Friday, March 19, 2010

Duncan Stroik in the Wall Street Journal

In the Wall Street Journal for March 18, 2010, there is an article which features the work of architect Duncan Stroik, A Return to Grace by Catesby Leigh. The full article gives some critical considerations but is generably a favourable piece.

Here are some excerpts.

A Return to Grace

Though its documents say nothing about abandoning traditional Roman Catholic architecture, the "spirit" of the Second Vatican Council has served as justification for doing precisely that. Hence, for example, the Catholic cathedrals in Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., erected during the past decade—the one a concrete behemoth, the other a glazed, truncated cone. Is ersatz-traditional schlock the only alternative?

The answer is no, as two new churches designed by Duncan Stroik, a 48-year-old, Yale-educated professor at Notre Dame's architecture school, powerfully attest. As a designer, lecturer and founding editor of the journal Sacred Architecture, Mr. Stroik has labored long and hard to reconnect Catholic artistic patronage with its ancient heritage.

Mr. Stroik's Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, outside the small Mississippi River city of La Crosse, and his chapel for Thomas Aquinas College, northwest of Los Angeles, employ a complex high-classical architectural vocabulary. But they resonate in very different ways; each feels unique. Each also reflects the vision of a hands-on client.


The baldachin, an elaborate canopy modeled on the one in Santa Maria Maggiore, one of Rome's four major basilicas, intensifies the interior's spatial effect and endows it with a monumental focus, while striking brilliant color counterpoints with the background, whether through its rich profusion of golden-hued detail or the ruddy tints of its column shafts of rosso francia marble.


...Mr. Stroik's Thomas Aquinas College chapel, beautifully situated in the foothills of the Los Padres National Forest, does benefit from its stylistic unity... From the flanking three-tiered, 135-foot-tall Spanish baroque tower, bells call the college's 350 students to Mass three times daily.

Inside, the focus is once again on a baldachin. In this instance, swirling bronze Solomonic columns and an exuberant superstructure were inspired by Bernini's baldachin at St. Peter's. Otherwise the decorative program for the interior is much simpler than at the shrine...

Precisely because of the chapel interior's relative simplicity, the consistent refinement of its architectural detail is the more conspicuous...


Mastering the classical architectural vocabulary, as Mr. Stroik has done, is hard. But these important churches serve as a timely reminder that mastering the classical representation of the human figure is harder still.

Mr. Leigh writes about public art and architecture for the Journal.

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