonts interviewed him in 2009 (April First, to be exact) and these were included.]
To round out the history, the restored church and convent of St Damian (San Damiano) became the first home of the Order of the Poor Clares in 1212. Its chapel (below) houses a replica of the original conversant San Damiano crucifix, which now hangs in a side chapel of the St Clare Baslica (Basilica di Santa Chiara), also in Assisi.
So a brief reflection to mark the feast of St Francis, who is a far more challenging and complex figure than we tend to consider. Someone was right to think we would do well to give him more thought. Hopefully in focusing on this one hagiographical excerpt I'm not falling into the popular reductionism and appropriation of the saint.
And if I ever progress the Locus Iste San Damiano Crucifix, I will detail the symbolism of its composition. You may also note its outline in the current iteration of the seal used as this site's logo. And I should probably explain it fully as well. Some day...
This video has been making the rounds this week on everything from The Atlantic Cities to Gizmodo to HuffPo. Since I've posted on the Basilica and Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family (Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família) in the past (on the occasion of its consecration), and I'm going to feature it in a lecture in the spring, it's worth sharing again.
So there it is! La Sagrada Familia rendered as complete, c. 2026. The descriptions were always grand, but it is even more complex and massive than I expected. The video is very well made, building up each pice to reveal the underlying structure before showing the end result.
Of course many of the outlets covering the video release refer to the building as "cathedral," but we all know better than that. Almost all of them refer to the building as "Gaudí's masterpiece," an epithet that is at least an over-simplification. Architecture as a whole has suffered from the insistence on the ideal of the individual artistic genius, and particularly so in this case. No substantial architectural work is ever the work on an individual; the common practice of referring to individuals as their authors marginalizes the work of many and establishes unhealthy expectations of the nature of the work.
In the particular case of La Sagrada Familia, even during Gaudí's tenure, he worked closely with the sculptors and craftsmen on the individual elements. This does not detract from Antonio Gaudí's work, which went even far beyond the typical roles of the architect. His attitude towards this project was more monastic—as it embodied the evangelical counsels—than the obsessive artistic narrative more commonly cited.
He ignored his Catholic faith until he was 42, by which time he was a famous and well-paid architect, something of a dandy courted by wealthy Barcelona industrialists to design their show-off houses. ... Over the next 30 years, he shed his wealth, spent more and more time in prayer, gave up meat and alcohol, put his money into improving the lot of the poor of his barrio, and dedicated himself entirely to the Sagrada Família, convinced that God had called him to this great task. (Austen Ivereigh in the Guardian)
And of course since Gaudí's death, the task of completing the basilica has fallen to many different artists and craftspeople using a wide range of techniques ancient and modern. The story of the ongoing work is at least as interesting as the original design. But perhaps the fact that a building started in the 1880s can be harmoniously and organically grown—and even be improved—by including some of the most cutting-edge digital generative/parametric and fabrication proves the genius of the design. Or at least its flexibility and resiliency, traits not shared by some of the more fussy, ego- and fashion-driven pavilions.
A history and description of the Chapel for the Children (1962) designed by David Graeber, an interfaith chapel on the grounds of the Austin State Supported Living Center that progressed the idiom of the post-war A-frame church.Read More
On a bit of an ingest cycle, with some major posts on the way, but they keep informing each other in very interesting ways making it very difficult to get any one of them done. So in the interim, I thought I would share some nuggets from what I've been reading. The first comes from the massive monograph on Aldo van Eyck by Francis Struaven. The daunting task Strauven set himself was to present van Eyck's work and thought as a consistent theory. The structure—alternating chapters outlining major components from van Eyck's thought with chapters detailing his output in projects and teaching—is incredibly effective and would be well emulated for presenting paired theory and practice that are cohesive yet complex.
What I've been looking at in particular is van Eyck's position relative to modernism (whatever modernism might be). Strauven states it this way in the introduction:
He was almost the only architect at the core of the modern movement to formulate a fundamental critique of modern architecture. On the one hand, he strongly opposed its reductive rationalism, its obsession with industrial production and its alienating abstractions. He relentlessly strove, on the other, to graft it back onto its avant-garde roots and to develop it into a meaningful contemporary language. In a period when design was increasingly being reduced to a problem-solving discipline, he defended the idea that architecture, beyond being functional, should be a bearer of meaning.
But the phrase I thought particularly interesting comes when introducing can Eyck's church projects:
It goes without saying that designing the churches—a task which has since time immemorial presented the challenge to concretize the contemporary view of essential things—presented him with a unique opportunity to actualize a pure expression of the new reality, unencumbered by functional inconveniences.
We might take issue with the idea that churches are "unencumbered by functional inconveniences." That is more a characteristic of chapels, and the programmatic complexity of van Eyck's Pastor van Ars, Den Haag in particular is an achievement in meeting but surpassing its functions. But I love the way he stated the task of designing churches: "to concretize the contemporary view of essential things."
The other quote I would like to share comes from the Afterword (subtitlesd "Making Differences") written by Rowan Williams (later Archbishop of Canterbury) to a collection of essays entitled Balthasar at the End of Modernity. It is a statement that immediately made complete sense and turned on its head an assumption whose tenuousness I had not yet realized.
'The divine' is not present in creation in the form of 'hints of transcendence,' points in the created order where finitude and creatureliness appear to thin out or open up to a mysterious infinity, but in creation being itself — which includes, paradoxically, creation being itself in unfinishedness, time-taking, pain, and death.
None of our aesthetic work would be of any consequence were this not the case, that is, if transcendence was found in a lack of (sub-)creative work, where material and time and effort were thin (ascetic?) instead of robust (aesthetic?). But the corollary is that revelation occurs as that creation is ontologically sound (in/of/to its nature) and good and true and beautiful...
That is just scratching the surface there.
One of our patrons celebrates his feast today: St Bernard of Clairvaux. Here's how Watts & Co marked the day, with a post of a Pugin Cistercian church at Abbey of Mount St. Bernard in Leicestershire.
And here is a fragment of his writings on the architecture of monastic churches:
I say nothing of the great height of your churches, their inordinate length, their superfluous breadth, their luxurious polish, and their bizarre carvings and paintings that attract the worshipper's gaze and hinder his attention, and seem to me to be nothing but a revival of some sort of ancient Jewish rite. Let this pass and say it is done for the glory of God. But, as a monk, I ask my brother monks ... "Tell me, poor men, tell me, poor people, what is this gold doing in your sanctuary?" … But we, who have now risen from the people, we who are supposed to have left all the precious and beautiful things of the world for Christ's sake, we who count nothing but shit so that we may win Christ, and who have abandoned all things beautiful to see, soothing to hear, sweet to smell, delightful to taste or pleasant to touch — in a word, all bodily delights — please tell me, why do we get excited by these things? St Bernard of Clairvaux, Strong Words to William (c. 1125)
And yet he is responsible for one of the richest traditions of architecture in the history of the church in substance.
Plus a few more Bernard links on the Locus Iste blog:
Want to share this article, We Pray for the Future on Huffington Post, written by a collegaue of an old friend who now teaches at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. It is a good response to a very bad situation exploring some of the questions of the values of buildings and of national/political identity for Christians, especially as a minority. This should highlight that this is a complex situation, and like all significant conflicts, is not a simple two-party dispute.
The article links to a site with a thorough documentation of the attacks with attempts to verify. I've reposted some of the twitter photos of a few of the churches below. Note that these three are Coptic churches, but other Christians of any denomination were targeted.
St George, Assiut
Amir Tadros, Minya
Mar Girgis (St George), Sohag
The architects of the current church building were the Austin firm Jessen Jessen Millhouse & Greeven with Robert George Mather as the principle designer. It is a masterful abstraction of a Roman basilica which retains that gracious grandeur of the earliest Christian basilicas which is lacking in the majority of its contemporary churches. The height of the interior volume in proportion to its plan accounts for much of the efficacy of this space when compared to its peers.Read More
Whenever the Catholic Church creeps into the general news cycle, certain pet peeves of mine get tickled. Most notably there is a tendency to refer to "the Church" or "The Vatican" doing or thinking or saying something. When this tendency combines with retreading the debates about style and unhealthy assumptions about the role of architects in church building, I am sure to be agitated. A post on the IFRAA discussions on the AIA KnowledgeNet earlier this week invoked just such an agitation, so I wanted to share my response here, as it succinctly encapsulates a number of relevant issues that have been floating around my head of late. +++
While the Roman Catholic church is often assumed to be a linear authoritarian hierarchy, the truth is much more dynamic, with overlapping jurisdictions and a great diversity of organizations, departments, rites, dioceses, national and language councils, etc. There are also dynamic hierarchies of documents depending on the nomenclature, the author, the situation, etc.
I believe as a professional organization, we should be particularly careful with these particularities because there is so much disinformation. It has become shorthand to say "The Vatican says..." or "The Catholic Church says..." without specificity, and these abbreviations breed detrimental presumptions and over-generalizations. As architects, this dilutes our ability to serve.
The idea that building style and meeting the needs of a community are mutually exclusive is abhorrent. It may be somewhat ingrained in the popular church mind, but we (architects) should be a force for the amelioration of that ill. Where there is such a tension, it is precisely the problem architects should solve and a excellent design opportunity. We should be doing both and; is that not why we exist as a profession?
Would it were that every type of professional involved in any building project were unbiased. It is true that the "Liturgical Design Consultant" has tended to be a title used by a particular set of biases, and this is unfortunate. It is why I myself cannot use the title. The error comes from an imbalance in the relative values of agency and submission stemming from a misunderstanding of the role of creativity in and around the Latin Rite (which is drastically different than for Eastern Rites or Anglican, for example). As a culture (and architectural culture) we put too much faith in creativity and not enough in humility. You cannot approach the liturgy as something which can be designed, as the very title "Liturgical Design Consulant" somewhat implies. Liturgy grows organically, but it pre-exists its manifestation and any attempt to specify its nature is already a reduction, if not an abomination. But reverently approached, there are ample opportunities to beautifully participate in its manifestation.
Conforming one's will to the Magisterium of the church does not negate the value she places in the human person and that person's role as sub-/co-creator in participating in creation. Nor does she come remotely close to prescribing something so specific as a style. To quote the well-known Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy (an Apostolic Constitution and therefore considered universal doctrine, to be precise):
"123. The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites. Thus, in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved. The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor; thereby it is enabled to contribute its own voice to that wonderful chorus of praise in honor of the Catholic faith sung by great men in times gone by."
We cannot forget that we are a part of a tradition, nor can we forget that that tradition is living.
An extended study of the prayers and lessons from the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, this post includes translations of the Latin texts, a lexicon of sacred building terms used in the prayers and the Bible, scriptures related to the Christian attitude towards sacred buildings (and architecture generally), and a discussion of "Architect" as a name/title for the Divine.Read More