Page 2, 23rd December 1960

23rd December 1960
Page 2
Page 2, 23rd December 1960 — Building a church

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Locations: Liverpool, Surrey


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Building a church

Mainstream or stagnant history?

SIR,—The inchoate struggle for the emergence of the architecture of our century was rooted in the passionate desire to free design from the imposition of the forms and ornament of ages past and cultures long dead in order that each new building could freely express its function within the context of the particular structural discipline employed and so stand as a product of the technological and scientif c times in which it was built.

Only by applving his aesthetic sensibilities within the mainstream of the architectural modern movement can an architect now be said to be traditional in the true sense of the word.

History. it has been said, is not a "bus from which one can alight at any chosen point". To employ arbitrary forms from the past is to drift from the mainstream into the stagnant backwaters of historicism.

Mr, Mcerone would now attempt to reverse the fifts -year-old development of modern architecture. He asserts that the study of structure is "the first and far the most important way in which a building should be examined'. and fertherinore we are told this means "the way that a monumental roof is sustained in the air by its supports".

But the creative rorocess of programme analysis and design of any building demands that the nature of the site and topography, the functional and aesthetic objectives. the plan shape, massing and fenestration should all be considered together with the general structural possibilities before that precise structural system which is most appropriate to the case can be finally selected and exploited. In this way all the elements of a building can be fused harmoniously to produce a satisfactory integrated whole. The form is derived from the function.

We must plan our churches around the liturgy, not necessarily beneath a byzantine dome. A "characteristic English idiom" will result from those endemic qualities of rational order in design governing a lively technical inventweness. not by the superficial application of anarchronistie Georgian detail, as suggested. The real achievement of architecture in England during the '30s is to be found not in the lamentable retrogression of civic neoGeorgian, but in the progressive work of immigrant refugee architects like Mendelsohn. Ciropius, and Marcel Breuer and English architects like Maxwell Fry and the Tecton group.

Living in what some architectural theorists now call the second machine age. we believe that the Catholic Church is as valid today as ever before. Surely we cannot show forth this faith in the living Church by erecting historicist monuments in which to worship? We must build churches Which can be recognised at once as convincing products of our age.

Douglas C. Wall 46 Garston Old Road, Grassendale. Liverpool 19.

SIR.—"Any deceitful or artificial effects by means of extrinsic elements, betray a lack of sincerity. Such also is the attempt to lay a veneer of modernity over old sohemes, and even more so the pretence to conjure up ancient styles by new techniques. if, for instance,

somebody .should try to build a Romanesque or Gothic structure with reinforced concrete."

1 quote from Cardinal Lercaro because I have been trying to

understand Harold M cCrone's letter. I still find that difficult for several reasons -for one thing because a Byzantine dome in any material other than brick would be structural nonsense.

think in his last paragraph Mr. McCrone requests an apologia for modern architecture, so may I try this one? The architect's job has always been the useful enclosure of space in a way which satisfies the senses. "Useful enclosure" in terms of the Church will mean the "setting apart" of a special place with a suitable micro-climate where the people may take part in the liturgy.

Structure is only a means to this end, as also arc heating, lighting. and acoustics, the other visual arts, etc, and at every point in history the newest suitable materials and techniques have been used and will be used. If they are used with skill and feeling. fine building will result.

And if you feel that an areltieectune needs moral justification, then we can say that characteristics of the modern movement are clarity, lightness. and reason — not a had lot!

One could say more — for instance on the u'nsuitability in this climate of deep shadow-catching cornices — but that is another lecture.

Antony Seeley , 51 Mayfield Road, Sutton Coldfield.

SIL—Your correspondent Mr. MoCrone is right in emphasis. mg the importance of structure in

building. However'. I should like Mr. McCrone to inform us why he feels that it is necessary to decorate the structure with neo-Georgian dotail?

he Byzantine church expresses externally its structure in much the same way as does I.e Corbusier's Unite building at Marseilles. The solution to the 'problem of producing good church design today does not lie in the adornment of buildings with details from previous ages. Neither the Byzantine architects nor Le Corbusier found this necessary — they developed their own individual styles of decoration.

A modern church should be a sincere design, 'not afraid to express its structure. borrowing experience rather than detail from the past and making full use of the wide range of modern buildine materials that science has produced.

The design of church architecture is fraileht with problems, and the rise of domical construction as advocated by MT. McC.rnoc is but one solution and is by no means capable of producing alone "an architecture worthy of a resurgent Catholic Church".

A. W. Geerkens 7c South Bank Terrace, Surbiton, Surrey.

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