When God Went Mod - Page 5

Once despised, modern churches have thrived—designed by many of the same architects who shaped mid-century suburbia
When God Went Mod
Mario Ciampi's Newman Center chapel, Berkeley.
When God Went Mod
Warren Callister's Mills College Chapel, Oakland, with its undulating walls of warm wood.

Consider Gothic Cathedrals with wing-like flying buttresses holding up walls that are as much stained glass as stone, or the Baroque churches of Italy that combined art and architectural motifs to stir emotions.

English architect Edward D. Mills made this point in his 1955 book The Modern Church. The church in medieval days was designed for people who didn't read. "A stained glass window was really a large picture book," he wrote.

Structural elements told stories and evoked emotions too, with bell towers, piers, and ceiling beams soaring towards heaven, and dark naves evoking what the German church architect Reinhard Gieselmann called a "mystical twilight."

Many modern architects, Mills wrote, were part of a millennium-long trend of increasing the areas of glass in church walls, "completing the conquest of voids over solids."

Modern churches also won over church building committees because they generally cost less than building something that tried to resemble Notre Dame.

Designers also convinced congregations to go mod by not going overboard with the style, evoking instead the feeling of a traditional church. In this approach, they were adhering to the advice of Edward Mills, who wrote, "In turning away from the sentimental clutter accrued through the centuries, one cannot wholly dispense with tradition."

No church illustrates this principle better than Skidmore's Cadet Chapel, which opened for business at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado in 1962. It was a glistening exercise in geometry—a series of sky-high tetrahedrons that suggested nothing so much as a light-filled Gothic cathedral. The cadets loved it.

• For our story sidebar of 6 striking examples of world-class houses of worship, click here.

Photography: John Eng, Dave Weinstein, Darren Bradley Photography, Alamy, Cantusstar Studios, Thales Anibal Jardim, Debra Jane Seltzer, Ken Duffy, Tom Small, Dave Toussaint, Bob Gorman, Mike Hume (www.mikehume.com), Dave Soldano, Boshiang Lin, Frank Alvarado, Paula Funnell, Nailton Barbosa, Naotake Murayama; and courtesy A. Quincy Jones Papers (Special Collections - Young Research Library, UCLA), Stantec - Anshen + Allen, Pacific Northwest College of Art