Wednesday, December 1, 2010
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
Thursday, August 19, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Monday, June 14, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
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
Friday, April 30, 2010
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
Friday, February 19, 2010
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
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...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.
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.
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
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
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
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.