100 Churches 100 Years by Susannah Charlton, Elain Harwood & Clare Price (edd) - review by Jonathan Meades

Jonathan Meades

Happy-Clappy Brutalism

100 Churches 100 Years


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During an interview conducted in 1959, Clement Attlee said that while he believed in the ethics of Christianity, he could not believe in ‘the mumbo-jumbo’. Most intelligent people of his generation would doubtless have agreed with him. Among those intelligent people were neophiliac theologians, architecturally inclined priests, ecumenicists, Catholics, Anglicans and champions of vernacular prayer who broadly welcomed the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, not yet realising that they presaged guitar-toting vicars strumming ‘Kumbaya’ and drab worship spaces littered with leaflets begging for contributions to missions in Africa. Established in 1957, the New Churches Research Group, led by the Hellenophile priest and ecclesiastical architectural theorist Peter Hammond, wished to create Anglican churches that sought, in the words of Elain Harwood, ‘an architecture without “tricks”’. An architecture, then, that accorded with certain British secular norms of the time. The influence of theatre in the round and the removal of the fourth wall cannot be underestimated, nor that of the lecture spaces of the new universities.

This architecture abjured the neo-expressionism that was fashionable in France, Switzerland, Austria and, most significantly, Germany (church design is as susceptible to fashion as lapel width or forms of governance). The architecture of Gottfried Böhm, Walter Maria Förderer and Fritz Wotruba is dense with tricks. Böhm’s Mariendom (1963)

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