Thursday, November 11, 2010

Glorifying God with Light, Space and Sound — Eliel Saarinen’s Example of Exquisite Church Architecture in Minneapolis

The renowned twentieth-century modernist architect, Eliel Saarinen designed Christ Church Lutheran, 1949, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The left photograph shows the chime tower and sanctuary structures, which are of honey-colored brick. The photograph on the right is an east façade detail showing the indigenous Mankato limestone wall and sculptural accent pieces by William M. McVey (1905–1995). Photographs by versluis ©2010. For additional photographs see Peter J. Sieger’s photo gallery.

Apparently, a modern style church building wasn’t the original idea of the building committee. Saarinen, as he had done in 1942 for First Christian Church in Columbus Indiana, suggested breaking away from the traditional Gothic and Georgian styles. He wrote, “The last drop of expression has been squeezed out of these once so expressive styles.” (1)

Because church architecture should express theology — the central theological question for Saarinen, as he developed plans for Christ Church, was “How does Christ communicate himself to his people and how can it be expressed architecturally?” For Saarinen, one way of answering that question is, “If a building is honest, the architecture is religious.” In fact, all of Saarinen’s buildings are characterized by integrity through an “honest” use of materials. Specifically in the case of Christ Church honesty is expressed through the design of acoustics and natural light. In addition, Saarinen did not try to hide the use of common materials: wood, glass, brick, stone, and concrete are all crafted together to form a worship space that conveys simplicity, dignity and tranquility.

In the book, Christ and Architecture, authors Donald Bruggink and Carl Droppers write in chapter 2, The Word of God, “How does Christ communicate with his people? The answer of the Church of Jesus Christ reformed according to the Word of God is that Christ communicates himself to his Church through Word and Sacrament! This is the message Luther and Calvin found in God’s Word; this remains the position of those churches which are reformed according to his Word. God communicates himself through Word and Sacrament.” (2)

Saarinen’s Christ Church acknowledges that Christ communicates himself through Word (biblical preaching) and the Sacraments (Eucharist and baptism). One observes this in the chancel (the front of the sanctuary) with the centered table (alter) and the baptismal font on the left combining to form a unity that balances the size of the pulpit on the right. The counterpart of the outside cross high on the chime tower highlights the west wall of the chancel. A very minor criticism is that the size of the baptismal font is relatively small. However, to help achieve greater visibility a processional banner is utilized to highlight the font.

For full effect of the space one should attend a worship service to experience the liturgy and to understand the impact of the architectural design. Within the space, the tone and clarity of the music and flow of light through the interior enfold the congregation. As a result, the thoughtful program of this building correlates with Saarinen’s insights about modern architecture.
(1) Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, Inc. A Look at Architecture. Sixth ed. Columbus, IN: Visitor's Center, 1991. 28. Print.

(2) Bruggink, Donald J., and Carl H. Droppers. Christ and Architecture, building Presbyterian/Reformed churches. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965. 58. Print.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the editor has approved them.