Studs Terkel discusses church architecture with William Cooley and Martin Marty
BROADCAST: Apr. 27, 1965 | DURATION: 00:53:59
Studs Terkel discusses church architecture William Cooley, a church architect, and Martin E. Marty, a theologian and scholar at the University of Chicago. Topics include mediocrity in church architecture, both in America and abroad; the relationship of architecture to the congregation and the community as a whole; the history of church building, design, and styles; the role of the artist and architect in society; building materials used in church building throughout history; ethics, meaning, and social context in architecture. Studs opens the show by playing an excerpt of his interview with Greek architect, planner and critic Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis. Throughout the interview, both Studs and his guests cite a conference and exhibit held in April 1965 at the Pick Congress Hotel in Chicago, which he refers to as the 26th National Conference on Church Building. Architects and buildings mentioned include Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut de Ronchamp, by Le Corbusier; South Side Unity Center of Christianity in Chicago.
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Studs Terkel This week is a fascinating conference on, a conference on, 26th national conference, I wasn't aware that was the 26th, on church building. The idea of church architecture, I know that everyone notices this, whenever he travels whether by train or by automobile along the highways outside the churches, the name, the change in the physical appearance of churches, the use of architects, the new materials and the implication of this might be, might be fascinating. What about the church, the artist and his particular contributions to what, to man and his manner of worship? The surround, the history of it, too. We think of so many of the most remarkable structures in the history of architecture being religious buildings, churches, cathedrals. Our two guests this morning are William Cooley who is an award winning architect, particulary in the matter of churches, William M. Cooley, and someone, a theologian who I've been wanting to meet for a long time Dr. Martin Marty who is, well he's, I think he's an all around man, critic, theologian, also a provocateur in that he provokes conversation. Dr. Marty you're with the, not the Chicago Theolgical Seminary the
Studs Terkel Divinity School, the University of Chicago. Suppose just to give us that catapult, Doxiadis, Constantinos Doxiadis was a very controversial city planner from Athens and now in America. I think he's making a point about artists, of architects of the past and present, of certain dangers.
Constantinos Doxiadis Yes. This is the great danger for architecture today, that everybody tries to be different from his neighbor. He tries to create an architecture or a fashion of his own. But this is the greatest danger. The great strides of humanity have been created by those who wanted to ameliorate by, in very small details, the work of the previous master, and to not to create this style of their own. This is why, when we speak of ancient Greek style, of Renaissance style, great Mughal style, Gothic style we don't know who created it. But now so many people want to create styles overnight, forgetting that this is a task for the community as a whole which, by trial and error, is going gradually to reject what is wrong, select the best, and lead the [tall?] world's masterpieces in generations or not in weeks. So we must have proper historical perspective in their stamp. But we still are in an era of confusion. Just trying to get rid of of the past and it's bad inheritance of neo-academicism, etc. Select from the past whatever is sound, and develop it farther by changing it with great care by inches. This is why I respect mostly, and perhaps now in Chicago it's the appropriate moment to say it, the great master Mies van...
Studs Terkel There Doxiadis was paying tribute to Mies van der Rohe, beginning to. But the theme, Mr. Cooley, Dr. Marty, the comment of Doxiadis on how we tend to cut ourselves off from the past. Newness for the sake of newness. How does this apply to church architecture today?
William Cooley I don't think that's really a true statement. I wouldn't agree with Mr. Doxiadis at all. I think that architecture is a continuing thing and that it is a progression. I think it builds, the present builds on the past. But when he says that you have to take from the past directly, I, I think that perhaps that comment might be made about the, when the Renaissance was coming into Florence. That exact comment that Mr. Doxiados, that would be lamenting that the new painting and the new sculpture was coming in, I think that's unfortunate.
Dr. Martin Marty Well I think he was celebrating Mies because Mies represents an international style which, to Doxiadis, seems quite impersonal and yet it has a very heavily personal stamp on it. I would disagree with Doxiadis on a, on a couple of points. I think there is, particularly in the field we're discussing today, church architecture, for all the experiment, a great amount of continuity, a surprising amount, because a building for worship meets certain primeval needs of man, and the newest building, in a sense, is more primeval and thus in the continuity than some of the neo-academicism that he was condemning in other fields. Finally, what are the churches doing today? They're going back to the tent and the cave, the holy hill of ancient man's kind of worship is being exaggerated. And there's a, there's a great continuity here. So I think that 500 years from now someone looking back on our epoch of building, if any thing of our kind of style would last that long, modern materials, they'd see homogeneities which I don't think he sees. He sees just eclectic and erratic individualism. But there's, there's a family of building that is emerging in the world today I think.
Studs Terkel Corbusier.
William Cooley A great, probably the greatest architect, or one of the greatest of our time and maybe of any time, and a purely personal sculptural expression. Maybe not a good church at all, but perhaps the most significant building of our time.
Studs Terkel He's making his offering like The Juggler of Notre Dame. The matter, well suppose we start with Corbusier, suppose we start with this matter of a personal, what is it, the purpose of a cathedral? The purpose of a house of worship and as related to the artist who creates it.
William Cooley Well he said he wouldn't do a regular parish church. He had no, and he actually, he wouldn't officially, he wasn't going to do this one. This one was in the, in the mountains near Switzerland, and its way away from anything else. It's a pilgrimage chapel is what it is. It sits on top of a high hill. It's all by itself, nothing around it. You have to pay a fee to walk up to it. It's a very sculptural building. And he did the stained glass in it, he did the painting on the doors and he, actually it is an almost endless building because it has no parallel walls and has no, the roof of it floats over the building proper, with actually no perpendicular or parallel walls.
Studs Terkel Isn't this interesting, Dr. Marty. Here is one man's contribution, wholly his, like Charlie Chaplin on the films, one wholly his in contrast say to the anonymous many who, in the, in the medieval days, built the cathedral.
Dr. Martin Marty I think if you take a view though of the flow of centuries, we're going to find even this very individual work of genius shaping much of the language of our own time. I think he overdoes the anonymity of some features of medieval building. We learn what happened around the Abbey of Saint-Denis at the beginning of the birth of Gothic and there are other places where you can get the, quite an individual stamp. Now what did Corbusier do? Almost single handedly with this building, I think, he reintroduced the sculpturesque and organic form to building. The, most of the church building and other building of our recent past had been extremely geometrical. Now here comes a man who almost takes the clay of the earth and shapes it with his hands and says "Here, go inside". And a lot of people are doing this now and it would be fatal to try to imitate that building. And there have been little attempts
Dr. Martin Marty That's right. And any invitation looks like Chicago World's Fair in 1933, it's as, it's as dated the moment someone tries. But the idea behind it, that man takes his hand and shapes this, certainly is alive. The real spiritual inspirer of the recovery of integral kinds of church building was Abbé Couturier, a Dominican from France who said he trusted genius regardless of religious faith. And I think in the case of Corbusier we have that here. We don't ask what his religious faith was. We're fortunate that somebody trusted a genius and said "Say something on your own". My instant and early reactions to the building were highly negative. Still wouldn't be my choice of a building and yet I can't deny the greatness of the scope and what he reintroduced into the language of building through this one. So there will be hundreds of people for decades recovering something of this very primitive cave like feel in building because he had the genius or the nerve to disappoint.
William Cooley This is a total artist, in other words, the man is doing stained glass and he is doing painting and he's doing architecture, all as a kind of a continuous thing. Another German that did a tremendous window in his last building was Dominikus Bohm who did a tremendous chapel, but much simpler and much more geometric, also a complete thing in itself. These people are rare though that have this Cellini-like idea that they can do everything and can do everything.
Studs Terkel I want to ask you about, want to ask you about stained glass windows and the nature of material itself. The point that Dr. Marty was making here, that the trusting of genius no matter what his, this man could be an agnostic, can be an atheist, or as in Corbusier's case, someone wholly nonconformist as far western political standards are concerned, trusting the artist to make his contribution as a man.
Dr. Martin Marty There's nothing to it at all. But they were able to get the services of Rouault, Lurcat, and Legér and some of the great French artists, each of whom produced something which was at first quite shocking, in fact it was a hard time getting it blessed ecclesiastically originally. And that's not too long ago, it's post World War II isn't it?
William Cooley Yes.
Dr. Martin Marty Very early on in the war. And yet you can go into countless churches around the world now and see things that were done under the influence of d'Assy entering the language. So I think here's where my disagreement, for all my agreements with Mr. Doxiadis, I would disagree here in the understanding of the mechanism, the intrusion of a new idea into architecture or the recovery of a very good old one. I think that if you do it in the middle of early Renaissance, early Gothic, it would have looked just as anarchic, scattered and wild as ours does. But try to fit this in architectural history and I think there's a certain limitation to numbers of languages that architects can turn to and we're going to find some family resemblances which we didn't see at first.
William Cooley Every new style was roundly condemned when it came in. I mean Abbot Sugar was reproved. They said "Let us reprove these men that are doing this and building this terrible" and they used "Gothic", as a word of derision. I mean this was the most terrible thing they could call it, uncultured, uncouth. Wren, when he wanted to do St. Paul's
William Cooley Yes, this, he would, they would dedicate it, St. Paul's was dedicated almost 300 years ago this last month. And that is a very remarkable building. It started out, he was asked to do a gothic rebuilding of St. Paul's. And so he drew a gothic plan. But he, actually the building is a classic revival Renaissance building and, and Wren did this by changing, during the process of the drawings, and convincing the commission that this was the way to do it. Actually they didn't know what they were getting until the thing was done.
William Cooley No.
William Cooley There hasn't been as much real talks between the artist and the church. This is coming again that I think the church will again be a patron of the arts and as Dr. Marty said, it hasn't been solved.
Dr. Martin Marty You referred to Abbot Suger before, the old Saints Legends books of the Saint-Denis tells of a time when the monks came in and tattled to the abbot that this new young monk is not rounding the arches gracefully the way our fathers taught us to do. He's breaking them in the middle the way the people of the Northland do and how barbaric this is. What shall we do, shall we condemn him? And the Abbot is said to have said "No, let him alone, let him experiment. Some good thing may yet come of it". Gothic architecture comes of it. Well I think that Abbot Couturier and a few progressive, first of all some Catholic bishops in Europe, the Protestant church leaders, Europe has been far ahead in this, started it. Early World, post World War II. It took some real venture on the part of some American builders. Some of the best building has been done, not for parishes, but college campuses in places where you're perhaps twice removed from committees where people can trim you down too much. I think though that in the last few years the problem has shifted decisively to American church building to the point now where the artist or architect can more often than not say something but he isn't sure he has something to say. That is, the real battle between shall we just repeat Gothic or shall we take contemporary forms
William Cooley It's
William Cooley The mythical "they" is a committee. A camel is a horse designed by a committee. That's what you get. You, you cater, you have to, unfortunately, cater to the worst in people instead of the best because they, they wanted something new and original and different, but that they can go look at, that somebody else has done.
Studs Terkel Before we come to the matter of architecture itself, the nature of materials, the changes that are taking place, the discovery, the use of reinforced concrete, of stained glass, a lost art, must ask, think you spoke of the "they" and the artist and the church and its meaning. So much is happening today, the ecumenical developments, Pope John's encyclical, a piece, a very marvelous piece by Dr. Marty our guest in an excellent magazine called motive, a Methodist [oriative?] magazine by B.J. Stiles. The hushed up revolution, you speak of this conflict that is going on between the, those who see the future, whether they be young seminarians, and those who recognizes that but will contribute no way to it. Will, in fact may, may be obstacles to it. Will this affect the nature of architecture too, the hushed, you call it the hushed up revolution? The revolution taking place?
Dr. Martin Marty Well I think it certainly would be related to it. It's interesting to me that quite often the same people who are demonstrating for racial change and so on are the people who have the most sensitivity to art. There's not a real breach in the church today between those who are oriented toward ethics activity, social comment on the one hand, and those who want meaningful artistic expression. This is the same crowd and they are fighting, perhaps a majority in the churches, who are opposed to both things. There's a sense in which religion can very soon and very easily be taken captive and made just the, the aspirin that soothes our anxieties and headaches a little bit and suddenly you have young people, clergy and lay, not just young, people of all ages who are responding to the revolutions of our time and they're out there in the streets. When they go back home, when they try to gather some new spiritual resource, they aren't fed by an imitation Gothic church or by Sunday school art or something like that. They're fed by the best artists of the time. That's the only thing that speaks to their soul. So I think it's, it's the same group and they're fighting the same people inside the churches.
William Cooley Well I'm not so sure that I agree with Dr. Marty except that I think the church has got some coming back to do. The artist is not all alone. Because some artists are communists, not all artists are communists nor are they all disinterested in the church or serving the church. I think what you said before they don't, the work of genius is a work of genius regardless of the background of it, is a pretty good one here. Now Picasso, for instance, is a professed communist but actually I don't think he works at it very hard, as far as that goes.
Dr. Martin Marty Well it's a little hard I think for, for an artist to be a communist in the ideological doctrinaire sense because it too can imprison the spirit and he needs a certain kind of freedom, so I don't think many of them are very orthodox, even if they call themselves that. But getting back to the point of genius, what do they see? I think, what it what it, when you invite someone to do your windows or to do the painting or to do the building itself and you don't run him through a test of orthodoxy you run him through the test of ability, what you're really asking him to do is to be able to share the spirit of the people for whom he's building or to whom he is directing the work. And so a good, a really good architect sits down with people and asks "To what do you aspire? What worries you, what bugs you, in what do you rejoice?" Picks up elements of things that they can't translate into stone and concrete and glass and then tells them what, what he thinks they ought to be aspiring to. Now they don't always recognize this in translation. I hope they won't because if they recognize it too soon it just means that he's adapted to their taste as it
Studs Terkel In what do you rejoice? Interesting. I think what Dr. Marty had said earlier about the, those who are the committed young clergymen or seminarians or members of the laity in seeking beauty, this relat, this relationship between what they seek to aesthetically and what they seek religiously. The seek, the quest for beauty in a sense might be the quest for God, as far as they see it. And then, then you have the problem of the others who what, then, the, the, but aren't the other people, aren't these the people who to great extent put up the funds? Don't you have this problem Mr. Cooley as a church
William Cooley We all put up the funds. I mean the whole congregation puts up the funds. But it takes courage to build true buildings and it takes courage to be a true artist in any sense of the word. And in some of it sometimes this courage is lacking. In Europe they have a different system of building in which the, there is a limited competition. The architect is selected by competition and after that he has a free hand. Here we don't do that and I'm partially glad we don't because the building is actually a tool, we can talk about it as a, as a work of art, I agree to this. But I think it's also a working tool to serve people. And when you get into the areas of church and home, both of them have a certain amount of sentiment attached to them. And if you give a man something that he cannot worship in, regardless how beautiful it is, it's a flop as a church, in my opinion.
William Cooley No.
William Cooley Yes.
Dr. Martin Marty and very often if I hear that a Protestant suburban congregation has a million to spend, I know pretty well they're not as likely going to get a church as someone that has 200,000 and has a long discussion. In fact there is a church, charity forbids me from identifying it, in the Chicago suburbs, one of the worst Gothic style churches built in our century I suppose. And when the church was dedicated there was an article in three of our newspapers quoting the priest as saying he was glad that he was building in a wealthy suburb because this made it possible for him to build a Gothic church whereas the less well-off Catholic churches had to build in these modern forms where you skimped on materials and so on. So it's probably the worst church around. Maybe I'm identifying it with that label, [laughing] but sometimes I rejoice in a little bit of an economic pinch because some very modest little mission chapels have a directness and clarity of expression. Mexico is full of them, you know. It just, there it says here scraped up out of this particular community, are numbers of people who are looking for one thing and want to say one thing together. Nothing eclectic about it at all. The architect caught exactly what's on their mind and was limited in his language and there it was. Maybe they just have one object of art on the altar or something and probably much better than these arrays of factory stained glass that you see in, in the old style churches.
William Cooley The, this show at the Pick Congress has got a very interesting liturgical arts exhibit. And this is all free, and we hope that the people would come and see it because it is assembled with great care. The screening committee was one that had hundreds and hundreds of objects to look at, and they got it down to about 70 different pieces. There will be an architectural exhibit and there's also a student exhibit. And I think this is pretty interesting, twenty colleges of architecture submitting the best things related to the church. And this is tomorrow's architecture, not today's. Now what, what is, what is this show going to be like? I can't tell you because it's not
William Cooley Right.
William Cooley Yes.
Studs Terkel Back to the, the, the theme here, the simplicity. What is it then? You have an assignment. William Cooley has an assignment. You name it, you name your assignment. Go ahead. What is it you'd, now this is not, you know,
William Cooley No, but it combines some of all these various things. It combines office space, it combines social space generally, school space, in, but the most important part is, of course, is the religious space as such. But you try the physical things. How many people you want to see and how many kids in the Sunday church school and how many you want for dinners and that sort. This is simple. You can get these figures pretty, pretty well. What Dr. Marty was talking about was a statement of the belief of the people and how they would ideally, what really gets to them or how they wish to celebrate, as he, as he, he put it. Now this is the thing that you almost never get. You never get it in lucid terms. I'm not asking for something, we want this to be 25 feet wide and 40 feet long and that sort of thing, that, that isn't important. But the church doesn't examine itself very well, we overbuild for it. We waste their money because they don't do enough homework on their own to tell us what they actually want. The choir has a great lobby in a church and the kitchen committee is a very vocal lobby. They don't need these big kitchens.
Dr. Martin Marty In a sense then, the architects problem is the problem of the nature of the organized life of the church. If there's a sterility to it, a lack of clarity, you know you ask a congregation of 600 people what do you believe and after six weeks they haven't come up with anything that they believe, the architect doesn't have much to go on. And I think this is most obvious some years ago when there was perhaps even more lack of clarity than there's been in the recent past. In the churches, there's been at least some revival and some recovery of interest in the main themes of the faith, and this helps a little bit. In the 20s or 30s, I think you could see very well. I recall an evening in Chicago when one of America's greatest theologians, H. Richard Niebuhr was discussing the building in which we were as a matter of fact and showing how plotless it was. There was no centrality of the worship space. You could go down halls, past libraries, and through kitchens and finally come to the place where people are supposed to worship in, a big room, but there was nothing planned, nothing integral, nothing related. And he used this as an illustration to show what was happening in religion in the 20s. A church was a gathering of many different vested interests. Some people joined it for the sake of the bowling team and some joined it for the sake of the roller skating rink and some joined it for the sake of the status it gave them in community and so they would have a nice board room and so on. But there was nothing central. Now in recent decades with the revival of an interest in some theological themes and the question about the purpose of church or synagogue, there's been quite a recovery of starting from the center and asking finally, you know, what are, what are you ready to die for, what do you live for, if anything. And this has helped the architect because he's been able to take one illustration, in Mr. Cooley's case of a church on the south side, where as you enter, there's an enormous baptismal font. Well he was doing this for a congregation of people to whom the initiatve right, initiatory right of the church is very meaningful. You know, you dunk 'em into the water and they know they've been through something, in a tradition where this had been disappearing, and you finally get to the point where the minister was putting three little drops of water on somebody's head or I suppose spraying an atomizer at them is the logical goal of that. And he wanted to get a little more primitive again and remind them that they used to take a trip down to the Jordan and slosh through some mud and so on. So as you enter the church, you, you can't get in without walking past the water and there's a fountain and a reminder. Well I, I would say here, what is he doing? He's reaching back into their own memory of faith for an idea in which they, which they were not really capable of developing, maybe nobody had taught them. And he sees that, he knew enough to know what to do about it. And now every time they go in, they are being taught something which the words of the minister were not capable of doing. Stumbling over this font helps. For other churches, the, I think for example of the churches that are sometimes called the left wing of the Reformation, the more radical reformed groups, the Disciples of Christ for example, to whom the table has been very important. They never have a service without a common meal, the communion. And yet, in our environment year after year there was more attention paid to the personality of the preacher, what did he have to say and so on, and the table shrunk in significance. Now, the architect or the artist has talked to these people, found out what is it in your past and has come back and maybe helped them exaggerate it. So sometimes, sometimes it's an enormous table and the church is then gathered around it. They learn, in a sense, who they are. They get an identity. And I think good art should help people get this.
Studs Terkel This example of a font. No I mean, that is, earlier Dr. Marty, of a sterile community, and the community is terrified by fears, inchoate one way or another, certain kinds of prejudices involve this community. And this, in a sense, if the, if the artist does not lend of his own uniqueness, he, if he follows through on their thoughts, then what happens is a sterile structure.
Dr. Martin Marty I don't expect the theolo, the architect to be a theologian, and Mr. Cooley is worried about whether you can do this. Every field is so technical. How can you possibly do anything but your own? But I'm asking him to be, I think of [Guertes term shaowin?] "to see". He is the man who's really supposed to see. Any artist is supposed to see what the rest of us don't see. Now he may see this by reading just a little tract he picked up from their rack in which somebody says we happen to be a batch of people who who believe that the way you come into the church is important. We want this to to rock you, and shake you and so on. And he finds that you get into the church without any rocking or shaking, you get there if you like the smile of the minister or the hour of Sunday school, and no, he's the man who sees what they didn't see about themselves, and he can seize this little line from their track to say "well now if you really believe this, then let me show you what you believe". It's in that sense that I expect him to be informed about their beliefs, not technical theology. But, but the wisdom and the way to see through the trivial to the central.
Studs Terkel I must bring up a point, probably nothing to do with architecture, the, the Negro churches, and I'm not talking about storefront churches, no but Negro churches, and we know how the church is involved with Negro life, it becomes everything, it's the social center, it's a way of getting away from the ghetto flat in which he lives. It becomes, at this moment too many quarters, the center of his strivings too. But this is just a building. It's just a building. Now here, what is it, in many cases in West Side Chicago converted synagogues. But here then, what could have knocked, what's the architects contribution here if it, if it wasn't really, that building was not really built by an architect serving that particular community.
William Cooley Well actually if you can, in some of these remodeling jobs it would be interesting to do. I've never had much in the way of remodeling. I've done new churches on the south side for Negro congregations and I don't find them any different particularly except that they are sometimes a lot more positive in their belief in being able to build than a white congregation. Unity Center is at 87th and the Dan Ryan. And they wanted a building that didn't have any traditional symbols at all. No cross, and yet it had to be a church-like building. And it's a wild one, it's a, a, a, she calls it, the minister is a woman by the way, she calls it her jewel box, her stained glass jewel box. It's all glass, all the way around, and, but it's one inch thick glass so it can't be broken. Makes a very interesting church interior.
Dr. Martin Marty It's probably too soon to tell yet what really good building in this expression of faith is going to look like. Last year Negro theologian Joseph Washington published a book called Black Religion. It was quite a severe indictment of Negro Christianity. In fact, the title was to give it away, that here you had developing, for very functional reasons, the church, which meant something much different from what the church had meant to everybody else. Now in, for two thirds of the book it looks like an attack on Negro Christianity but the last third, you see what it really is, is a critique of our whole culture for systematically depriving Negro Christians of the tradition. And Professor Washington contends it may take decades before Negroes in America are able to hook on, as it were, to the Christian tradition and have enough theologians and artists and so on. I
Dr. Martin Marty I disagreed with his book rather vigorously because I tried to make a point that religion is not only a certain set of ideas, and even Christianity is not just knowing who said what in the 13th century. What did the American Negro Christian have to bring to faith which most white suburbanites don't have, and that is a rich experience. He's, he's suffered, and that's what the faith is about. He's been exploited and that's what religion's about. And therefore he may, just as he, he did in music in the last century, he may in this century develop art forms that will represent a great leap forward in the native expression. I think it's too soon to tell though, the economics is involved here. Most Negro churches in America, as you implied, are taken over synagogues, taken over storefronts, taken over white churches when the people moved away, and very few of them therefore have had a chance to be distinctive yet.
William Cooley Yes
Studs Terkel Is it that the symbols perhaps in a way, I'm, I'm just asking now, symbolized perhaps, you know, represented that which was part of the oppression they suffered. Perhaps, you know, used hypocritically.
Dr. Martin Marty This could be. Somebody has said that if you really wanted to get the central idea of Christianity across in our culture, you shouldn't have a gold figure of Christ on a gold cross on the altar. You should have a statue of a Negro in the electric chair, because only then would you have the shock of exploitation and injustice, and somebody you don't like, and now you're supposed to worship through him and in his name and so on. It's the only way to get that shock across. Well there is a sense here in which I suppose all the gilt-edge adornments would be an embarrassment, though I think in the case of the particular church Mr. Cooley is talking about, he's dealing with a group that doesn't stand in the, it's not a standard brand. Most American Negroes are Baptist or Methodist or are very closely related to the white groups. I, I think that they would feel very much at home, most of these churches, with the traditional symbols. And I probably would have disagreed with his lady ministers about the non-symbolic character because it's impossible, I think, to make any religious expression that isn't symbolic. What they were trying to get away from were the contrived symbols or the symbols which were over familiar to people. But in the end, what do you have to do, you have to work with light and shadow, they're symbolic. You have to work
William Cooley Color.
Studs Terkel Obviously changes are taking place as changes in our relationships, one, one person to another, one people to another. This will affect architect. Have to go back to beginnings now. Now the church itself, church is the patron. The, some of the great structures have been cathedrals, churches haven't they? The variety of style, this is significant, isn't it? The change, the Byzantine, the Gothic, the Renaissance, perhaps the meaning of this. How he's, aside from the changes and the cultures of the people, just a, a sort of informal history if you will.
William Cooley Oh boy. Well for the first 350 years the church didn't need any buildings because they thought the Lord was coming again. So they didn't build any, they worshipped in houses. And a, a Roman or Greek house has all the elements that you need for a Christian service. They had a big pool in the middle of these houses because they drained all the roof water in for drinking water. This was the, the pool for baptism. There, they lived outside in the courtyard of their houses, the stone table was used for the symbolic last supper. And they didn't really need any other furniture, those were the prime things that they needed. The early churches reflected the same type of thing, the early Christian churches reflected this baptism in the outer portion and entering into the church with the altar in the center, or that's my belief, anyway. I think this is kind of hard to prove. I wrote an article on it, but I really couldn't prove it to. I've seen churches in Italy, very early churches, that had the altar in the center but whether they all had I wouldn't, I couldn't really be sure.
Dr. Martin Marty Yes, always, any healthy building era. And I think here we can learn from the history of church building, something that will illumine the recent past. You'll often hear people, even today, say they want their churches to look as much different as possible from secular building. There was a time when you could kill off any modern church by saying it looked like a barn or a service station or a supermarket or something like this.
Dr. Martin Marty Yes, if they knew a little bit about the history building they'd see that, in a healthy age, the church breathes very much in relation to the style of the age so that the early Christians really didn't have much trouble at all taking over the first homes. Then later the public buildings and St. Sophia and so on
Dr. Martin Marty That's right. But then they came above ground though and they found that the Roman building styles didn't bother them at all. Now, what we tend to do, we look back at Gothic and say that was a religious age.
William Cooley For
Dr. Martin Marty But what were, what we have is, of course, the most durable buildings of the community were religious, the most expensive, the things that stand. And yet when you have a trace of a little Gothic house or anything like this, it breathes in the same spirit. So I don't worry too much about, about this. What people usually mean by this is they would like to have, in the middle of our secular world, a reminder of how, what people used to believe sometime in the past. Take as an illustration, perhaps the greatest preacher as far as style and eloquence and ability in our time is concerned, was Harry Emerson Fosdick, an extremely liberal minister not closely related to a lot of the features of the Christian tradition. When he got his chance to build a building, it's Riverside
Dr. Martin Marty church, which is not at all related to the style of worship which he was after. It's Gothic. You can't do anything in that without amplification. Peter Taylor Forsyth once said the Gothic architecture is an invention of the devil to keep people from hearing the Gospel. [laughing]. And Fosdick wanted to preach the gospel. Gothic was wonderful for the medieval view of the sacrament. Keep it away, back in hidden mystery and so on. But for a modern American liberal preacher who wants his words to be heard, this was just sort of a violation of what he really believed, and I think that this is what we're trying to overcome now and get, I suppose if Fosdick were a young man today he perhaps could build the best building around. At the time when he began his career or was at his peak, this kind of thinking hadn't yet reached into all the corners of Protestantism.
Dr. Martin Marty Yes.
William Cooley Wren, Christopher Wren again, who had built many great churches which he called auditories, meaning that everybody could hear. And they were good places to sing in. Now when he was building St. Paul's, he told the bishop that this place, that you could never hear in there. They said well they wanted it so big and that was going to be it. And he was right, you can't hear in that building. Regardless all the speakers and things they've done to it, it still can't be
Studs Terkel You know what, I actually thought, a question in my mind since, you know, the purpose of a church and also, earlier, the question of the, the thought or lack of thought of a certain congregation or community. Do you have to, suppose you have a, a, a, an offer from say, Espicopalian, a high Episcopalian, then Unitarian.
William Cooley Yes.
William Cooley I think it should be expressed in the architecture of the building. With our coming together, we are building Roman churches, particularly in Europe, I think Dr. Marty will bear me out here, that when the tabernacle is moved from the altar, which is being done, they're essentially very much like a Evangelical or Lutheran church now, and with the, with the only differences being the tabernacle I think. Many of these churches, of course, pulling the altar away from the wall, are the present Pope who was Cardinal Montini from Milan. He built about, under his reign in Milan, he built about 70 modern churches and did these very things, moved the altar away from the wall, took the tabernacle off the altar proper. So, and he has done a lot in following John's footsteps and in promoting the art and the new ideas and liturgy. I think it's a very exciting time for a Protestant to be looking at the Catholic Church right now.
Dr. Martin Marty Well I think there's two things are operative here. On the one hand, the good architect will spot out what is distinctive in particular in a group. I know architects that are quite interested recently in building for the very simple and straightforward expression of American peace churches, brethren and Mennonites and Quakers and so on, where your economy of design is operative. They used to just have a pure white building. And now what are you going to do when they allow you to do a little bit of symbolism. Worst thing in the world would be to unroll everything in front of them. So there's a strong pull toward those groups which have most clarity of expression. I think most architects probably would enjoy building for let's say Unitarian, Church of the Brethren, high church Episcopal, Roman Catholic, than they would for some of what I called earlier standard brand groups that haven't yet clarified their thought about what they believe. On the other hand, the ecumenical movement is operative also here in church building, and this will tend to pull expression together. Now Mr. Cooley used the illustration of Germany where the Catholic and evangelical churches look so much like each other. But won't this happen more and more in the United States too? Roman Catholicism today is saying let's pull the altar away from that distant wall and make it the table around which the faithful are gathered. Well, there's nothing that has to be only Roman Catholic about that idea, that belongs to everybody who comes out of the Old Testament and then the New
William Cooley Well, as somebody said, as a very well known Episcopalian said, the rest of the church has followed the Episcopal Church up a blind alley with a divided choir and their altar against the wall. And they were very frank about
Studs Terkel There's an interesting point you're both making here that we hear talk of international architecture, you know that there seems to be a fusion of different forms that, one country does a sim-more and more similarity to that of another country. This is happening then in church architecture too, with ecumenical development.
Dr. Martin Marty I hope we won't get too homogeneous though, because there is something in the expression of, of a people that forms a bond with their faith. For example, when I go to Scotland I would like to hear a, an old style John Knox Reformed Presbyterian preacher thunder a little bit at me.
Dr. Martin Marty Yeah. And then when I get there and find out it's ecumenical week and so I have to hear American Negro spirituals there, I think no, I want to hear them down and in Nashville, maybe, but not over there. So in, in church building, and some very gifted architects, is it Raymond and Rado, have worked in Japan and the Philippines, taking something of what it is to be Japanese and Christian, and then bringing in modern technology and giving a distinction. And some of the Catholic tanganyikan little white churches are ,are very fine this way, and I hope American architects can do some of this. Now some parts of the country, there's been a little bit of a regional feeling, the group that's meeting here this week Church Architects Guild met in Seattle was it, two, three years ago?
William Cooley Yes.
Dr. Martin Marty And I took their church tour. It was quite interesting to me to see how many architects there have seized on some of the natural materials there, the Redwood, the fir, and given-built churches that you wouldn't expect to find in Atlanta or Boston. There are some parts of the country, the upper Midwest, the Scandinavian styles of Minnesota, have provided a little clarity here. Chicago is a problem here because we have always been such a melting pot. There never was a chance for one style to develop. And sometimes, of course, these styles then over dominate. New England probably is the slowest part of the country to be able to learn a new language because everyone thinks you have to build colonial Georgian. And Southern California hasn't done as well as it should because they think you have to build in a certain kind of Spanish mission style. But, I would say the Washington State area, Oregon and Minnesota are maybe two of the more exciting. Where else would you point?
Studs Terkel This is the point Dr. Marty raised, Mr. Cooley. This matter, one danger, that is with ecumenical developments and all the, the, the benefits that can accrue from it, danger of losing uniqueness, again each faith just as [e-an arch,?} international architecture and the danger of certain countries, you know, losing that special kind of uniqueness, not being jingoistic about it, just a certain uniqueness of a people. Isn't this a danger too in churches, where the possible, you know,
William Cooley Well, a lot of the Lutheran churches are carryovers from a state church. I mean they are merged now. But there are still racial backgrounds that are prominent in Lutheranism, and it's true in many of the other churches too. And some of that can be reflected in the architecture that you build. I don't mean stylishly or slavishly stealing from the architecture of the past.
Studs Terkel We haven't talked about, there's something that's quickly, the hours seems to have gone. Yet there's so many, we have talked about the materials, the effect of new materials and new uses of reinforced concrete, in the case of Corbusier, isn't it?
William Cooley Yes.
William Cooley Sure. One of the real pioneers was a Frenchman named Auguste Perret, and he was one of the men that really did a lot of work in, as a pioneer in reinforced concrete. His earliest, one of his real good ones is Notre-Dame de Raincy, outside of Paris. Now this is a, it looks like a museum piece to us now.
Dr. Martin Marty Here's where architects sometimes have been cheated a little bit by people who haven't realized all that can be done with reinforced concrete and so on. We're talking, let me blend our last topic with the present. Out of Denver last year I met with a group of architects and artists and I asked them "Is there anything distinctive about building in Colorado? Most of you went to architecture schools elsewhere. Most of you went to art school elsewhere and then you came here and you like it here". And, a group of maybe 80 of them, and they finally came to the consensus that they felt the light is purer, there's a clarity to the sun and so on, the mountain air. And, and, and I said "do you do anything with this at all"? Well you look around, you can't find a Denver church that has worked especially hard at playing with light and shadow. Why? Because most of the congregations want a church like they saw somewhere else in an old book. Now an architect today can play with glass. Oh you can do anything with glass. But if you commit him to an old style, you can't. I suppose if we've been, been a little hard on anybody during the last hour, we've been a little hard on, on the client. And I personally feel we're past the stage where we should make him the real victim. I think, for me, the big challenge is now for the decades ahead with such a sudden building boom. Such a sudden demand for so many buildings. I'm, I sometimes wonder whether the architect has been able to keep pace. There's a lot of mediocrity and rubber stamping and so on, and I would like to think we're in the stage now where they, there are enough clients who are saying "we'll pay for a good thing, give us something good".
Studs Terkel So something good is something true. I can come to that again. Or something beautiful is something godlike I suppose. We haven't talked about since Dr. Marty mentioned glass, obviously. Question will always arise and I'm sure we have time for this, stained glass. Is this the lost art, of stained glass?
William Cooley No. It was mislaid and misused for many years. But the glass today I think is as good in its true form, in it's best. Not in the things that you take out of a catalog that is like somebody else's. But I think it can be done equally well with the [time of sharp?].
Dr. Martin Marty I think this is true. The French Mosaic, the thick glass for example which can even be set in concrete, becomes a structural element, has been a new form of expression. There have been number of fine American designers who have learned that how to use space in glass, not just to clutter it up with a lot of objects streamlined from the old gothic, but, oh to waste space. Emil Frei's studios in St. Louis, I have followed for a long time, know how to go 8, 10, 12 feet in shades of gray in order to get a punctuation of a bright red flame of Pentecost. Well they're, they're really expressing what new kinds of glass can do. There are some things we can't do, a lot of things that medieval glassmen, there are a lot of secrets that are still lost to us, but we can do some things they can't do, and are beginning to.
Studs Terkel So in this sense there is the continuity returning if we can to Doxiadis' [truce's?] in the beginning. He wasn't, I think he was trying to say that we cut ourselves off too much from the past. Both of you disagreed that you think this continuity still runs through. So we're, perhaps just some last comments by Dr. Marty and Mr. Cooley. Mr. Cooley, does the church architect today, and again the conference is starting tomorrow at the Pick Congress through Thursday and various exhibitions seem quite rewarding and revealing to the people who will be there. It's open to everyone. You also have panels of course.
William Cooley Yes.
Studs Terkel Perhaps just to the church architect, your challenge today. The, the challenge with all that's happening. Obviously there is a revolution. That, the hushed up that Dr. Marty called it, less and less hushed up. This affects, obviously will affect what you're doing as an architect.
Dr. Martin Marty My goal, not being an architect, would be that the architect help us, who are the believers and the demonstrators and the witnesses, to see some things about ourselves and God and the world and other people that we would not have seen had we not employed him to help us see.
Studs Terkel Dr. Martin Marty, theologian from the Seminary at the University of Chicago, and may I suggest, may I re-recommend this magazine which I like very much, motive, it's published in Nashville, Tennessee and there's a piece in there by Dr. Marty, The Hushed Up Revolution I think is relatable to what we talked about, and Mr. Cooley who's responsible, the sparkplug of this particular conference of church architect-at the Pick Congress that's tomorrow through Thursday. And we have time to read just one, this, on the back page of motive, Jim Crane, who teaches at a Presbyterian College in Florida is also an artist. He calls it The Eighth Day. "This was a good place on the sixth day. We knew what we were about and it was all so clear. There was work and everyone had a part in it. We all felt as if it was near completion at last. We were exhilarated. Can you imagine what it's like to have perfection within your grasp? Who could have known. He hadn't seemed tired but the work must have exhausted him. On the seventh day he was dead. We gave him a marvelous funeral and built a perfectly elegant tomb in neo-gothic style. Then shock set in. By mid-afternoon the shock had worn off. Some simply denied that it had ever happened and went on pretending. Some were glad, had asserted that they didn't need him anyway since he was just an illusion, a creation of their own. What a night. What a night of nightmarish dreams. Were we too an illusion? Were we dead? Had day been the dream and were we awake for the first time? On the morning of the eighth day" and thus suspension points. On the morning of the eighth day. Thank you very much Dr. Marty, Mr. Cooley.