Today has been a fascinating day. Initial thoughts: The DOCOMOMO-US symposium is full of passionate, welcoming people with a wide breadth of knowledge on late-twentieth century and recent architecture, but it has also reinforced what a niche it still is. Perhaps that’s largely a matter of its youth. Like earlier time periods in architectural history, architects are the first major source of support. Each era has taken time to be embraced by wider audiences and to extend beyond landmark buildings. Many attendees are preservationists or preservation architects, but the masterworks are the focus of content – not vernacular/popular modernism or non-urban modernism (at least not in Day 1). There was one presentation calling attention to the legacy of ‘forgotten’ local architects, which was a call that resonated with me. The speaker encouraged the audience to go back to primary sources to fill in the gaps that have yet to be enshrined in monographs and textbooks.
The first session I attended talked about regional modernism of Minnesota (mostly Twin Cities), Chicago, and Oregon (churches). The second was a discussion panel on social media and advocacy. In the afternoon, they brought us all together for a panel with children and one spouse of three influential architects and one architect-turned-architectural-photographer. Then we split up again and I joined a tour of Modernist churches in St. Paul. One of the churches was a design by Sioux Falls’ Harold Spitznagel for the Jehovah Lutheran Church. Despite being called one of the more “obscure” architects on the tour (which, I suppose, in context with Eliel and Eero Saarinen and others could be understandable… but it speaks to my later point), I found great resonance between Jehovah Lutheran and Our Savior’s Lutheran in Sioux Falls. The Saarinen church we visited, the 1949 Christ Church Lutheran (recently a National Historic Landmark), then greatly struck a chord to Spitznagel’s work, not only at Our Savior’s but also at least the exterior of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Sioux Falls. (A potential research avenue?)
They also announced that the proceedings of the symposium are going to be published, and video of the presentations will be going up on the DOCOMOMO-US/MN website.
Now for pictures, which are a fraction of those I actually took… First, Pillsbury Hall, a stunning Romanesque building, because I had a few minutes to kill before registration began this morning.
We met in Rapson Hall on the University of Minnesota campus.
On the Modern Worship tour in St. Paul, we visited the Church of St. Columba, 1951, by Barry Byrne. I believe Byrne also designed the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Pierre.
Then we had a wonderful tour from long-time member of the 1956 Mt. Zion Temple on Summit Avenue, designed by German-born architect Erich Mendelsohn, who had to leave Berlin in the wake of Nazi expansion. Two architects discussed at earlier panels had come to the U.S. from Europe for the same reason (or close to it). Our guide talked about the postwar Jewish community wanting a design that announced their continued survival in the world – “We are here.” She also talked about the incorporation of significant numbers (like ten and seven) as well as Hebrew characters into the fabric of the design.
The third stop was the Weyerhauser Memorial Chapel at Macalester College, designed by Dewey Thorbeck with the firm Cerny Associates in 1968. Cerny Associates apparently had a legacy of incubating young architectural talent.
Fourth was South Dakota architect Harold Spitznagel’s Jehovah Lutheran Church, from 1963.
The final stop was a relatively newly-designated National Historic Landmark, Christ Church Lutheran, which has a sanctuary and church designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1949, and a corresponding education/admin wing designed by his son Eero Saarenin in 1962. The preparer of the National Register and National Historic Landmark designations was our guide. It was an early and influential piece of modern religious architecture that embraced the warmth and spirituality that modernism could offer. The pastor also spoke briefly and indicated that, in the postwar era, the German-Lutheran congregation wanted a “new” church in more ways than one.