Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New World Byzantine - The Work of Andrew Gould

I have continually been impressed with the ability of our brethren in the Eastern Churches, both in communion with Rome and those tragically separated, to preserve their liturgical and artistic heritage in spite of the setbacks of the sixties. Even their more experimental designs, such as Frank Lloyd Wright's clever if outre Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, or the glass-walled Eastern Catholic church of St. Mary's in New York, partake in the tradition in their own way, more successfully than most of our own more modern western-rite parishes.

One large part of this lies in the more disciplined, formalized nature of the ancient Byzantine artistic tradition itself, as it has grown over the centuries. Such traditions should not be seen as frozen in time, or primitive, as they have their own share of richly-developed complexities. It is, however, specific to a certain cultural and liturgical framework. To adopt such a model outright for the West would deny our own local traditions (just as "Latinization" has been such a tragedy for the East), but at the same time, there is still much we can learn from the East in its respectful, careful, loving transmission of tradition from generation to generation, as well as the rich, complex growth of its iconographic system over the centuries.

Furthermore, in terms of church architecture, on a practical level, they usually know how to make even the humblest storefront church breathe the odor of sanctity, and with relatively little embellishment. When they are able to come into a more extensive budget, the results are always magical. One architect doing amazing work in this line is Andrew Gould, whose firm, New World Byzantine (which he shares with fellow principal George Holt) is based in Charleston, South Carolina. His work condenses the whole of Byzantine liturgical tradition into a repertoire of simple, potent forms, without falling into abstraction, and at the same time not neglecting the American (frequently Southern) environment of his work, such as the design above, for a parish in Texas, that has aspects simultaneously Greek and Spanish-American, and looks very much at home in the Lone Star state. Another parish has outbuildings that resemble, quite wonderfully, a Shaker farm as built by Athonite monks. (Some of his churches are located in New Urbanist developments, incidentally, reestablishing the civic context of practiced traditional religion. One is actually derived partially from medieval precedents.) He has also prudently provided for future space in his interiors for frescoes, to be added as money allows, so the church becomes not only his vision, but a work of several generations as the parish churches of Europe once were.

In these cases, it is best to simply let the work speak for itself, so have a look:

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