AND THE CLERGY
Constructive Understanding to
Dear Sir,-May 1, as a young practising architect, make a few relevant comments on the question of our post-war ecclesiastical architecture at present being discussed in your columns?
As I see it, the problem depends fundamentally on the following two points: Is good contemporary design really suitable for a Catholic church, and if so, how are we to achieve it?
I must emphasise that we are considering only good design; that is, the logical development of the great Christian tradition, using modern materials and methods of construction in an honest, straightforward manner. (This excludes "jazz-modern" and the other sterile forms of expression which your correspondent "Catholic Architect" so rightly castigates.) Now it must he remembered that the architect's design must he approved by the clergy who are traditionally inclined to he conservative in their judgment; (I use the word in its general, not its political, connotation.) Nevertheless, I have found from experience that many parish priests who have the most traditional conception of what a church shou!d look like, are open to conviction provided that the arhitect explains the case for modern design lucidly and with conviction, He should emphasise the fact that almost all the finest buildings of the past were "conterre porary' when they were built; were, in fact, an advance in constructional technique on what had gone before. Many medieval churches, particularly cathedrals, show changes in constructional methods
Theplace even during The architect should also point out how easily modern construction provides, in plan, for a spacious sanctuary with a clear view from every seat, and in elevation for a building which is clean in its lines, graceful in proportion and refined in detail, provided that the materials are handled with judgment and sensitivity.
If, however, the architect is not sufficiently strong-minded, and his client not too appreciative of the difference between good design and bad, a building will arise complete with stained glass, mosaic sanctuary, carved timber benches, electric light fittings and so on which will please. for a time at least, both priest and most of the congregation, but it will not necessarily be of any value save as a protection against the elements. Indeed, many of our "popular" architects seem to have achieved their fame (and their fortunes) through "giving the client what he wants"--and giving it to him as cheaply as possible; this may be the surest way of building up a prosperous practice. but it is the very negation ot professional pride and integrity, Fortunately there appear today to be the beginnings of a definite reaction against the anaemic copyism of recent years. and notice is at least being taken of the great strides which church architecture is taking abroad-in Switzerland and Southern America, for example; some attempts in these places, as elsewhere. are "modernistic" in, the worst sense of that term; neither wouid it he right for us to tram plant even the finest styles from abroad to this land of ours with its grey skies and abominable weather, but we can appreciate from them how desirable it is to strive to develop a truly contemporary spirit in design. and thus let the material expression of our Faith be as virile aud up-to-date as the Church herself which is, after all, universal in time as well as in place. The new architecture of our day has passed through its struggle for birth; it still has teething troubles, but it will never grow up healthily while we attempt to ignore it. The second point I made, viz., how are we to achieve good contemporary design, can be answered very simply; for the architect's part, let him study the best developments at home and abroad, and bring the same judicious enthusiasm and sincerity which he would bring to an important secular job to his church work; he wiii not get much profit out of it financially, but if that is his only goal he is no true artist, and should quit the profusion, or at least confine his activities to factory extensions. To the clergy I would say this--choose only those architects who are able and willing to give of their very best, and who see in their commission a high privilege and not just another job. to be thrown up as quickly and cheaply, (in every sense of the word). as possible.
Given these conditions, we may at last see an end to the heartrending succession of missed opportunities which has placed our ecclesiastical architecture, with a few exceptions which are as rare as they are noteworthy, in the lowest artistic class of building which has been seen in this country since the end of the war. We have in our church-building programme a wonderful opportunity both to inrease our own devotion and to advertise the truth and beauty of the Faith to our fellow-countrymen; let us not, through lack of zeal and imagination. continue to follow the lazy road of dull sterility to artistic nihilism.