Painting iconoclasm

After the reformation, the darkness of medieval churches came to symbolize pagan superstition as much as the icons. So, many churches were painted white, from the stone or from previous colored patterns. The bright, flat spaces were so cool painters, couldn’t help themselves.

 Pieter Saenredam, 1649.

 Pieter Saenredam, 1650.

Emanuel de Witte, 1661.

Emanuel de Witte, 1668.

Dirk van Delen, 1645.

Or, When the Cathedrals Were White, actually.

Something old and something new in Southwest

While back in DC recently, I took a look around Southwest DC. There’s much to see, but not much to say. So let me highlight two interesting projects. The first is Hense Brewer’s repainting of the Friendship Baptist Church building behind the old Randall School. I think it’s a pretty cool way to wait out a development project, at the least.

The Randall School itself has been intermittently poised to become a boutique something or another since 2006, when the Corcoran and Monument Realty bought it. Neither of those institutions is doing so well right now, but Telesis and the Rubell Foundation, a major contemporary art collection,  have plans to put an apartment-museum building behind the heritage buildings, with Bing Thom designing. We shall see, yes? The other is Capitol Park Plaza, a midcentury building, which has a surprisingly warm facade for the period.

No surprise to discover that this is one of the buildings in the area designed by Chloethiel Woodard Smith. A noted local architect who happened to be a woman at the time when that raised eyebrows, Smith was quite shrewd here, registering the slab form with details that let humans comfortably occupy austere forms. First, she used tiles to enclose private porches. These balconies are massed in vertical lines at either end and staggered in the middle. This detail diminishes the monotony and overwhelming scale of the building without losing the exhilaration of long lines. The balconies also allow the roof to extend over the building envelope, reducing leaks, while keeping a strong outer volumetric edge that expresses the modernist formal fixation of a flat, uniform edge.  The pure geometry of modernist architecture can be difficult or expensive to register in actual building, so in a compromise, Smith simply implies it.



New St. Thomas Church Looks Good

I hadn’t heard much news about the new sanctuary in a while, but I came across this video, and the design looks great. The project has definitely improved since I last looked over it in 2010. The architect, Auraform, seems to be using materials very deliberately, so it will be interesting to see how those choices produce and affect and carry the design.

I am particularly fond of the way the roof overhang at the entrance relates to the cross, as a both a sign and as a part of the composition. The visceral handling of the ruins of the old church, towards the end of the video, is certainly reminiscent of Zumthor’s Kolumba Art Museum, with attached exterior windows that owe a lot to Sigurd Lewerentz‘s St. Peter’s, Klippan.  There’s a lot going on in the building.

DC has recently gained a strong set of  exceptional modern churches, of which this building will certainly be one. Jarvis, at least, worked for well-published hermitect Peter Zumthor and the less reclusive local rising  star, David Jameson.