Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cross-gate, Ivo Pavlik, Dukovany, Czech Republic, 2010

I'm always interested in landscape interventions, an aspect of site planning that most churches ignore, and I'm utterly fascinated by this cross-gate by Czech architect Ivo Pavlik.  The installation returns a cross to a landscape from which it had been absent, at the end of a path which leads from a cemetery to a lone mature tree in a landscape neighbored by a power installation.

The structure was created by casting the concrete walls between bales of hay, then burning the hay away (ala Zumthor), leaving behind a rough compelling texture.   The cross-shape was gilded to give it more prominence.

Is it a gate, a threshold, a portal, a pavilion? Do we pass through it, or shelter under it? The ambiguity of the space (and that hovering, cantilevered back wall) demands our attention.

via dezeen...I can't find any website for Ivo.  If you have information, let me know.

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Legs for Old Pews

And this is actually from the Culinary Art School in Tijuana California, not a church, though strangely church like, which says something, I think.

But do you see how what is essentially a church pew form is made completely different by the addition of the wire legs?  Nice.  I wonder how hard it would be to do this with real church pews.  Think of a piece of angled stainless steel holding them up instead of just more wood.

A simple pulpit

I really love this simple pulpit by John Doe (really Gr├ęgory Lacoua and S├ębastien Lagrange) for the recent renovation of the Chapel of the Assumption in Paris (via Dezeen).

Friday, December 17, 2010

St. Ann's Church Renovation, William Rawn and Associates

Also inspirational is Rawn's renovation of St. Ann's church at Northeastern University in Chicago:

"...transformation of an existing church into a multi-use performance venue (330 seats), with the capability of adjusting for various events, including choral and orchestra recitals, banquets, lectures, small-cast theater events, and church services. The project sought to maintain St. Ann’s strong architectural character and to facilitate quick change-overs between use by minimizing the time and labor to adapt the space to different uses while reflecting the need to revert the space back to church every Sunday. Four key components to the renovation to accommodating multi-use performances are a new stage platform, a new lighting grid, new adjustable acoustics, and new furniture (loose chairs and tables)"

This provides an excellent model for equipping older churches for more modern use patterns, including updating their visual character:
1. light, UNIFORM side walls (don't clutter them up!)
2. pale glossy floors contrasting with a dark ceiling (a neat resolution of past and present)
3. comfortable seating in a bright modern color.

Monday, December 13, 2010

William Rawl Associates, Glavin Family Chapel, Wellesley MA, 2000

One of my favorite living American architects is Bill Rawn.  His Glavin Family Chapel at Bobson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts uses a simple square, bisected on the diagonal so that it can be arranged  for two very different feelings:  one characterized by solidity and enclosure (facing the solid walls that hide the busy campus center), and one by transparence and openness (facing the two sides that open into a forest landscape). 

The stained glass is subtle and swirling, and only on the top portion of the glazing so as not to interfere with the close connection to the landscape provided by the ground-level windows, whose strongest feature is the delicacy added by a careful arrangements of the mullions.

While this is an elegant space utilizing expensive materials its ideas (triangular seat arrangement looking into a focal corner, transom-level stained glass, interesting mullion arrangements on plain windows) are very accessible.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Devan Sudjic,then architectural critic for the London Observer wrote a  book  several years ago about the "world's most notable architectural triumphs and the masters who commissioned them".  It's subtitled "how the rich and powerful shape the world".   

I suppose it depends what you mean by 'world'...the sum total footprint of all the great buildings Sudjic talks about is less than two square miles.  All that effort, all that ego, for a raggedy poor two blocks.  

But in fact most of the inhabited world is just average people dwelling in huts and houses, on boats and in bungalows, in a self-built shanty or a McMansion.  Their choices shape 99.9% of the built environment, and they don't know from Libeskind.

Similarly, much of what is written about church architecture is targeted at 0.1% of congregations--those with a large membership or a lot of money.  The rich and the powerful.  The other 99.9% think architecture and design isn't for them, and it shows in their timid choices, in tiny steeples perched on low roofs, in unimaginative interiors, in ill-fitting facades that look ashamed to be the house of God.  The house of God!  That's something any building would aspire to.   

But for all the 0.1s splashing out in the pages of magazines and the occasional coffee-table book on religious architecture (and if you have 10mill or so of the Lord's money and you DON'T get an awesome building you're just negligent), it's the 99.9ers that are really shaping the built environment of the sacred.  

The thoughtfulness of your choices matters, matters to people who may never see the buildings of the rich and powerful but will touch the door handles, traverse the aisles, gaze at the baptistery or out the window, repeatedly in your own church.  And those things should say to them that this is the house of God, made and kept with love and care and deliberate, thoughtful choices that are the absolute best we as a congregation can do for this special place.

I hope that most of you that read this blog are in a church that--like mine--falls in the 99.9.  Many of the examples I show are from the 0.1 (for inspiration), but I'm hoping we can change that.  

[Image of Little Cataloochee Baptist Church, c 1889, North Carolina, by Ariel Bravy.  In a small space, you can't go wrong with glossy white paint and the contrast of dark wood against a way this is a reversal of the feeling in Tadao Ando's Church of the Light, and every bit as effective.  And it was an artistic soul that chose the ochre for the benches.]

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