Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Modern Yet Traditional

I recently visited the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Kentucky, designed in the early 60s by Cincinnati architect Edward Schulte. Schulte is often considered too traditional for the Modernists and too modern for the traditionalists, but his work bridges a period in American church architecture which was often filled with unchurchly design in the name of modernity. As a young man, Schulte was a theater architect, but heard a lecture by church architect Ralph Adams Cram and gave his life to church design. Starting in the 1920s with very traditional Gothic work, Schulte eventually developed his own style, incorporating modernity without giving up theological content. Most of his work is in the Cincinnati and Covington area, but his churches appear in Chicago, Phoenix, Dallas and Iowa. He also designed the cathedrals for LaCrosse, Wisconsin and Salina, Kansas. Schulte insisted on custom designed appointments with theological significance, like the rail of the St. Joseph shrine shown here which combines the lily and the carpenter's square into the design. His materials were always of high quality, and no detail was left undesigned, including the holy water fonts and lights filled the crown imagery relevant to the church's dedication. He was also very conscious to include figural imagery of angels and saints in prominent places, always emphasizing the heavenly beings mystically present at the liturgy. Schulte's work reads today as something os a "period piece," but the quality of the design, craft and appointments is incredibly high. Schulte is an architect who can teach many lessons in carfeul design and craftsmanship to today's architects. He died in the late 60s and left behind an unpublished autobiography called "The Lord Was My Client."


JB Powers said...


Visit we beseech you: Where in Iowa did Ed Schulte get it going? That is one big State via landmass (and a pretty one too!).

Let's see...FL Wright and Lou Sullivan spent many years meandering Iowa blessing the heartland with great design. Did Schulte have an Iowa period?


Marcus Scotus said...

I've seen a few of these—what can we call them?—Decorated Modern churches, and some are very beautiful, especially because of their rich artwork. I recall one from 1960, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois, which has great mosaics.

Boots said...

I sometimes don't get much respect for the thought here at Notre Dame, but I believe there are some very good things to be learned from 20th century modernism, at least the modernism that still believed in tradition. The influence of Cram, who was a partner of Goodhue is a critical one. Goodhue worked in his later life with the Art Deco style, firmly modern while also firmly classical. I think his masterpiece was the Capitol of Nebraska. It blends seamlessly modern forms, modern constructions with the past.

Those who say that modern construction equals architecture without ANY reference to history are full of it.

Marcus Scotus said...

I think that it is difficult or impossible to simultaneously consider too many styles at once in either teaching or practicing an art. We are limited creatures, so right now it seems to me from the outside that the new traditional architecture schools are specializing in neoclassical to the exclusion of others, including Art Deco and Gothic.

That isn't a bad thing. If, all of a sudden, the teachers and students were forced to work in the many styles all at once, I would suggest that the results of this work would be comical, superficial, and ugly, and certainly each style would not be very well understood. Students of this approach would be merely dilettantes; some good work might come of it, but much would be terrible, too.

Doing Gothic right, for example, would require much research to discover and systematize its principles and to develop a teaching method. It can and should be done, I think, but shouldn't it be done systematically and comprehensively? I think the schools just need some more years to expand and develop their curriculums.

The Decorated Modern style perhaps was an attempt to adapt contemporary materials and construction techniques to the classical ideal of beauty. I think that's admirable and ought to be continued.

Boots said...

One must learn the principles before learning how to apply them. By learning the principles of architecture, the orders and classical language, one can express many things. Classical language is like tonality in music, its the framework in which to explore and create beauty. Without the ideals of firmness commodity and delight, without proportion, and techtonics you have essentially atonality.

This being said, places like Notre Dame are open to learning about new modern classical architecture, and still hold the line when it comes to forming the foundation in classicism. We could be better at it, but hey so could everyone.