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


Coptic Churches Attacked in Egypt

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

St George, Assiut !! via @SallyYousri on twitter

St George, Assiut !! via @Peter__Micheal on twitter

Amir Tadros, Minya

Amir Tadros, Minya !! via @Mariam_Youwakim on twitter

Amir Tadros, Minya !! via @GAdv_Mayer on twitter

Mar Girgis (St George), Sohag

Mar Girgis (St George), Sohag !! via @menafakhry on twitter

Return of Cyprian Frescoes from the Menil

The Cyprian frescoes displayed for the past 15 years on the grounds of the Menil Collection are on their way back to Cyprus. When offered the stolen frescoes in a sale, Dominique de Menil instead paid for their recovery on behalf of the Church of Cyprus in exchange for permission to display them for a period of time. That time has now expired and the frescoes have left the purpose-built chapel/museum/reliquary. Read the full story that will air later today on NPR.

The Menil Collection via NPR

We will watch for plans for the building.

Construction Update: Monastery at Ronchamp

Very exciting news from Notre-Dame du Haut de Ronchamp from the French construction website Le Moniteur. Construction on the monastery to house the nuns of the association of Sainte-Collette at the site of Le Corbusier's Notre-Dame du Haut is well underway and in fact speeding up. The article includes many site photos. © 11h45 / Groupe Moniteur

The tower and roof of the chapel is just visible in the photo below. None of the new construction will be visible from the chapel.

© 11h45 / Groupe Moniteur

The story so far in brief, in case you haven't heard about it. The chapel of Notre-Dame du Haut at Ronchamp is generally considered one of the great masterworks of 20th century architecture. It was commissioned by Father Marie-Alain Couturier as part of his belief that the church should employ the greatest artists and architects of the time, regardless of their particular religious beliefs or associations. The primary function of the building was a pilgrimage chapel, staffed by a small community of monks (many of who are buried along the path from the cemetery up the hill, if you forgo the paved road). After the monks departed, the local church used the chapel for occasional masses on a rotation, and it became primarily a destination for architourism.

Renzo Piano

This was the state of affairs during my visits to the chapel, and I must say the loss of the site's actual religious function diluted the experience and the whole of the building. A building deprived of its purpose is a lifeless thing; and no building can be self-justifying. So the proposal that a congregation of nuns from a nearby town might re-occupy the site was welcome news to me. Not so to the Le Corbusier Foundation, who had long coveted the building and wanted to add it to their portfolio. A legal battle over the site ensued wherein the Le Corbusier Foundation argued that building anywhere near the site would ruin the intent of the auteur and threaten a national cultural treasure. This petition has additional details about the dispute.

This was in one sense a metaphorical battle between the worship of the artist and the worship of God, and I for one am rather surprised at the outcome.

The legal position of the Foundation was weak enough and the design of the new monastery, the work of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, was reverential and hidden enough that the proposal went forward. (View the full article for images of the design as well as further photos.) In recent years Renzo Piano has become the go-to architect for this kind of architecturally-sensitive projects; his office is also designing and addition to the Kimball in Fort Worth.

Saturday Morning with Miriam

When your two year old comes to you bearing wooden blocks and says "buiwd a chuch, buiwd a chuch," how can you say no? Miriam's Block Church

So we built a basilica modeled somewhat after the English cathedral prototype, with buttresses for transepts and a tower at the crossing. (Regular posting to resume soon.)

San Antonio Trip Preview

Here are some quick teasers for three churches visited last weekend while in San Antonio for the Texas Society of Architects (AIA) convention. I'm working of posting more photos and writing descriptions & analysis of each of these, but I've been overwhelmed with other projects this week. First up, the chapel at the Haven for Hope which was dedicated last Sunday afternoon. Haven for Hope is an incredible place built to serve and transform San Antonio's homeless population. The scope of the services and the number of organizations & service providers involved is an astounding display of what it means to serve the "whole person." The scale means that it can help everyone who seeks help, not just a few at a time. Overland Partners led the design team, including the design for the chapel pictured below.

Chapel at Haven for Hope, San Antonio by _jjph, on Flickr

Next up is another campus chapel with a similarly profound & pivotal relationship with its site. O'Neil Ford's chapel on the campus of Trinity University.

Parker Chapel, Trinity University by _jjph, on Flickr

And then in the evening we traveled out to the Anglican Use Roman Catholic parish Our Lady of Atonement, where the Sunday evening Mass is said in Latin from the (current) Roman Missal of Paul VI. I was hoping for some sign of "tradition sans traditionalism" but unfortunately no trace of that most desired grail was to be found here. The interior is fairly nice with greatest care in all the right places, though signs of cheap construction abound. The exterior is proportionally atrocious & tectonically inauthentic, but more on that later.

Our Lady of Atonement, San Antonio by _jjph, on Flickr  

Nigerian High Mass, Low Building

From the New Liturgical Movement blog, a poignant reminder of the relative insignificance of church buildings compared to their use. Nigeria mass - elevation

Or perhaps some some fodder for consideration of elemental building in the manner of Laugier. If nothing else, a challenge to assumptions about appropriate pairings of style and liturgical forms. It's just a wonderful and compelling image, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it.Still more intriguing, this structure was purpose built:

Nigeria mass - building

Ampleforth Abbey Profile

Our favorite Dominican photographer of churches, Brother Lawrence Lew, O.P., has an excellent description of Giles Gilbert Scott's Ampleforth Abbey Church on the New Liturgical Movement. I'd like to think this is one of those few 20th century churches to which none but the most curmudgeonly predisposed partisans would object. This church is ornate where it is fitting, minimal where appropriate resulting in an interior effective and focused. St Bernard of Clairvaux would be proud.

Ampleforth Abbey church by Lawrence OP, on Flickr

Inside Ampleforth Abbey church by Lawrence OP, on Flickr