Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Look at the Architectural Work of Ethan Anthony and HDB/Cram and Ferguson

The topic of sacred architecture has been raised here quite a bit of late, specifically as it pertains to the sanctuary and altar. However, recently I was reminded again of some work by the architect Ethan Anthony particularly, and HDB/Cram and Ferguson generally, which struck me. Specifically I am thinking of the architecture Syon Abbey in Virginia -- an abbey that follows the Benedictine rule, but whose monks are not in full communion with Rome (and while I feel compelled to mention this, my sole concern is for the architecture).

HDB/Cram and Ferguson, who our own architectural correspondent, Matthew Alderman, has often made reference to, are to my mind a firm which has produced some of the very finest examples of modern day sacred architecture in traditional styles. I have been particularly pleased by their approach to mediaeval forms of ecclesiastical architecture. Indeed, too often post-gothic revival attempts at these styles come across rather poorly and blandly -- no doubt for pragmatic reasons; namely the money made available for a project by those commissioning it. That is not the case here. (This said, I also want to be clear that I am not disparaging the other fine architects and architectural firms that exist, and which we have often featured here upon the NLM.)

If I were to analyze why these particular projects have been so successful, I believe a significant factor is the traditional materials they employ. Quality stone, as would be seen in traditional architecture of this variety, features prominently in these projects -- stone of rather pleasing varieties which have a particular warmth and inviting quality to them I would add. In addition to this, there is a particular attention to the architectural details that made these styles so particularly appealing historically, be it in the details of the forms themselves or simply in the colours employed.

Of course, rather than simply discuss this, what seems best is to simply show you the projects in question, with these considerations in mind, letting you make your own considerations.

As I have often noted of recent, the project of giving consideration to why certain manifestations of the sacred arts and architecture are particular edifying is an important exercise, especially for those of you in a position to commission these things, or who might be in the future. I am hopeful that by bringing these various examples to you in the various realms of sacred art, it will assist you in your future projects and pursuits, giving you, even if only in a small way, some standard of judgement.

With that, the NLM is pleased to present to you three projects of HDB/Cram and Ferguson. (The descriptions come from the website of the architects.)

Syon Abbey, Copper Hill, Virginia

"Syon Abbey is a community of Benedictine monks located on the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, near Roanoke. In early 2000, HDB was commissioned to design a Gothic Church and monastic buildings. The designs were inspired by our study of ruined English monasteries. Constructed from imported Spanish limestone, the monastery was completed in the fall of 2007."

(Please note that this picture shows the building still as a work in progress, not yet complete. Note the stone and its warm tonality, and the detailing on the tower, the rose window and also above the door, as well as the proportions of the structure.)

(The interior is unfinished in this photo, but the inclusion of the warm coloured stone inside is certainly worth highlighting of its own accord.)

(A view of the interior of the Cloister)

Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston, Texas

"This recently completed new Gothic church in roughly hewn Texas limestone is located in the Spring Branch section of Houston, Texas, off Wirt Road. The church accomodates 300 worshippers and celebrants. One of the transepts houses a shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham and was built to the exact size of the legendary Walsingham Holy House, destroyed by Henry VIII during the Reformation. Carpentry and stonework are in the manner of medieval churches found near the site of the Walshingham miracle. Stained glass was made by the Willet Studio in Philadelphia. Gargoyles by local sculptors ward off evil spirits from the four corners of the tower."

(Do again note the stone and the detailing around the doors and windows.)

(Note the timber roof.)

(The addition of a timber porch mounted with a cross was a nice touch.)

St. John Neumann, Farragut, Tennessee

"St. John Neumann Catholic Church, a Romanesque-style Church that seats over 1,000, is currently in the final phase of completion. The building will include a Day Chapel and an Adoration Chapel. St. John Neumann Church is inspired by Romanesque churches of the Burgandy region in France, which saw the finest and earliest development of Romanesque architecture."

(A beautiful Romanesque structure, again, with a very nice stone and the use of the orange tiled roof is another beautiful aspect of the building. The ornamental additions at the roofline as also an important inclusion.)

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