Saturday, May 31, 2008

Modernism in Catholic Architecture

As someone who can appreciate modern architectonics, I have always been fascinated by the imagination of those architects who had enough creativity and vision to construct buildings and monuments that capture the attention of the multitudes, and withstand the test of time. Having said that, I cannot but feel deep disappointments at some of the current Catholic structures erected around the world. When you study some of these fallacious edifices, you wonder where the Catholic identity went. Consequently, there is no evocation of transcendence or mysticism to these farcical constructs, and you wonder with whose approval (and what were they thinking) were the final designs selected.

Feast your eyes on the Church of the Sacred Heart in Munich. Here you can see an exterior image of this Catholic Church, followed by an interior pic. I did not know that scaffolding became a fashionable component of sacred architecture.

Although simple in format, where is the Catholic identity in this architecture? All I see is a cube with what appears to be flimsy walls that a gust of wind can topple. Where is the crucifix? Can you see a tabernacle in this image? Any icons?

Here we have Christ Church in Austria. Do they celebrate the black mass in there? What does this hodgepodge of glossy panels remind you of? Is that a target off to the right, or was this picture taken through the crosshairs of a hunter's rifle?

While I remain overwhelmingly a traditionalist when it comes to Catholicism, I'm not an ultra-trad. or someone who practices a strain of truncated Catholic fundamentalism. This means I can appreciate progressive architecture as long as it edifies traditional Catholic beliefs, and is consistent with present liturgical praxis. But where is the edification or the Catholic identity in the structures above? Is this minimalism in the extreme [extreme minimalism sounds like an oxymoron (with emphasis on -moron)]?

On a related note, if you take a peek through the posts of the Catholic Church Conservation blog, you will find some of the most abhorrent and disrespectful liturgical abuses you never knew were possible.


Shirley said...

I'm with you on this one, Tom. I would rather go to Mass outdoors than attend in those "churches"!At least outdoors your mind, heart and soul can be lifted up to heaven; in those places you would feel like you were in prison!
I have just initiated a project in our little country church to paint the interior, which is currently stark white with grey wainscoting. I will try to get pictures of the before and after. Now is seems cold and uninviting, we are going to warm it up so that when it is winter it will look different than the snow outside!:)

Katie Alender said...

Have you seen the new Los Angeles cathedral? It's quite modern. I'm really torn between appreciating modernism and still providing indication of the building's function. To me, churches are supposed to be reaching for something. There should be some upward energy in their design.

Tom in Vegas said...


Aren't they just deplorable? This is Catholicism for the secularists, at least with regards to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Munich. I don't know what the inside of Christ Church in Austria looks like, but if the exterior is any indication, I'll pass. Good luck with the renovation of your parish:) Hope to see some pics!


I have seen the exterior of the L.A. Cathedral, and it looks like something Frank Lloyd Wright might have designed.

Katie, I HATE the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright:( But I do like modern architecture nonetheless. I just prefer structures that have cohesion to them instead of a disjointed assemblage.

ukok said...


thanks so much for the birthdy wishes for me and Dad...and oh can share my chocolates ANY day ;-)

As for these cuboid type church structures, I find it impossible to find anything whatsoever that evokes beauty in them except that Jesus Christ is reserved in their tabernacles.

Tom in Vegas said...


My pleasure!

BTW, what tabernacles? I was trying to look closely and couldn't find one. Maybe the it's in the background somewhere (maybey...).

Terry Nelson said...

Secret: I like the Cathedral in Los Angeles. I like several contemporary churches.

portal said...

pretty grim......

teh one reminds me of a chapel that teh Dominican Women now use at their convent...sorry! their center.

they no longer want to be called Dominican SISTERS nor have their residence referred to as a convent. Errr..they've moved beyond all that.

hahaha....why give everything up for nothing? Wait - they don't! they have more expensive boots than me! *sigh* I don't get it.

some modern architecture can be very moving but most of it is not.

It is simply ugly.

Tom in Vegas said...


I sooo disappointed in you. Aligning yourself like that with the powers of darkness. LOL! ;0)


What Dominican Sisters or ex-Dominican Sisters are these?

I, too, can appreciate modern architecture, so my tastes are not as anachronistic as this post may lead someone to believe. It just has to be GOOD architecture and not just merely avant-garde.

Adrienne said...

Go take a peek at Frank Lloyd Wrights house Fallingwater. He did get that one right.

Ignore Terry - he's just being perverse - for whatever reason. But we love him anyway......

Tom in Vegas said...

Auntie A-

Fallingwater has its fascinating features (nestled in a natural habitat, surrounded by trees and, of coarse, running water. It's extraordinary to look at) but I still detect something vacuous about it and I can't quite put my finger on what that is. Maybe it’s those planes or floors that crisscross each other or the lack of union that gives it such an untidy or fractionalized appearance. I guess Fallingwater, and other modern structures imbued with similar qualities, will always be the architectural equivalent of peanut brittle for me.

Thom said...

Have you seen FL Wright's synagogue? I think I like it, but I'm not sure.

ukok said...

no ducky, i didn't see a tabernacle in the pictures either, but i'm assuming they have them if they are Catholic Churches and therefore, that is, in my opinion that only beautiful thing about them :-)

Terry Nelson said...