Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Redemptive Commercialism

One of the joys of my life is belonging to a church where “those who went before” appreciated Christian art and Christian symbolism – to the degree that they integrated it into their architecture. To have done so in a theologically rational way is no mean accomplishment within the Reformed tradition of churches.

To capture some of this, I published a book (the cover of which is pictured here). And, while I can’t deny the ego as a motivator, there is no personal financial gain involved. Proceeds of the sale benefit the church. Details at my website.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cram and the Contemporary

I've got a piece on Cram up at the Public Discourse today entitled Ambiguity at the American Acropolis. I genuinely think the contemporary art exhibit currently on view at St. John the Divine is an historic contribution to that structure, helping us see both Enrique Martínez Celaya and Ralph Adams Cram afresh. Lets hope the Cathedral wises up to ensure it's not temporary.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An elegant example, ignored as a model.

Trinity Church
Photo Credit Donna Winton

The structure that thrust Henry Hobson Richardson into national prominence was Trinity Church, Boston; It spawned many North American churches with substantial central lanterns. Given this and his earlier work on churches, it is surprising to note that he completed only two more churches before his death in 1886.

Richardson's Immanuel Baptist Newton MA

One was a somewhat ungainly reformulation of Trinity for a Baptist congregation in Newton, MA. (It survives as a worship space shared by more than a half dozen congregations). There was apparently an intermediate lantern church design between Trinity and Immanuel Baptist, Newton (1884). Richardson proposed it to Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Allegheny City, now Pittsburgh's North Side. The building committe rejected the design, as the estimated cost exceeded by multiples the amount of their budget.

emmanuel episcopal front

Richardson's next (and accepted) effort for Emmanuel Episcopal was a graceful yet spare brick box, with ornament restricted to subtle brick patterning and diaperwork (1885). It is much beloved locally and admired in wider architectural circles. Pittsburgh's James Van Trump found precedent for the form in English tithe barns. H. R. Hitchcock attempted to use it as support for his questionable claim that Richardson was proto-modern.

One might expect this elegantly simple (and relatively inexpensive) model to be emulated repeatedly. I thought I found such an example in Emory United Methodist Church, barely five miles as the crow flies from Emmanuel Episcopal in the city's East Liberty Section. Despite its form, composition and detail, the architects, Pittsburgh's MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni, tell me they addressed the church's wants and needs in the early 1970s without reference to the famous cross-town neighbor.

emmanuel emory

I was able to spot a clear influence of Richardson's gable facade in Latrobe, PA, thirty-five miles as a (more energetic) crow flies, from Emmanuel Episcopal.

Latrobe Presbyterian

Completed in 1892, Latrobe Presbyterian was designed by Pittsburgh's William Kauffman. Here, the gable proportions, triplet windows, slit windows as well as brick and stone details are clear echoes of Richardson's composition. And, in this case, Mr. Kauffman is in no position to refute my assumption.

An Homage to Richardson

Are there other churches whose form and composition (the locals fondly call it the bake-oven church) can be traced to Richardson's gem, Emmanuel Episcopal?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Clues & Questions

Not much documentation has surfaced concerning the architectural design process for Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh - either the original 1890 building or the 1938 sanctuary redesign. So it was with much anticipation that I discovered an online reference to renderings for the church, in the Carnegie Mellon University Architecture Archives, attributed to James Steen. Since Steen, a prolific Pittsburgh architect, died in the early 1920s, I expected to see presentation drawings for the 1890 competition. I found lovely pencil and watercolor depictions from a later date, possibly by one of Steen's sons, possibly after his death. Each raised its own questions and each hinted at some tantalizing possibilities. I engaged in some speculation about the renderings in two features at my website devoted to the church's architecture. Date of Origin considers a depiction of the sanctuary (above) much as it appeared after 1938. A New Chapel for Shadyside Church? concerns a chapel design (below), never executed, but possibly influential on later features of that worship space. The Steen firm was not the architect for either the sanctuary or the chapel. Speculation is fun, but confirmation, clarification or contradiction remains my hope.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Maine's Charming Summer Chapels

One of the most charming features of coastal Maine is the Episcopal Summer Chapels. Above is St Ann's at Kennebunkport, where the Bush family has been involved in preserving the structure. As lovely as it is, they also use a much larger chapel, below. Some baptismal font, huh?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

true confessions

You know you've taken this whole thing too far when you're photographing a church interior, and the bride of the wedding you're attending says, amicably, "You know, most people are taking pictures of me."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Beyond the Meeting House

Here's a portion of Lauren Winner's contribution to For the Beauty of the Church:
As a wealth of fairly recent research into the visual and material culture of North American Protestantism makes clear, the caricatured plain white New England meeting house is not the end (or even the beginning) of the story. A different beginning may be found in the Anglican houses of worship of the early South. As Louis Nelson has recently argued, Anglicans in colonial South Carolina had a theology of beauty. They "understood earthly beauty to be a shadow of its divine original" and they preached sermons that "declared the beauty of holiness." In turn they built church buildings that expressed contemporary aesthetic virtues of "regularity, beauty, and stability." They filled those churches with finely crafted silver litrugical implements and paintings of angels that turned worshipers' imaginations to the supernatural.
Nelson's The Beauty of Holiness sounds like quite the publication. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Trinity in the Snow
Originally uploaded by lapeeler
Trinity Church, Princeton, February 2009 snowstorm

Friday, April 30, 2010

Manhattan: Distorting Architectural Mirror

I recently had occasion to visit Manhattan via the Staten Island ferry, which almost makes up for the normative Jerseyan gateway to the city.  The church that greets the visitor is the Mother Ann Seton shrine (left), sandwiched between skyscrapers, holding on for dear life.  Entering the nearby Castle Clinton monument, photographs of the expanding New York skyline show an age when steeples once dominated, until they were displaced by monuments to capital.  The tale of churches trying to keep up, be it through skytop chapels or Gothic skyscrapers, is well narrated by Van Leeuwen's The Skyward Trend of Thought, and has since been complemented by two new books on the Woolworth Building and the Trib Tower that I'm dying to get my hands on.  But ultimately, of course, the battle for ecclesial prominence was lost.

Or was it?  As I left Manhattan, I looked across the water to the Brooklyn badlands in the distance, and saw a strange thing: A nearly exact picture of New York of old.  In most North American towns today, it is easily forgotten, steeples still dominate the skyline.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

more ugly

Rod Dreher chimes in with what ugly babies look like when they grow up.

Friday, February 19, 2010

posted without comment

Attack of the Ugly Babies

A sermon "zinger" used to encourage church plants instead of resuscitating old churches goes like this:  "It is easier to have a baby than to raise the dead!"   Jesus, however, did only the latter. Evangelism is a bit more complicated than the sound bite conveys, simply because people are.  Whether they are consciously aware of it or not, many non-Christians are seeking a deeper, ecclesial reality in their life, not a gospel that caters to their present one.  If non-Christians go to church, or back to church, a significant percentage of them want it to look, architecturally, like a traditional church.  If you doubt this assertion, look into Lifeway's recent survey that shows it to be true.

This is why Christopher Benson's Hosting the Holy One post on beauty in our churches is not merely a concern for hipster Christian aesthetes, but for anyone who cares about evangelism.  Preserving old churches - especially our endangered pre-modern ones - should therefore be considered alongside the prospect of building new ones.  (Though it is fair to hope that such restorations will not replicate the violent disorientation and iconoclastic purging to which some well-meaning congregations have unfortunately resorted.)  Even when building anew, however, churches should consider constructing in traditional styles.  A vanguard of traditional architecture, centered at Notre Dame, is growing, and as the New Liturgical Movement points out, it is not necessarily more expensive to build that way.  For more, see the Institute for Sacred Architecture or Philip Bess' excellent book Till We Have Built Jerusalem.  Evangelicalism boasts a great variety of architectural styles in its history, and they can be recovered.

But, some might ask, Isn't the pragmatic modern style of architecture more conducive to pragmatic evangelicalism?  Not by a longshot.  In An Architecture of Immanence, Mark Torgerson demonstrated the alliance of Protestant liberalism (to which evangelicalism is traditionally opposed) and architectural modernism.  His diligently researched book concludes that flat, immanent modern architecture is uniquely suited to mid-century liberal Protestant denial of the supernatural, both of which (he seems to subtly imply) have been outmoded.  Before evangelicals build in the modern, pragmatic style, therefore, they might want to consider whether or not the architecture they worship in will be counteracting the sermons preached therein for decades to come.  It is impossible for architecture to be neutral.

Still, I'm not too hopeful about the possibilities for an evangelical recovery of traditional architecture.  Having spurned the superior resources of Christendom, evangelicals have great difficulty detaching themselves from the dominant culture, and architecture is no exception.  In addition, our economic downturn will do much to regenerate that ancient argument (John 12:5) against extravagance in worship, as if the poor were not ministered to by beauty as well.  God, needless to say, does not require exquisite buildings, and "wherever two or three or gathered" still, of course, holds true.  But as the "easier to have a baby than raise the dead!" dictum catches on, we best brace ourselves for Chick-fil-A church plants (available on Sundays!), or some really ugly babies.

[crossposted at evangel]

Monday, February 8, 2010

And miles to go before we sleep

The fact that evangelicals are actually resisting Christopher Benson's suggestion (Hosting the Holy One) that evangelicals prioritize good architecture is profoundly disheartening. Writes one commenter:
We have been given a function in the New Covenant, not a form. The modern mall was not so designed as to be an ungodly as possible, but to be as economic and functional as possible. And so it is no wonder to me that a church seeking functionality and feasibility should build a building resembling such functionality...

If a stadium is the mot economical and functional way to include 40,000 people in an experience, then why would not Lakewood church (of which I am no fan) not use a stadium for a different kind of experience for 35,000?

There are reasons besides conformity that modern evangelicals have caved into functional practicality, and it is mainly because it is functionally practical.
But as we've indicated before, if the point of evangelicalism is, I don't know, evangelism, then McChurches aren't very practical at all.

Asks another commenter: "How many cathedrals have been built with the purest of intensions and lavished with gilded accoutrements only to end up host to a Godless mass of ritual?" I'm not sure what this "Godless mass of ritual" is - it sounds frightening - but just imagine how much worse it would be in a profoundly ugly building.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Filling the Void

North American Churches has been silent lately, a fact which has lead to a spate of attempts to fill the void. First Things has resurrected the venerable New York Times tradition of sermon reviews. Check out St. Ignatius Loyala, Old Saint Patrick's, Calvary Baptist and Marble Collegiate. But because the authors realize that the aesthetics of the building cannot be ignored, these are more than just sermon reviews. Either a church worships with you or counteracts your worship. As our inaugural quote dictates, buildings are not neutral.

Then, Professor Kourelis, that exemplary steward of our irreplaceable ecclesial heritage, seeing the lack of posting here, went ahead and planned an entire course on Lancaster churches, and launched a new blog!

As if that wasn't enough, my friend Kerry, currently touring the country with a choir, started sending me photographs of the amazing churches he's encountered, such as Cram's Covenant Presbyterian in Charlotte. Here's the plan, here's the reality.

There's too much unappreciated beauty out there. I have not posted lately not due to a paucity of encounters, but due to my not knowing how to digest the many that I've had. First there was a streetside church in Newark (people seemed rather puzzled that I photographed it), then a Long Island mansion that has become a convent (I didn't even get the name), or Cram's Byzantine Christ Church, St. Bartholomeuw's, which the unprecedented dome and rose that I could only get by laying the camera on the pew for a 30 second exposure, not to mention the Tranfiguration apse and side chapel. And don't get me started on my trip to Judson Memorial this Sunday, where I was able to go in and see the LaFarge windows, in a McKim Mead and White setting, with Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture at the front for good measure. A triple threat. Perhaps I'll post some of my favorites from these encounters in the weeks to come.

And yet, it's serendipitous that we've been dormant, seeing all who've joined in the task. Highlighting the endangered churches in the American architectural ecosystem is too important of a project to do alone. We shall persist!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hey folks, Happy New Year. We've been pretty slow around here, but I thought we needed a template update, as our archives were not visible and other things were out of date.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kourelis, a favorite professor, blogger and friend, is getting splendidly serious about pinning down some North American Churches.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The White Dove of the Desert

San Xavier del Bac
Originally uploaded by millinerd

The White Dove being San Xavier del Bac. There is just too much to tell about my trip Southwest. I found the trip confirmed this blog's motto in two ways: It is all here anyway, and planes, especially domestic ones, are indeed tedious.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Trinity Ribbing

Trinity Ribbing
Originally uploaded by millinerd