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.

The UK's Best Modern Churches

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.

St Paul, Bow Common

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.

The UK's Best Modern Churches: St Paul's Bow Common from National Churches Trust on Vimeo.

Here is the full top 10, which you can see illustrated on or the Architects Journal.

  1. St Paul’s Church, Bow Common, London by Robert Maguire & Keith Murray, 1960
  2. St Mary’s RC Church, Leyland, Lancashire by Jerzy Faczynski of Weightman and Bullen, 1964
  3. St Bride’s RC Church, East Kilbride, Lanarkshire by Gillespie Kidd and Coia (Isi Metzstein and Andy Macmillan), 1964
  4. Bishop Edward King Chapel, Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford by Niall McLaughlin Architects, 2013
  5. St Mark’s Church, Broomhill, Sheffield by George Pace, 1963
  6. St Francis Xavier RC Church, Falkirk by A R Conlin, 1961
  7. Scargill Chapel, Skipton, Yorkshire by George Pace, 1960
  8. St Paul the Apostle, Harringay, London by Inskip & Jenkins, 1991
  9. Kildrum Parish Church, Cumbernauld by Reiach & Hall, 1965
  10. St Paul’s Church, Harlow, Essex by Derrick Humphrys & Hurst, 1959 SS Mary and Joseph RC Church, Poplar, London by Adrian Gilbert Scott, 1954





Recta final de l'obra mestra de Gaudí.

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.

photo by Daniel Morrison

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.

Sagrada Familia Documentary Trailer

Trailer for a recently released (in Switzerland) documentary on the ongoing nature of the construction of the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família.

The take seems to be post-religious, humanistic, and artistic. Or at least I expect it to be because I'm a pessimist.

More information available here.

Oh, and repeat after me: Sagrada Familia is not a cathedral. Sagrada Familia is not a cathedral. Sagrada Familia is not a cathedral.

But it is a minor basilica.

Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta Rendered

Exquisite rendered reconstruction of the Alvar Aalto designed church in Riola di Vergato, Italy. The video highlights the interplay of the space, light, and material by removing everything else.

Read a very nice description of the building here, or check input on the Locus Iste Building Database.

"Tree of Life" Chapel, Braga

More evidence that the small chapel has more in common with liturgical vestments, furnishings, and artifacts than it does with full-scale churches. This tiny community chapel in Portugal really is a piece of furniture, and it does exemplify one of the tasks of the church building: the unification of all other physical elements required for and desired by the sacraments. via Tree of Life Chapel on Facebook

Note the many details where the system of construction breaks away to accomodate everything from a small (wooden) organ, to a stoup, to a book. I do wish the lighting were slightly more integrated with the construction.

Video with commentary (in Portugese):

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via Tree of Life Chapel on Facebook

There is also a time-lapse video of the construction:

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Val Notre-Dame Abbey

October's Architectural Record features a new Cistercian abbey designed by and completed in 2009: Val Notre-Dame Abbey, Saint-Jean-de-Mathas, Quebec. Here is yet one more example that the Cistercians have always been and continue to be the finest architectural patrons in Christendom.

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The Cardinal's Personal Chapel

Here is an introduction to another theme of liturgical architecture: the personal chapel, home shrine or ofrenda. Decidedly vernacular, adaptive (redemptive?) reuse, these small spaces provide insight into the organic development of devotional practice and therefore have some bearing on the development of communal architecture as well. Though most can certainly be written off as kitsch from the top-down high-culture standpoint, to do so is to amputate a living member. To paraphrase Dom Hans van der Laan, individual devotion based on the communal liturgy must be seen as a derivation. So too, the personal chapel is a derivation of the communal liturgical space. But as devotion has a way of organically integrating into tradition, practice and even doctrine, these small spaces of personal preference may inform our communal building practices. This is especially important since liturgical building and expression require far more guidance from below than does liturgical practice itself.

And so I am pleased to find this high quality video introduction to the personal chapel in the preserved chambers of Venerable (soon-to-be Blessed) John Henry Cardinal Newman.

The Cardinal's Personal Chapel from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.