"The Jubilee Church commission was the result of an international competition, and the Vatican's short list included Meier, Gehry, Behnisch, Calatrava, Eisenman and Ando," said Architectural Review in a must-read review of the winner, Richard Meier's breathtaking masterpiece, "the 50th church to be inaugurated in the Vatican's Millennium Project. Each church has a community centre, and they are built in various parish districts throughout Rome." (National Buiilding Museum photo from "Liquid Stone: New Architecture in Concrete")
"An old friend, the late Daniel Boorstin, who was a very good historian and Librarian of Congress, said that trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers," said historian David McCullough in a Hilldale College National Leadership Seminar last winter. That thought reminded us of a comment by the head of the German seminary where Pope Benedict XVI studied -- blogged here the other day -- "Only someone who knows tradition is able to shape the future." Now we stumble onto Michael A. Rose's Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again. At first glance it seems to echo the same theme of building upon the shoulders of the past. (Executive Editor of Cruxnews.com, Rose is the man behind the new pope benedict XVI blog launched just the other day.) From an Architettura della chiesa review re another of Rose's books:
"One who deserves credit for promoting the new renaissance in sacred architecture as well as the burgeoning Catholic-preservation movement is critic and author Michael S. Rose," wrote Duncan Stroik, the editor of Sacred Architecture, in 2001.
New renaissance in sacred architecture? What's that? we wondered. Our own landscape-architectural background made us think of the sacred spaces of cathedrals and churches designed by such contemporary giants as Richard Meier, Tadao Ando and Jose Rafael Moneo -- all three Pritzker Prize winners -- some of whose works (both sacred and profane) we've blogged here from time to time.
Interior of Meier's Jubilee Church in Rome. (Andrea Jemolo Photo, Wired New York Forum) Thank God the Holy Father didn't choose Gehry or Eisenman.
But a little Googling reveals a lively debate about the proper architectural language of sacred placemaking among Catholic architects and critics, many of whom -- together with the average "pew Catholic" -- carry no water for architectural award winners. Rose, who dismisses the modernist project without understanding its subtleties as expressed in the work of leading architects of our day, represents those seeking an architecture based on the traditional language of the church to counter "the banal and uninspiring designs" promoted throughout the Catholic world since the mid-sixties" [They've got a point there. --ed]. He quotes Notre Dame professor/architect Duncan G. Stroik, who "articulates the ideal genius loci [spirit of the place, a favorite meme of landscape architects] of the Catholic church building":
People should see and feel that they are entering a place out of the ordinary, a place in which the concerns of life can be seen in relation to eternity.
Holy Family Chapel by Notre Dame architect/professor Duncan G. Stroik exemplifies aspirations of contemporary Catholic architects who use traditional elements to fashion sacred spaces in reaction to the typically soulless Catholic interiors of the last few decades. The actual design suggests a "lite" version of the Greek (Classical?) Revival South Church (c. 1823) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, blogged here (scroll down for photo).
Detail of interior of the Sunday School addition of Tadao Ando's Church of the Light, Osaka (Galinsky Photo)
They should feel they are entering a place out of the ordinary. How can you argue with that? As the great founder of the International Style -- whose imitators never really got it -- Mies said, "God is in the details." Both Stroik's historically-referent designs and the Pritzker Prize winners' soaring designs based upon new materials and contemporary metaphors fill the bill of making us feel we are entering a place out of the ordinary.
We report, you decide. Each has its place, and we like 'em both in their place.
Update: Arcady at Good Church Design links.