Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, July 8, 2019

German Expressionist Churches

Notre dame du Chêne, Viroflay, France, 1966,
Louis, Luc, and Thierry Sainsaulieu, architects.
I've traveled over much of Europe and seen quite a number of ecclesiastic architectural masterpieces, and if you're like me you have a pretty firm grasp on what a monumental church should look like. That is, they would be Gothic, enormous in scale, soaring to awe-inspiring heights, graced with acres and acres of colorful stained glass, and decorated in excess with stone carvings, everything from saints to gargoyles. Most such churches took decades, sometimes centuries to erect with iconic, world-famous profiles such as Paris' Notre Dame and Rome's St. Peter's Basilica. If that's what you picture in your mind's eye, you're obviously unfamiliar with German Expressionist architecture, in this case as applied to churches.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tokyo, Japan. 1964, Kenzo Tange, architect.
The war touched the churches of Japan as well.
Several factors come together to produce such architectural works of art. First, Germany has long been a hotbed of Expressionism, whether in painting, poetry, music, drama, sculpture or, in this case, architecture. Second, in the aftermath of WWII, many, if not most of the monumental churches of Europe sustained varying degrees of bomb damage from superficial to smithereens. In some cases, reconstruction was out of the question. Building anew offered economic savings, modern day practicality, and opportunities for budding postwar architects to stretch their wings.
Grundtvigs kirken, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1921-40,  Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint, architect.
Copenhagen’s Grundtvig’s Church (above) is a rare example of expressionist church architecture, and one of the most beautiful, not to mention well-known churches in that Danish city. The commission for the construction of a church to be named after the Danish philosopher and hymn writer N. F. S. Grundtvig was decided through a competition, won by Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint in 1913. The foundation of the new church was only laid after World War I, in 1921. Building took place mainly from 1921 to 1926 when the tower section was completed, leading to the initial inauguration of the so-called Tower Church in 1927. Further work on the interior and on adjacent buildings continued until 1940 and was completed by Klint's son Kaare Klint after his father's death in 1930. The church stands at the center of a residential development also in yellow brick, designed by Jensen-Klint in harmony with the church. The most striking feature of the building is its west façade, reminiscent of a westwork or of the exterior of a church organ. It includes the 160 ft. (49 meters) tall bell tower. The imposing façade with its strong verticality guides the eyes towards the sky. The bottom half of the tower is simple brick while the upper reaches present the appearance of one solid, rippling surface. Klint decorated the nave with a version of the stepped gables common on Danish churches, but reinterpreted by doubling the apex. The nave was designed with generous dimensions: the triple-aisled hall church is 259 ft. (76 meters) long in total and 115 ft. (35 meters) wide; the nave has a height of 72 ft. (22 meters). The interior, inspired by Gothic architecture and comparable in size to Copenhagen cathedral, fits a congregation of 1,440. Some five million yellow bricks, a typical Danish building material, were used for the edifice. In its floor plan, the interior resembles that of a typical Gothic church with a nave, two lateral aisles and a small transept. Its proportions are also Gothic: a long, narrow nave, an extremely high ceiling, the columns which rise up to pointed arches and the ribbed groin vaults above the nave and aisles. But it is the yellow brick and the lack of ornamentation which contribute to the Gothic verticality while adhering to the minimalist modern aesthetic. The church boasts two pipe organs.

Saint Moritz, Augsburg, Germany, 2013, John Pawson, architect.
Expression mixes with minimalism.
The church of St Moritz has been through many changes since its foundation nearly a thousand years ago. Devastating fires, changes in liturgical practice, aesthetic evolution and wartime bombing have each left their mark on the fabric of the building. The purpose of this latest intervention has been to retune the existing architecture, from an aesthetic, functional, and liturgical perspectives, with considerations of the sacred atmosphere always at the heart of the project. The work has involved the meticulous paring away of selected elements of the church’s complex fabric and the relocation of certain artifacts, to achieve a clearer visual field. Drawing on existing forms and elements of vocabulary, an architectural language has evolved that is recognizable in subtle ways as something new, yet has no jarring foreign elements. Augsburg is approximately a one hour drive from Munich. Stripping back, cleaning up, re-surfacing and adding the cleanest palest of materials, Architect, John Pawson has lifted the interior out of its historic straitjacket to a seemingly ethereal realm. The thin slices of onyx replacing the existing glass of the apse window completely reinforces this feeling.

Opstandingskerk, Amsterdam, 1956, Marius Duintjer, architect.
Architect Marius Duintjer is well-known for his large-scale projects like the ABN AMRO building at Vijzelstraat and the Nederlandse Bank at Frederiksplein, both in Amsterdam. These buildings are controversial for their use of ‘brutal’ concrete supposedly to create an atmosphere of tranquillity and space. They were not well-received by the people and their popular nicknames were not at all flattering. Visual artist Jan Rothuizen called the ABN AMRO office ‘a stranded cruise ship’ and in the eyes of the writer Rudy Kousbroek building the Nederlandse Bank where the Paleis voor Volksvlijt (Palace of Folk Industry). Others termed it "the most extreme act of vandalism in Amsterdam after the war." Duintjer once work for Le Corbusier. Still, he cannot be seen as a functionalist like his famous master. Duintjer’s oeuvre is diverse. This is evident when you compare the bank buildings to the various churches he designed, for which he does receive popular acclaim. Whereas concrete is the main material for his office buildings, light constitutes the most important element for his churches. In addition to the building where the services are held, the Opstandingskerk (Church of the Resurrection) in Bos en Lommer also contains a rectory and a community center. The impressive high windows in the nave demonstrate how light with its strong symbolic value became the leitmotif of the design. The church’s exterior stands out for its 48-metre high bell tower which gave it its nickname "de Kolenkit" (the coal scuttle). This too is the vox populi speaking.
Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz, Berlin, Germany, 1933, Johann Freidrich Höger, architect.
Kirche am Hohenzollernplatz (Church at Hohenzollernplatz) is the church of the Evangelical Congregation at Hohenzollernplatz, a member of today's Protestant umbrella Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia. The church is located at the eastern side of Hohenzollernplatz square in Berlin's borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. The building is considered one of the premier pieces of Germany's Brick Expressionism. In 1927 the then wealthy congregation, whose parish then comprised the locality of Wilmersdorf, decided to build an additional church in the north of its parish. The congregation held a competition. Six or more architecture firms handed in their projects. An architect named Fritz Höger prevailed with the design of the architect Ossip Klarwein, who started to work with Höger by 1921. The construction lasted from 1930 to 1933. In March, 1933, the church was inaugurated. Soon after Klarwein, his wife and son emigrated to Mandatory Palestine, because of the Nazi takeover. Hohenzollernplatz is a testimonial to the unique quality of expressionist church architecture in Berlin. The naming of the church after the square was originally a solution for the time being, until another name might be chosen. Meanwhile the name became a brand, even though the debate goes on.
If you're one who thought all churches should be
beautiful, inside and out, this German expressionist
example of Art Brute might change your mind.


No comments:

Post a Comment