Contemporary Church Architecture By Edwin Heathcote and Laura Moffatt.Wiley-Academy, 2007.237pp. £45.00
This is a curious book - in fact really two books inside a single cover. The -rst 70 pages contain a highly competent and well-informed essay by Edwin Heathcote on the 20th-century church. Although broadly conventional in its approach, Heathcote's text is judicious and remarkably comprehensive. It roots the story of Modern church design firmly in the 19th century, with proper regard to the innovations, especially in the use of iron construction, achieved in France at the end of the century.
Ian Nairn, 1960s architecture critic, compared Zacharie Astruc's Notre Dame du Travail in Paris, completed in 1901, to a train-shed - it is a building that could not have been constructed in lateVictorian England. Yet, as Heathcote points out, it was the English Arts and Crafts architect W R Lethaby who looked forward to a time when ornament 'will disappear from our architecture, as it has from our machinery'. In tune with Arts and Crafts thinking, the National Romantic movement in Europe produced some of the best churches of the early 20th century - not only in Scandinavia but in the former Hapsburg empire, with Hungary well represented here for once, alongside the work of Otto Wagner and Jo?e Plecnik.
Heathcote writes vividly, describing Gaudí's Sagrada Família, a potent symbol of Catalan identity, as resembling 'from some angles? the sticky mess of chewing gum on a shoe straining to stretch between the sole and the earth'. His understanding of the Liturgical Movement, which gradually reshaped the face of church architecture, is sound - he recognises that modernity in church design is not simply a matter of style.
The later work of church specialist Ninian Comper focused on the centrality of the altar, but it was in Germany that the fusion of architecture and liturgy achieved its most creative phase in the work of those great, and here too littleknown, architects Dominikus Böhm and Rudolf Schwarz. 'It is only out of sacred reality that sacred building can grow, ' said Schwarz. It was Böhm's son Gottfried who created one of the greatest post-war churches at Neviges near Düsseldorf.
In the second part of the book, Laura Moffatt describes 28 church buildings of the past decade or so. Few are parish churches. Some, like Tony Fretton's Faith House, are not churches in any normal sense of the word. They range in scale from Niall McLaughlin's tiny chapel for the Carmelite fathers in Kensington to Renzo Piano's pilgrimage church at San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia, and Rafael Moneo's cathedral in Los Angeles. Most are reasonably well-known. The church at Mortensrud, near Oslo, by Jensen & Skodvin, was a discovery for me, though its qualities are poorly evoked by Moffatt's rather bland writing.
The bibliography is so thin as to be worthless, while the text is printed densely, using a tiny font size I found trying.