Modern Sacred Architecture

Building Saint John’s Abbey Church: Breuer and the Benedictines (Prof. Victoria Young)

Prof. Victoria Young’s recent book, Saint John’s Abbey Church: Marcel Breuer and the Creation of a Modern Sacred Space, reveals the midcentury story of how the world’s largest Benedictine abbey decided to hire an a reputable but untested religious architect to design their church, the central element in a larger campus and monastic expansion. From a who’s who of the architectural stars of modernism, including Barry Bryne, Walter Gropius, Richard Neutra, Eero Saarinen, Rudolf Schwarz and others, Breuer and his team created a sculpted concrete building that responded to and shaped the new liturgical ideas being championed by the Benedictines, reenvisioning what a church could be and setting a worldwide standard for midcentury religious design. Dr. Young will present the dialogue of the design process, as Breuer instructed the monks about architecture and they in turn guided him and his associates with their knowledge of Catholicism, monasticism, and liturgical reform. A reading of letters, drawings, and other archival materials shows how these conversations gave shape to design elements from the church’s floor plan to the liturgical furnishings, art, and incomparable stained glass installed within it.

In His Service: Ninian Comper and All Saints Sisters of the Poor (Dr Ayla Lepine)

Dr Ayla Lepine’s research on the rich intersections between twentieth-century British architects and Anglican monastic communities brings together theology and visual culture in order to craft an account of how and why powerful centres of religious life for women were involved in the production of radically innovative sacred spaces. In several projects for textiles, stained glass, sculpture and architecture between c.1910 and 1960, the All Saints Sisters of the Poor commissioned key architects – chiefly the Scottish designer Ninian Comper – to produce material in collaboration with their own particular skills and interests. Newly discovered archival material from the ASSP workrooms illuminates this discussion of a unique partnership between a leading architect and a group of internationally important women whose devotion to God inspired a substantive and vibrant creative centre that interlaced monasticism and its medieval precedents with a sharply modern articulation of sacred traditions.

Victoria Young is professor of modern architectural history and chair of the Art History Department at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is the author of Saint John’s Abbey Church: Marcel Breuer and the Creation of Modern Sacred Space (University of Minnesota Press, 2014). Her book was included on Architectural Record’s 2014 Book Round Up and it has been heralded by in a review by Norman Weinstein for ArchNewsNow as “the first great architectural history of the 21st century.” Young’s interest in monastic sacred space goes back to her 2002 publication about a monastic house in Leicestershire, “A.W.N. Pugin’s Mount Saint Bernard Abbey: The International Character of England’s Nineteenth-Century Monastic Revival,” in the journal Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide.
Her current research focuses on contemporary war museum design, specifically the architectural story of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans (2003-present), designed by Voorsanger Architects of New York City.
Dr Young is second vice president of the Society of Architectural Historians and has served as a member of Minnesota’s State Historic Review Board and Governor’s Residence Council. She has a B.A. from New York University and M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.

Dr Ayla Lepine is a Visiting Fellow in Art History at the University of Essex and an Ordinand at Westcott House, Cambridge. She is a specialist in Gothic Revival architecture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and is completing a monograph, Medieval Metropolis: The Middle Ages and Modern Architecture in Britain and America, to be published with Bloomsbury in 2017. She has published articles in leading journals including Architectural History and Visual Resources. She has co-edited volumes including Revival: Memories, Identities, Utopias for Courtauld Books Online (2015). Her essays have appeared in collections including Religion and Art in the Heart of Modern Manhattan (Ashgate, 2015) and The New Elizabethan Age: Culture, Society and Identity After World War II (I B Tauris, 2016). She is a trustee of Art and Christianity Enquiry. Lepine’s work on monasticism began in her MA and PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art with her focus on the architectural practice of G F Bodley and Thomas Garner, and Bodley’s work for the Anglican Society of St John the Evangelist. She has developed this research area through research fellowships at the Courtauld and Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music, and in her current roles at Essex and Cambridge.

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25 Jan 2017

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London