The demise of a Brutalist church

I read at California Catholic Daily, that a church (non-Catholic) built in the Brutalist style is being torn down.  There is even a photo.

This gives hope to us all.  Brutalist and church should never be in the same brain, much less the same building.

That said, another, even greater, sign of hope is the ongoing project in Madison, WI, to replace the Catholic student center parish church, St. Paul’s, with a real church.  The present structure is, as you may have already guess, Brutalist.  It is brutally Brutalist.  In the illustrated dictionary of Brutalism this church’s picture would be by the entry for “Brutalist”.

This church is realllllly ugly.

Before…

There are surprisingly – happily – very few photos of this place.

The project to replace it is HERE.

On the other hand…

A worthy project.  I might have built otherwise, but they are seriously constrained by space.  I do, however, like Romanesque.  Were I to be asked to build a church, it would probably be Romanesque.

I understand that a good deal of the money has been raised to begin the work on the new St. Paul’s.  Prayers (and donations) would be welcome, no matter where you are.

If there were any school on this your planet that needs a good facility for a Catholic center, it must be the ultra-weird University of Wisconsin – Madison.

 

 

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46 Responses to The demise of a Brutalist church

  1. Wiktor says:

    On the good side, it is not “versus populum”.

  2. That appears to the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, in Washington, D.C.,which is being demolished at present. Beginning in 2007, the congregation fought for many years to be able to tear down its ugly church, which had design flaws and was costly to maintain — on top of being ugly. The city and others wanted to preserve the building.

  3. Clinton R. says:

    When I first saw the top photo on Cal Catholic, I thought for a moment it was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, aka the Raj Mahal. If only Duncan Stroik http://www.stroik.com had been allowed to have designed the Cathedral here, instead of the paean to the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II we are stuck with here in LA. May it be as time passes and the ” Second Vatican Council is the greatest thing evuh!” crowd goes to their eternal reward, the design of parishes will be restored so that both edifice and liturgy reflect God’s majesty. +JMJ+

  4. markomalley says:

    Yes, it is the Third “Church” of Christ, Scientist: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-business/wp/2014/02/25/wrecking-ball-arrives-for-brutalist-d-c-church/

    Now if they could just move the wrecking ball to the FBI HQ and HHS HQ (two other major brutalist monstrosities in the area)…

  5. Mariana2 says:

    Wow. Here (Scandinavia) a chuch like that would have been listed (put under Denkmalschutz)!

  6. Mariana2 says:

    church with a r, even. Sorry.

  7. Ms. M-S says:

    Well, there’s Vatican II and its documents, and then there’s Vatican Too and its hijackers. If one picture is worth a thousand words, any shot of a brutalist church illustrates all too well the hijinks of the VAT TOO hijackers.

  8. Yowsers. I kept looking for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

    I worship in what was once a brick box of the most functionalist sort. It was built by poor people in a poor suburb in the late 1960s.

    Then our last PP decided to spend the money that the PP before him had prudently accumulated, and got it rendered inside and painted, the windows fixed up, the sanctuary remodelled in white marble (-looking, anyway) floor, moved the (brand new marble) altar to celebrate versus Dei, put in a communion rail (built specially), and got the most GORGEOUS crucifix – very realistic – from Italy, specially made again.

    Well worth the money. It really looks like a church now inside. Outside it’s still a brick box, though, but we aren’t too fussed yet.

    Michael Rose was right. With determination and good taste, it can be done.

  9. AMTFisher says:

    Hehe, brick by brick…literally!

  10. Vecchio di Londra says:

    wiktor – Quite so ;-)
    And just one discreetly small crucifix behind the altar.

  11. Muv says:

    Fr Z, when that ugly church in Madison is finally demolished, do you promise to post photos of the demolition in progress?

    Here is the brutalist version of altar rails, a poke-in-the-eye sign reading PLEASE DO NOT PASS THIS POINT (their capitals). Very airport.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecadman/3104520504/in/set-72157629701071149

  12. Palladio says:

    With a cousin a Bishop during the post-depression and WW II era, I think we forget that the sacrifice in architecture was due, in part, to highly limited funds and highly limited circumstances. The Church was bursting with new members–mom and dad still were not contracepting but instead having large families–so what sprung up in many cases was rather sparse and functional structures inexpensive and, after the spirit of the time, readily available. The outside of our former parish, built in 1955, would pass for a protestant building on any New England green. Inside, a muted Baroque prevails. I see the virtue in it, given the times. Naturally, far worse results followed in illo tempore, but let’s not be too quick to judge people from an age no longer our own.

  13. acardnal says:

    When I visited St Paul’s in Madison and experienced its bare, grey, concrete walls, I was left with the memory of the ugly buildings the former Soviet Union built all over its empire: Ugly. Grim. Stark.

  14. greenlight says:

    I’m a little confused. Am I to understand that the exterior picture that comes after “Before…” is what the St. Paul Catholic student center church used to look like? And they tore it down to and replaced it with the exterior shot that comes right before “Before…”?!? That would be… damnable.

    Also, not knowing much about these things, I gather that the interior layout is not exactly proper, but it does seem intriguing. I’m not sure that I don’t kind of like it. If you took the same arrangement/layout, but in a classical Gothic or Romanesque or Baroque style, would it still be unacceptable?

  15. Nan says:

    But what excuse for those who built monstrosities later than the immediate post-war period? I’m not even talking about the 60’s and 70’s monstrosities but a 1980’s brick box with the aisle on the diagonal, whose only windows are at the top, abstract stained glass all around. The congregation had long ago outgrown the beautiful church and had concurrent Mass in school gym and church for my whole life and probably longer.

  16. Traductora says:

    “Brutalist” is a good word for it. I was just in Mexico City and went to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I’d seen it before, but once again it struck me that the building they have built to house the image is practically an insult to Our Lady. Not to mention the moving sidewalk that whisks you past the tilma, high up on the wall.

    But these things are not accidents or simply matters of bad taste. The rector of the Basilica who built the atrocity (and was rector for 33 years) was removed in 1996 for saying that he thought the apparitions and Juan Diego were “fables.” These ugly buildings are expressions of lack of faith and sometimes even hostility to the Faith…usually on the part of those who make their living from it.

  17. Robbie says:

    I’d like to see the Taj Mahoney be the next to come down.

  18. jhayes says:

    This is actually the third design for the new church. You can see the earlier ones here

    First Design

    Second Design

    The two earlier designs included many floors of apartments for students

    In the final design, when you come in off the street, you enter the student union and coffee shop and then walk up stairs or take an elevator to the Sanctuary, which occupies the Second and Third (European First and Second) floors (of the building. The floor above the Sanctuary is a Dining Hall and the floor under the spire is a very grand meeting room.

    It differs in that way from traditional churches in which you entered at the level of the Sanctuary and, once inside, saw all the way up to the roof

  19. M. K. says:

    St. Paul’s looks pretty bad, but I’ve seen something even worse: Newman Hall, the Catholic campus ministry center at UC-Berkeley, combines a Brutalist exterior with an interior which I can only guess was designed to look like a cave. When I saw it, I understood why friends who were familiar with the place joked that the church had been inspired by the sets of Planet of the Apes.

  20. Palladio says:

    Nan, I see what you mean, but for some parts of the States–hit hardest by the depression and the second world war–that period extended for a long time, for decades. At all events, I’d be more interested in knowing, via archives, what went into the decisions for the designs, which is how I came to realize why a perfectly faithful Bishop, with exquisite taste and NO desire to see the Liturgy change, financed what look to me like some pretty ugly churches on the outside.

  21. lmgilbert says:

    Robbie,

    When my son visited LA for the first time recently, he had lodgings near the cathedral and wished to go to the Cathedral for Mass the following morning. He had the address, but could not find it. Instead, there was a medium security prison there, but no, wait . . . . Evidently it is not dissimilar in many features to such a prison in downtown Chicago.

  22. Mariana2 says:

    Nan said “But what excuse for those who built monstrosities later than the immediate post-war period?”

    I think it was the wonderful classical architect Quinlan Terry who was quoted as saying that modernist architecture was satanist. I’m sure that’s not far off the mark, all the ghastly architecture that disfigures our cities and is a daily affront to the senses is seriously depressing, living in them wears people down.

  23. TomD says:

    @ Palladio: If limited funds and circumstances were the primarily explanation, the great cathedrals of Europe probably would never have been built. It is the loss of the sense of the transcendent, by those in charge of the decisions in too many parishes/diocese, that, I believe, is the principle explanation for the move to the mundane, ugliness of “humanist” architecture. Funding may have some effect, but the “cathedral” in Los Angeles was not a cheap structure to either design or build.

  24. Siculum says:

    Brutal.

    One of the interior shots above, with the circular design molded into the beautiful concrete ceiling, reminds me of somewhere on the Death Star. I am also possibly reminded of the interior and exterior of one of the Jawas’ massive monolithic sandcrawlers. I guess many of them came here from Tatooine and were converted to Roman Ca-Brutalism.

  25. Siculum says:

    Brick by brick, slab by slab.

  26. Palladio says:

    Dear TomD,
    The cathedrals of Europe took centuries to complete, even singly. So this is exactly the problem, money and circumstances, centuries later, not the only problem, but one ignored by those who, from an historical point of view, rather wildly in my opinion attribute choices to “Satan” etc. I can assure you that the Bishop I have in mind never for an instant lost any sense of the transcendent. The scale of the problem, too, is unlike anything Europe ever faced.

  27. Aegidius says:

    Whereas I did not see a cross or tabernacle somewhere near the altar, I did note the arrangement of candles which as such seems more Benedictine than brutalist …

  28. Sonshine135 says:

    It is still a toss up as to whether the prefab, gymnasium churches are any better than this.

  29. Athelstan says:

    Palladio,

    “, I think we forget that the sacrifice in architecture was due, in part, to highly limited funds and highly limited circumstances.”

    The reason modern architecture was chosen rarely had anything to do with cost. Trust me.

    You could execute a respectable Romanesque design for the same or less money than it cost to do these brutalist monstrosities. Beauty doesn’t necessarily cost more – unless you insist on a highly intricate gothic or baroque.

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  31. Hans says:

    If there were any school on this your planet that needs a good facility for a Catholic center, it must be the ultra-weird University of Wisconsin – Madison.

    Can I propose the JPII Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago for second? It’s inadequate to serve the 15,000 or so Catholic students on campus (the original brutalist Walter Netsch campus of which sets the tone for much of what happens there) and doesn’t provide an attractive alternative; indeed, most students think it’s just another ugly university building:
    . . . http://photos.wikimapia.org/p/00/02/23/10/06_big.jpg
    The proposal to replace it isn’t much better (more of a commercial center and dorm) and loses the advantageous location.

  32. Palladio:

    Your historical point is valid, but it doesn’t explain a Brutalist design, which was more trouble — and surely cost — to execute than a plain-Jane four-wall structure. After all, a very simple structure could easily be modified, particularly on the interior, to make it more pleasing as funds would allow.

    And you’re correct that in the 40s and 50s, a lot of plain, functional parish buildings — churches and especially schools — were thrown up coast to coast, often on fairly large plots, in anticipation of further growth, which sometimes never came.

  33. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There was a brother or priest in our archdiocese who got twenty or thirty churches built during his career, starting in the 1920’s or so. They were cheap churches for new poor parishes, they were mostly concrete or brick or wood, and each of them was beautifully painted and decorated on a small scale (stencils and the like). They lasted, too.

    And then there are modern works like Liverpool Cathedral, which may look weird and airporty on the outside but is reasonably pretty and colorful on the inside, and was built quickly after all other efforts for more than a century had stalled.

    And then there is Brutalism, which says “Oh, yeah, I know that even the Romans could do pretty arches with concrete, and that curves are stronger structurally, and that flat roofs are bad in snowy countries, but the heck with all that. Suffer, you lowly minions of the State!”

  34. jhayes says:

    Fr. Martin Fox wrote, Your historical point is valid, but it doesn’t explain a Brutalist design, which was more trouble — and surely cost — to execute than a plain-Jane four-wall structure.

    This was not a new church. It was an addition to the front of the existing church to gain 270 seats. The existing (liturgical) North, South and East exterior walls of the 1909 church remained in place. The old North wall can be seen in the “After” photo, here:

    Before and After

    The interior of the existing church was extensively remodeled. You can see some good quality photos of the interior here:

    Photos

  35. Mariana2 says:

    “I think it was the wonderful classical architect Quinlan Terry who was quoted as saying that modernist architecture was satanist.”

    “Satanic,” of course. Me culpa!

  36. Anchorite says:

    It is good and right to preserve Brutalist structures (religious and secular) from the misfortunes of changing stylistic fashions. While personally I am not too fond of Brutalist churches, they aren’t “Satanic” nor are they “bad architetcure” necessarily.
    One simply cannot clone Gothic, Romanesque or Baroque revival churches all the time in 21st century. It is not the first time that on this blog diverse examples of early Modernist architecture were misrepresented in a more than misinformed way. For instance, Italian churches of the 1920s-40s were often at the forefront of ecclesiastical architectural avant-garde, with direct or indirect blessings of very traditional popes. Now, those were not Brutalist, but dear reader, this is our American architectural heritage, like it or not. We need to stand up for our heritage in a consistent manner, otherwise we will be facing liberals again who selectively wracked previous structures.

  37. Athelstan says:

    Hello Suburban,

    And then there are modern works like Liverpool Cathedral, which may look weird and airporty on the outside but is reasonably pretty and colorful on the inside, and was built quickly after all other efforts for more than a century had stalled.

    It’s colorful, certainly, but “pretty” – I have never heard it called that. It also leaks like a sieve. At any rate, even if Lutyens’ design was not affordable (and it does seem that it wasn’t), a limited budget could not justify such an un-Catholic avant-garde design. Liverpool is a failure, however you cut it, and Liverpudlian Catholics have my sympathies for what has been inflicted upon them by arrogant prelates.

    We can do much better than that.

  38. Gail F says:

    Jhayes: Thanks for posting those photos and clarifying that the weird facade/addition was stuck on to that lovely old church-style building.

    Like it or not, that was a STYLE. People picked it because they liked it — or they thought they should. It was new, it was edgy, it was… something they thought was an improvement. Sadly, they were wrong.

  39. RichardT says:

    Didn’t Matthew Alderman design an incredible 14-storey Byzantine sky-scraper for this? I wonder what happened to that design – did the planners reject it for being too tall?

  40. jhayes says:

    RichardT, you may be thinking of the 14-story version shown in the “Second Design” link in my 2 March post.

    The city objected to the height of the building and it was reduced to the six-story version shown HERE

    Matthew Alderman is listed as the “Liturgical Designer”

  41. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I am feeling very warm and fuzzy toward Liverpool Cathedral (which of course I’ve never seen in person, so maybe the website pictures are too kind) because David Drake has it as a guest star in his upcoming installment of CSN space opera, The Sea without a Shore. The man is not a religious guy, he was raised to be anti-Catholic, and he is haunted by his Vietnam experience, but he says that building (and no doubt, the Occupant of the tabernacle) gave him peace when he visited back in the 1970’s.

    So he’s doing a very kind portrayal of a sect (the Transformationists) that’s his version of Catholicism, and their chapel (a mini version of Liverpool Cathedral). And he shows converts as actually growing in virtue and love. It’s really edgy, for sf these days. No telling what happens in the second half of the book, but so far it’s really a grace-ful thing.

    I am prepared to like things that produce good spiritual fruit in unlikely people. I will get back to being snarky and nasty when we discuss the works of Vosko and their sad colorlessness.

  42. jhayes says:

    Anchorite wrote: One simply cannot clone Gothic, Romanesque or Baroque revival churches all the time in 21st century. It is not the first time that on this blog diverse examples of early Modernist architecture were misrepresented in a more than misinformed way. For instance, Italian churches of the 1920s-40s were often at the forefront of ecclesiastical architectural avant-garde, with direct or indirect blessings of very traditional popes.

    Yes, I think that is an important point to make. A few years ago, I visited a church at Riola, in Italy. It was designed by the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto at the request of Cardinal Lecaro, who also asked other internationally known “modern” architects to design churches for his archdiocese

    Riola Church Photos

    [ghastly]

  43. acardnal says:

    “Ghastly” indeed! Where are the Stations of the Cross in the Riola church?

    We should not fail to mention other cathedrals built or “wreckovated” by their former ordinaries. I’m thinking of the cathedral St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee wreckovated by former Archbishop Weakland, and the cathedral Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles built by former AB Cdl. Mahoney. Ugly and ghastly.

    Bishop Morlino has great plans for the new St. Paul’s located on the UW campus. It will include lectures and studies in the Catholic faith for the students. Bp Morlino has made this a priority superseding his need for a new diocesan cathedral; the old one was destroyed by arson.

  44. TomD says:

    @ Palladio: “The cathedrals of Europe took centuries to complete, even singly. So this is exactly the problem, money and circumstances, centuries later, not the only problem . . .”

    That kind of makes my point . . . if those designing/building the cathedrals had primarily been driven by the cost and circumstances they faced, they would have pursued something much easier than the multi-decade projects that many of the cathedrals represented. But that was not their motivation, to do it “easy,” their motivation was the transcendence of God, which they sought to express through their architecture.

    No doubt you are right that some of the mundane structures of the modern era were/are driven by cost considerations, but the point I would make is that their architecture is lacking, on a fundamental level, due, in no small measure, to the loss of the sense of the transcendent. You don’t have to build a magnificent cathedral to express the transcendence of God. It helps, but it isn’t necessarily necessary.

    The “cathedral” of Los Angeles was not a cheap structure to design or build. It’s architecture reflects a “theology,” a modern one, that many, if not most people of faith, do not regard as transcendent.

  45. teomatteo says:

    Jhayes,
    my Finnish sauna I built looks nicer than that Riola structure, the Finns have a saying: “one behaves in a sauna like one behaves in church.”

  46. Palladio says:

    Fr. Martin Fox: agreed. You mention just what I was pointing to, and the Bishop in question started in Cincinnati, bastion of the faith.

    TomD: Europe never faced the same circumstance as the U. S. but architecture is always costly and always circumstantial. The better comparison would be with 19th and 20th century U. S. architecture: the difference is obvious: massive families, with. Every Bishop who build through 1965 was formed by the Old Mass, which rather suggests that few could have lack what you call the sense of the transcendent. Then there is the evidence of the 1920s and 30s: gorgeous churches, in the cities, which are now abandoned or ruined or both, because of failed cities and white flight. One example: my first parish, beautiful and devout as can be, lasted just over 50 years. It was built to last, it seemed, donec veniat.
    Athelstan, I am interested in historical documents, not spirit of the times explanations. I trust, but I verify.
    Few experiments–I hesitate to call it a style–are bigger failures than brutalism, but is that failure really all that characteristic of the Church in the last century? I would have thought the iconoclasm and white washing, the protestantization, of the Church was the true foe.