Saturday, May 06, 2006

Modernist Architecture and the classical Catholic Liturgy?

Most people who favour the classical Roman Rite do not have particularly warm feelings towards modern(ist) church architecture. It is in many cases, often justifiably, associated with the banal and commonplace, or else with the impoverishment and subversion of existing churches built in revival styles.

However, I believe that the languages of contemporary architecture can be marshalled in the cause of traditional liturgy and with the 're-enchantment' of the modern mass. Although he had some slightly strange ideas and an eccentric ecclesiology the church buildings of Rudolf Schwarz demonstrate that it is possible to cultivate an aesthetic and iconographic affinity between these two apparently irreconcilable ideologies. In Schwarz's built works and writings he pre-empted the now commonplace decoupling of the aesthetic of 'modernism' from the left-wing political ideas which were routinely used to underpin the movement both before and after the Second World War. Of course, 'Modernism' was never a singular movement from the start.

I respect entirely those traditionally-minded Catholics who associate a Christian architectural idiom with the revival of a historical style. But I believe that, despite the horror stories, banalities, the high-minded and unloved brutalist boxes, contemporary architecture can lend its poetics, sense and use of materials and space-making in the cause of the traditional Roman Rite.


At 1:14 am, Blogger xiucai said...

In the encyclical letter 'Mediator Dei '(1947), Pope Pacelli said that modern art and architecture ought not be rejected out of hand, indeed, "modern art too may lend its voice to the magnificent chorus of praise which great geniuses throughout the ages have sung to the Catholic faith." I bet many a traditionally-minded Catholic would be shocked to read that!

Have you seen John Pawson's new church at Novy Dvur? The interior is sublime! Gouji, a contemporary French silversmith, fashioned some stuff for Novy Dvur.

At 4:55 pm, Blogger Bare Ruin'd Choirs said...


Thanks for your suggestions. I am aware of all the references you give in your comments. Indeed, I am writing a dissertation over the coming months where I will use Pawson's monastery as an exemplar of the relationship orthodox Catholicism can form with contemporary architecture.

I've see the interior of Novy Dvur in photographs. Its sounds as though maybe you've been there? Do you have any pictures?

As for Goudji, do you know his new altar at Chartres? This is a rare example of a re-ordered altar being superior to the old high-altar. Shame it's too narrow.

At 11:49 am, Blogger xiucai said...

I've only see Pawson's monastery in photos myself. I've been to Chartres though, and was very surprised, and delighted, by what I saw. The new altar is, I agree, an improvement on the old (the minimalist aesthetic probably appeals to my inclination towards apophatic theology).

Good luck with your project, and keep posting as your subject deserves a much, much, wider hearing and debate, especially among trad-minded Catholics - some of whom might be distressed at the very mention of Schwartz!

At 4:11 am, Blogger Jeff said...

I saw your fine comment at NLM and decided to check out your blog.

What did I find but a fellow Catholic with a love of tradition who doesn't hate all modern church architecture! And I thought I was the only one!

I look forward to any more posts you can muster.

At 4:41 am, Blogger Bare Ruin'd Choirs said...


(...and I thought that I was the only one...!

I plan to leave more elaborate posts here as part of my studies and to leave more comments at Mr Tribe's. I am busy finishing work on my design folio this week and next, so it'll pick up after that...

Thanks for your kind words.

At 3:26 pm, Blogger Arevette Avon said...

Hello, my friend. Hope all is well with you. Nice blog you have.

At 5:26 pm, Blogger Bare Ruin'd Choirs said...

I'm working on a little article on the sacred architecture of the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. I'll post it next week.

At 7:41 pm, Blogger The young fogey said...

Re: the original post, you don't say?

At 8:47 am, Blogger Gruffhelm said...

Nice post. After all, it's not as if church architecture was perfectly static before the 'modern' era. I heartily agree on the potential contributions that 'contemporary architecture' can make, particularly in terms of its 'use of materials.' While I value much in the possibilities of 'contemporary' church architecture, I mistrust the 'modernist' aesthetic philosophy.

I'd draw a line between the terms, 'modern(ist)' and 'contemporary.' Modernist art involves conscious or unconscious assumptions that, I'd argue, don't fit well with an expression of liturgical reality.

Modernism (loosely defined in artistic expression, but philosophically tight) holds that all realities have become subjective fictions. Obviously, the Mass is about an objective reality, at once physical and transcendent.

Not sure I'm convinced that it is possible to cultivate an aesthetic and iconographic affinity between these two apparently irreconcilable ideologies. Leaving leftism wouldn't be going far enough, I think. If Schwarz had gone far enough in this direction, he may have ended up crossing a line and leaving modernism altogether. What resulted might have been something contemporary and beautiful, but not truly modernist.

I apologize if this doesn't fit with your understanding of architectural modernism--anyway, I'm more familiar with this philosophy as it shows in literature.

By the way, I've only recently discovered your blog and am retroactively enjoying your posts :)

At 9:11 am, Blogger Gruffhelm said...

Just noticed the year of entry on this--sorry it fell into disuse!


Post a Comment

<< Home