Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Industrial Revolution Redux

Back in October this year (2012), I had the chance to attend the Trimble Sketchup Basecamp in Boulder CO. Sketchup is my go-to program for architectural design and modeling -- the ability to first think through a complex design, and then communicate it to a client and the contractor or builder, is invaluable.

For instance: here is the tabernacle canopy and altar of repose designed for St Paul Catholic Church in Pensacola FL, with the original Sketchup illustration and the final furnishings built by Gary Garner (wood altar) and Brian Donahue (bronze canopy, tabernacle lamp, and cast finials).

A series of lovely angel faces, executed in porcelain and mother of pearl, made by Joan DiStefano Ruiz, fill the tops of the lancet arches to support the tabernacle base.

In the past 10 years the developments in computer-based three dimensional design and communication have brought amazing horsepower into the hands of the small businesses, artisans, and hobbyists at a very affordable price. This has been the fruit of the technological revolution in our present Information Age. But so far, the economical availability of this technology has largely been limited to one- and two-dimensional outputs: data crunching, various sorts of graphic manipulation such as digital imaging, word processing, spreadsheets, CAD systems, and the like. This is all changing with the advent of 3-D printing, which is now being made available to the small user at a very economical price-point, such as the Replicator2 by MakerBot. At the Sketchup BaseCamp in Boulder, Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot gave the keynote and introduced the new Replicator2. The video is worth watching.


Deciding to get a 3D printer was an immediate and obvious choice: at about $2200.00, the ability to present my ideas and help my clients visual the designs in three-dimensional models was  immensely attractive. The Replicator works by heating, melting and layering plastic in 3D space on a build platform that moved up and down (the Z axis) while the heating/extruding "print head" moves along a gantry frame to control the lateral placement (the X and Y axes) -- sort of like a 2D printer puts a dot of color on a specific place on a page in the X-Y plan, but this adds the depth of the Z-axis.  The plastic is PLA (Polylactic Acid), which is a corn based, biodegradable plastic that has very good dimensional stability and strength. The plastic is spool loaded as a filament (think of really thick fishing line) that is fed into the heating element to be surgically placed in the model. The plastic comes in  wide range of colors. 

For my first test, I decided on a household project.  One of the sliding closet doors had a broken bottom track guide.  It was probably 25 years old, and pretty beat up.  I probably could have run down to Home Depot and bought a new one for $7.00, but why not see what this Replicator can do?

 I made a quick model of guide in Sketchup, carefully measuring and building the geometry -- this took about 15 or 20  minutes.

 As can be seen in the section cut below, the upstands for the door guides are hollow and the screw holes were countersunk in the original piece, so I added these details.

 I saved the Sketchup model as in an *.STL format (stereo lithography), which is now included in Sketchup, which is then imported into Makerbot's its own proprietary MakerWare software. MakerWare effortlessly imported the STL model (makerWare has its own proprietary *.thing format), but it was imported in metric, which is easily rescaled with the Scale>"Inches->mm" button. This program takes the Sketchup geometry and creates the 3D horizontal slices instructing the extruder head where to place the melted plastic.

Since my computer was not hooked up by USB to the Replicator2 (in which case, simply go to File>Export>Make It), I exported to *.S3G format for the Replicator2, selecting the PLA material and in medium quality, all easily controlled by the export function menu, and saved to an SD Flash card for the built-in SD card reader. I then turned on the replicator2, went through the set-up procedure to load the filament and level the build platform (very clear and easy to follow instructions in the Owner's manual and on the built in LCD screen), and set the machine to print.

Here is a sequence of photos showing the way the foot print is first laid down in melted plastic, then slowly built up layer by layer.

 Here's a side view to give a better idea of how the layers are built up.

The whole process on "medium quality" (think of this as "resolution" in a 2D image) took 56 minutes to build. Here's some video of the Replicator2 in action:

Here are some photos comparing the original to the new piece.

And the new piece installed:

The bottom line is that affordable 3D printing is a gamechanger for small design firms, and hobbiests. The PLA can be even used in lost wax casting to make molds for poured metals such as bronze, gold, copper, aluminum, tin, silver, and white metals. The quality right off the printer is certainly acceptable for many uses (I have not yet experimented with the high quality setting) and the plastic can be further worked with filling and sanding to achieve a higher level finish if needed. We can assume, just as dot matrix was once the state of the industry, that resolution and speed will only improve over time.

The most important thing is that this sort of technology opens up economic opportunity for all sorts of custom building of spare parts and one-off designs.  I wouldn't be surprised if in the next decade these sorts of 3D printers are as almost as common in small businesses and homes as now virtually everyone has 2D printers that produce high quality photo images.

The next Industrial Revolution may just be small scale, home based micro businesses.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Signs and Symbols of the Heavenly Realities"

In a recent blog, Fr. Dwight Longenecker commented on the loss of the "sacramental vision" in our approach to Catholic church design:
"We’ve downgraded the physical. We’ve said those things don’t matter. In fact, there’s a sort of modern iconoclasm. We not only say these physical things don’t matter we distrust them. We tear them down and throw them out in favor of bare auditoria with seats in. Protestants have always done so from the beginning, but now Catholics have done so too."
Why is that? It is not simply a need to do things on the cheap. It is not simply a need to be utilitarian and build a practical and sensible structure. At the root it is a distrust in the physical means of grace. It is a distrust and dislike for what Catholics might call “the sacramental principle.” The sacramental principle is the idea that God comes to us through the physical world. The physical world is how he comes to us and reveals himself to us. This is the whole meaning of the story of creation and God’s revelation through history which culminates in the triumph of God’s revelation through the physical world–which is the incarnation of his Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
As he eloquently explains it:
"The sacramental principle keeps this alive in the world. Catholics say insist that matter matters. God still comes to us through the physical realm. That’s why some of us (despite the degradations of modernism) insist on building beautiful churches, why we insist on beautiful vestmenst, statues and stained glass, lighting candles, kneeling to pray, burning incense and wearing crucifixes. This is why we as Catholics believe that through water one is united with Christ, through bread and wine we participate in his body and blood, through oil we are forgiven and healed, through physical love we are united with our spouse, through the laying on of hands we are ordained and made deacons, priests and bishops."
But what is most cutting and penetrating is his final analysis:

"The underlying reason for the poverty of modern Catholic church architecture is more troubling than merely the fact that people have erected cheap, ugly buildings for worship. The underlying reason is that modern American Catholics have actually departed from their own Catholic belief in the sacraments."

"La Trinité" by Jean Fouquet
Fr. Dwight's analysis is a comforting confirmation of what I've been thinking about as I've been rewriting the Introduction for a second edition of Architecture in Communion (soon to be again available in hard copy and ebook):

"To state it plainly, the central problem with contemporary Catholic architecture is a sacramental problem. 
"For nearly two thousand years, Catholics have been worshiping and building places of worship intended for participation in the eternal liturgy: the angels and saints in perpetual adoration of the Trinity, Christ eternally offering himself to the Father for the redemption of all of creation, Christ’s faithful on earth offering our lives sacrificially in conjunction with the gifts of the altar through the ministerial priest for the glory of God. 
"The Heavenly Jerusalem" by Gustave Doré
"All this happens in an earthly liturgy that is both a foretaste and a promise of heavenly reality revealed in Revelation, when all the saints shall dwell again in that new Jerusalem which is at once the reestablishment of the Desert Tabernacle as God’s dwelling among us, the consummation of the wedding between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church, the Church revealed as the City of God in which the Temple is restored and the Glory of the Lord returns, in which all nations and God’s holy people shall be united in the restored and renewed Garden:
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth are gone, and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, and made ready as a bride is arrayed for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne saying: Behold, the tabernacle of God among men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be among them and shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall not be any more, nor shall sorrow nor lamentation nor pain be any more, because the first things have gone. And he who sat upon the throne said: Behold, I make all things new.  (Rev 21:1-5) 
And yet more striking:
I saw no temple in it; for the Lord God almighty is its temple, and the Lamb. And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God illuminates it, and it lamp is the Lamb. (Rev 21:22-23)
"Adoration of the Lamb" by Van Eyck
"The apocalyptic vision of Revelation 21 and 22 is a symphonic recapitulation of the entire symbol-structure of the Bible: the major themes of body, sustenance, dwelling, marriage, community, order, governance, presence, sanctification, restoration, communion, worship, illumination, and glorification are all woven into a liturgical and architectural tapestry that serves as a hermeneutical key to understanding the Church’s symbolic framework. This framework serves as a matrix for the liturgy and for church architecture as integral to the contemplative, imaginative, and devotional life the faithful. 
"In these passages we understand that the Church herself is the sacramental reality spoken of in the Scriptures: the Garden, the desert tabernacle, Emmanuel (“God is with us”), the temple, the Bride of the Groom, the Lamb, the Glory (Shekinah) of the Temple, lux sum mundi, the heavenly City of the new Jerusalem, and the restored Garden with the tree of life. All these images are suddenly understood in sharp and lucid relationship to one another as different presentations of the same eternal and heavenly reality. All these are sacramental signs of Christ and the Church, and so all serve as the basic vocabulary of any architectural, artistic, or liturgical attempt to communicate what Vatican Two calls “signs and symbols of the heavenly realities.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #288)
The anti-sacramental space of modern liturgy

"Without understanding the symbolic structure that informs the sacramental life of the Church, without understanding the language of sacramental mediation between God and humanity through the figures and signs by which our relationship with God is both expressed and realized, without a robust recovery and reappropriation of the grammar and vocabulary and syntax of liturgical architecture –the language of the Mass, the language of the sacraments, the language of the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Heavenly City –there can be no meaningful Catholic architecture. Mere “building” cannot serve the intrinsically transcendent, eschatological, and sacramental aspects of the liturgy; nor can it properly engage the human person and the community gathered by Christ in the fullness of our humanity as thinking, feeling, sensing, acting persons who have been given both memory and imagination to transcend the “here and now” such that we can enter into the timelessness and otherness of divine worship. 
"This is why I insist that the problem of contemporary Catholic architecture is first and foremost a sacramental question. For the past 50 years, though the roots of the problem go back a generation or two earlier, we have forgotten what it means to build churches that are “signs and symbols of the heavenly realities.” We have forgotten the concerns of Pope St. Pius X, who inaugurated the Liturgical Movement, that our main concern is “without question that of maintaining and promoting the decorum of the House of God in which the august mysteries of religion are celebrated.” We have traded in the “beauty and sumptuousness of the temple” for cheap, utilitarian, antisymbolic, and illiterate meeting spaces. We have lost sight of the central idea that “active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church” –an active participation that requires the fullness of our humanity –recommends careful concern for “the sanctity and dignity of the temple.” (St. Pius X, Tra le sollectitudini)  How can liturgical renewal happen if our actual principles of practice seem rather to obstruct the sacramental operation of the church building, both by failing to support the liturgy and by failing to properly inform the souls of the Catholic faithful? 
"The sacraments and sacramentals are necessary, and they work, because we are incarnate rational beings –body and soul –and thus demand an intelligible and coherent language of signs, symbols, forms, patterns, gestures, actions, and words to fully engage us in the dignity of our humanity. We are always in history, we are always in our culturally contingent circumstances, we are always limited by our own human condition, which is all the more reason that the church buildings and the manner in which we worship should aim for the perennial, for the timeless, for the universal, and for the eternal. That our recent church buildings keep us mired in the “here and now” through a banality of forms and materials, with a claustrophobic immanence that never allows the heart and mind to move beyond that constraints of the gathering space, and with a liturgical and iconographic illiteracy that frustrates our aspirations for union and communion with God and each other in Christ, is a matter of the gravest concern. 
"If Churchill was correct in his observation that, “first we shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us,” it is small wonder that our church buildings fail help us understand the sacramental, transcendent, and eschatological basis of the Mass, and perhaps even hinder the full reception of the graces of the sacraments that the church building is intended to support. Pius X’s warning proves prescient: “And it is vain to hope that the blessing of heaven will descend abundantly upon us, when our homage to the Most High, instead of ascending in the odor of sweetness, puts into the hand of the Lord the scourges wherewith of old the Divine Redeemer drove the unworthy profaners from the Temple.” (St. Pius X, Tra le sollectitudini)

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)

"With now a half century in retrospect since the opening of the Vatican Council, we can have some heightened sense of objectivity and understanding of the currents and fashions, both cultural and liturgical, that affected not only the Council but more importantly the implementation and the reception of the liturgical principles promoted by the Council. With the inevitable detachment that time and distance create, we can now look more objectively at the shifts during the 1960s and 70s toward the democratic and egalitarian in reaction to the (perhaps overly) formalistic, hierarchical, and rubrical liturgical sensibilities of the Church since Trent, and toward the immanent and experiential away from the transcendental and eschatological. We can better understand the romantic search for more ‘authentic’ models of community, mission, and liturgy supposedly to be found in the early Church, and can see the limitations of a merely local and communitarian view of liturgy to the frustration of the universal and fully ecclesiastical. We can better evaluate the real and lasting goods of the various trends of fashion, innovations, and experiments ascribed to the “spirit of the Council”, whether of church arrangement, artistic style and architectural expression, ministerial roles and lay participation, liturgical language, musical forms, bodily gestures and postures, and the like.
Underpinning these observations is a central principle: that the essential nature of Catholic liturgy, of the Church and her mission, and of the human person have not changed. If so, then why have the churches in which we worship?"

From Architecture in Communion (2nd Edition) Publication Pending. (c) Steven J Schloeder 2012.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Orbis non sufficit

Fr Robert Barron presents an entertaining reflection on the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, drawing out the deeply Catholic themes in the work.

For those unacquainted with Fr. Barron, the rector and president of Mundelein Seminary and the University of St Mary of the Lake near Chicago, you should visit his Word on Fire website and subscribe to his YouTube channel.  He is always entertaining, and has a wonderful gift to present the Catholic faith in the most accessible, clearest, appealing and orthodox manner.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Reminder: Thinking about the City of God: Urban Planning and Catholic Social Doctrine

I'll be speaking tonight at SunUp Brewing in Phoenix AZ for Catholic Phoenix, topic: "Thinking about the City of God: Urban Planning and Catholic Social Teaching"

SunUp Brewing
322 East Camelback Road
Phoenix AZ 85012

5:30 pm to 6:30 pm

Hope to see you there!

Link to Catholic Phoenix

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I am happy to see that Francesco Colafemmina's blog Fides et Forma  has picked up the Our Savior Catholic Church project for the Italian audience.  Fides et Forma has been leading the discussion on the critiques of modernism and the recovery of meaning and authentic beauty among Catholic architects, artists, liturgists and theologians in Italy.

Monday, October 1, 2012

A new Renaissance in Catholic Architecture and Sacred Art

The newly completed (if not quite fully furnished) Our Savior Catholic Church a the University of Southern California is a truly stunning building.  The church and the adjacent Caruso Catholic Center, which houses the student center, a conference facility/ banqueting room, and the administration offices, sits tightly but elegantly on the small site at the corner of Hoover and 32nd Street, just north of the campus.  From each direction for both pedestrians and drivers, the project has a strong and deliberate sense of iconic presence: one immediately and intuitively knows this is a church building, and more importantly one senses this is an important building.

The muscular massing of the Romanesque chapel -- chosen to harmonize with the historical architectural style of the USC campus -- is manifest by the strong and rhythmic buttresses and monumental stained glass windows, the protruding octagonal apse which addresses the main intersection, and the towering campanile.

The choice of split face travertine, retrieved from a 1500 year old stone quarry in Italy that once furnished stone for the facade of St Peters at the Vatican, framed by elegant precast details, and articulated by the Spanish tile roof and copper rain gutters, collector boxes and downspouts, enhance the muscular corporeality befitting of a church dedicated to Our Savior.

The broad east faced, which fronts the courtyard, is a dignified and well proportioned composition which sets the main entrance doors in an elegant Romanesque (which will be graced by a stone tympanum of Christ in glory flanked by two angels, designed and executed by Jason Arkles of Florence Italy), with the large rose window above.

The compact site creates a very urban and civic sense to the project, inviting the passersby onto the property and welcoming them into the church. 

The more refined Caruso Catholic Center, with the finely proportioned classical facade and the elegant Italianate arcade, sits nobly but deferentially and harmoniously with the church to form the open plaza.

This arcade creates an important link both from the student center to the church, as well as to Hoover Street, which heightens the sense of welcome and civic participation of the Catholic community to the university community at large. 

The cornerstone, designed by Liturgical Environs PC, is cut from Italian travertine. The inscription speaks to the dedication of the Church of Our Savior in the year 2012, and tells the history that this stone was blessed by Pope Benedict XVI on 21 April in the Year of Our Lord 2010.

 The interior of the church is a simple open aula, with a stone floor, a raised sanctuary platform backed by an open Classical reredos which frames the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the apse, fine wood paneling which integrates both sacred art (the Stations of the Cross in the pedimented frames as the bases for the Our Lady and St Joseph shrines) as well as hides the energy efficient displacement ventilation systems, and the hammer beam and wood plank ceiling above. 

The altar, made of marble and onyx, is framed by the classical reredos, which creates an open screen to the Blessed Sacrament chapel in the apse. Above the altar is the large bronze crucifix by the well known local sculptor, Christopher Slatoff.  The Stations of the Cross are being prepared by the renown Peter Adams, which will be framed in the architectural surrounds cased in the wood paneling around the nave. 

The church is themed to speak to the university community with the timeless message of Christ the Teacher as manifested particularly through the Sermon on the Mount.  The eight monumental stained glass windows which enliven the nave each will highlight one of the eight Beatitudes: the upper central panel will show the beatitude as expressed in the life of Christ or the New Testament, with a parallel Old Testament theme below which prefigures the beatitude.  The architectural columns framing the central theme will each incorporate grisaille statuary figures if male and female saints which in some way express the Christian virtues of the respective beatitude.  The rondellos above the scene show the shields of the various colleges at the University, surrounding the central medallion of a Christogram expressing Christ as the "hub" and focus of education and formation.

The windows are being executed by the Judson Studios of Pasadena CA, a fitting legacy to the heritage of David Judson's great-great-grandfather who was the first dean of the College of Fine Arts at USC, and whose studio occupies that original college building. 

 The ceiling is a hammerbeam system of heavy wood trusses and planks, which complement the lower wood paneling to create an harmonious and well ordered room for the celebration of the sacrament. 

The apse will house the Blessed Sacrament in this handsome niche, creating a small chapel of devotion and contemplation.  Looking down from the clerestory will be nine of the Doctors of the Church, as a fitting reminder of the ways in which we are called in Christ to raise our hearts and minds in the pursuit of education to the service of the Church and the people of God.

The church will be dedicated on 9 December 2012.

Client:  Our Savior Catholic Parish, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Pastor: Reverend Lawrence Seyer
Director of Development: Mrs. Claire Faulkner
Design Architect: Elkus Manfredi, Boston MA
Architect of Record: Studio 111, Perkowitz+Ruth, Long Beach CA
Liturgical Designer: Steven J Schloeder, PhD AIA, Liturgical Environs PC, Phoenix AZ
Construction Manager: Matt Construction, Los Angeles, CA

Thursday, September 27, 2012


The New Liturgical Movement blog is an excellent source for high level discussions on matters pertaining to liturgy, architecture, sacred art, sacred music, and Catholic culture.  Shawn Tribe and his editors are performing a valuable service -- check it out.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Thinking about the City of God

I'll be giving a talk tonight at  Catholic Phoenix on "Thinking about the City of God: Urban Planning and Catholic Social Teaching."

We'll meet at
SunUp Brewing (322 East Camelback, Phoenix 85012) on Friday Oct 19, 2012, 5:30 - 7:30 pm.  The talk will be informal, about 1/2 hour with Q&A and lots of time for conversation, fellowship, and meeting new friends. 

Event details and registration (free, of course) are here.

Pass the word, and I look forward to seeing you there! 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Tale of Two Cathedrals

Nikos Salingaros' article in Crisis comparing the Oakland Cathedral of Christ the Light to the Houston Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral is worth reading - he is a very perceptive critic with a deep understanding of human nature, faith, and science.
Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland by SOM San Francisco (left) vs. Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Houston, by Ziegler-Cooper Architects
I think Nikos is a bit too kind with the Houston Cathedral -- it is as stripped down, chunky, and boring as any of the neighboring slabsided office buildings built in the 60s, 70s or 80s.

Nave view of Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, Houston TX
The interior has all the warmth and humanity of a 1950s train station, with the obligatory and liturgically fashionable baptistry font in the middle of the main aisle that every entrance procession, bridal party, and funeral must clumsily navigate about. The appeal to fine materials and crisp detailing betray the standard details befitting the grand lobbies and executive toilet rooms of the skyscrapers built for the local oil, gas, and cattle barons.

Still, a worthy read as usual.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Tyrrany of Artistic Modernism

A thought provoking essay, and a call to arms, by my friend Prof. Nikos Salingaros and Mark Anthony Signorelli in The New English Review.

"Whereas earlier traditions of artistic creation embraced symmetry within complexity, modernism has embraced extreme simplicity, dislocation, and imbalance. Whereas earlier traditions sought to bring pleasure to an audience ... modern art attempts to “nauseate” or “brutalize” an audience.... 

Whereas pre-modern architecture employed scale and ornament, modern architecture aggressively promotes gigantisms and barrenness."

Their call to arms concludes:

the first duty for every true artist at this moment of history is an act of spiritual fidelity to the timeless traditions of art-making, and an uncompromising, unmitigated hatred towards the dictatorship of modernism. Every true artist should come to his work now with something of the spirit of a liberator fighting an entrenched tyranny."

read here 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Novus Ordo et Nova Coca Cola

An interesting observation from Msgr. James T. Byrnes.  As he notes, it only took the executives at Coca Cola some 79 days to realize their mistake, and the liturgical establishment in the Catholic Church still does not get it after 40 years.

link here:  A Lesson to be Learned from New Coke

(Hat tip to Brian Myers)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Our Lady of Grace, Maricopa Arizona

Good news! the City of Maricopa City Council recently gave unanimous approval to the site plans for Phase 1 and 2 of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church.

 Phase 1 will incorporate the 500 seat church, administration / social hall building, and required parking, along with the basic roads, grading and drainage, utilities and sewer, and landscaping. 

Phase 2 will expand the church to 1500 seats and provide additional meeting rooms, social hall, rectory and social outreach services.
Corner view of Phase 1 church (right) and Administration / Social Hall (left)

More information is available on both InMaricopa and Arizona Builder's Exchange websites.

In the near future I will post about the church itself, and the larger Planned Area Development that will support the school, residences for single family, multi family, workforce and elderly housing, along with retail, office and other community projects.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Something Beautiful for God

We have been working for several years with Caritas in Veritate International, (CiVI) which is allied with the mission of the Holy Father through the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" for relief efforts in Haiti.  An integral part of that work has been the further alliance of CiVI with the Scalabrini Fathers (The Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo), an Italian Congregation which has been deeply involved in charitable relief work in Haiti for the past two decades. 

Among our efforts have been to develop prototype designs for whole villages to house and provide economic growth for the hundreds of thousands displaced by the January 2010 earthquake and housing types that can be built economically and with local materials.

These "Caritas Villages" are planned with the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine in mind: notably the ideas of solidarity, subsidiarity, and the "universal destination of goods" ordered toward the common good of the community.  They are intended to be self sufficient regarding food, water, hygiene, power and economic development, with a center for local trade, farmer's market, light industry, church, grade school and high school, health clinics, centers for leadership formation and for abused women and children, sports fields, community gardens, and approximately 500 families living in small clusters of relationship. 

Unfortunately due to the politics of landownership in Haiti (some 1% of the population owns virtually 100% of the land, with everyone else being either renters or squatters), and despite the support of the Vatican, the Papal Nuncio to Haiti, and the Bishops of Haiti, we have as yet been unable to move ahead on the village concept which is still desperately needed to restore normal life for the homeless living in the horrific tent cities.

In the interim, CiVI is continuing to work with the Scalabrini Fathers on a variety of other projects. The Scalabrini are housed on a large tract of land in the Croix-des-Bouquet suburb of Port-au-Prince that accommodates the community's housing, a grade school, a high school, medical clinics, and agricultural industry (see the yellow on the image below).  The facility suffered virtually no damage in the 2010 earthquake (thanks to the excellent seismic design of thin concrete frame and slab construction designed by Italian engineers and architects), and so also houses the Haitian Episcopal Conference and the national Seminary.

With the cooperation of the Scalabrini Fathers under the leadership of Fr. Giuseppe Durante, CiVI is working to develop small scale "micro-communities" of 10 to 20 families in enclosed housing projects, each with small businesses for economic development and self sufficiency of the residents.

The Scalabrini and CiVI are slowly and strategically acquiring properties adjacent to and in the vicinity of the Scalabrini property in order to create these small communities (based on the Haitian model of "lakou" --a grass roots model of housing for extended families that provides for common living and defense).

Yet in keeping with Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the work of CiVI is not merely economic relief or social justice understood politically, but rather an integration of the Church's evangelical mission of proclaiming Christ's love and mercy to all with her social doctrine of how society ought to be ordered for true human flourishing and integral human development:
On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving. The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God's love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world. --  Caritas in Veritate, para. 6
This need is particularly acute in Haiti.  There is little social cohesion with a marriage rate of only about 2%: this means most children are not raised by both of their parents, women have multiple children with multiple men, and most of the fathers are absent from their children's lives. The inequities in landownership prevent families from developing stability and economic wealth. The Church's inactivity and failures in her missionary activity gave impetus to the nativistic "vodou" religion which developed from the African tribal practices dating back to the days of slavery.  The tent cities for the displaced populations are truly horrific -- now decaying and often in tatters 2 1/2 years after the earthquake -- and are places of violence, rape, child sexual abuse, and ongoing hopelessness.

Hence, the vision of the Holy Father which is embraced in the projects of CiVI:
Awareness of God's undying love sustains us in our laborious and stimulating work for justice and the development of peoples, amid successes and failures, in the ceaseless pursuit of a just ordering of human affairs. God's love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all, even if this cannot be achieved immediately and if what we are able to achieve, alongside political authorities and those working in the field of economics, is always less than we might wish. God gives us the strength to fight and to suffer for love of the common good, because he is our All, our greatest hope. - Caritas in Veritate, para. 78
In keeping with Pope Benedict's closing exhortation, that "Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace", one of the first works of Pontifical Council 'Cor Unum', the Scalabrini Fathers,  and CiVI will be to provide a new parish church and center for Catholic formation in the Croix-des-Bouquets neighborhood.  (The local parish was virtually destroyed in the earthquake, yet still used for Mass despite it's obviously unsafe condition.)

Under the patronage of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, we have designed a humble yet dignified church to seat about 500 people, to be built out of reinforced concrete and masonry, with steel frame trusses and roof. 

The simple white washed stucco exterior, with the triple blue bands, is a subtle acknowledgement to the sari and headdress of Mother Teresa, who worked so tirelessly to service the poorest of the poor "in charity and in truth". 

The deep overhangs are climate responsive to break the sweltering heat and the torrential rains. The sides of the nave open out to the patio with large top hinged doors that provide additional shade and rain protection while allowing for maximum cross ventilation in the tropical climate, and can be securely fastened down for security and in the event of hurricanes.

If you are interested in donating to help build "something beautiful for God", please contact us at:

Charity and Truth International
2121 South Rural Road
Tempe, AZ 85282 USA

t. 480-344-5213

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Catholic Photographer

While touring Guardian Angels Cathedral in Las Vegas, I noticed another man earnestly photographing the church.  I approached him and struck up a conversation, asking him what he thought of the building, and of his general interest in sacred architecture.

It was thus providential that I met Mr.  Bob Mullen , a freelance photographer from Vernon CT, who also happened to be visiting Las Vegas.

Bob told me a wonderful story of how at a career juncture in his life, he took a 40 day pilgrimage driving across the United States and back, each day visiting another cathedral church for prayer, Mass, contemplation, and photography.   We spoke at length about our common faith, our respective life's journeys, of the richness of Catholic culture and world view, and of our love for church architecture and sacred art. 

The recognition of a friendship and brotherhood in Christ was immediate, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have met Bob.  A deep soul with an eye for beauty.

Please visit his website at to see his art.  You can see the way in which he captured Guardian Angels Cathedral at this link.

The Church of St George Jetson

 One of GK Chesterton's better quips is that the Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.   Sadly, this is not a lesson readily appreciated by architects.  

 Exterior, Guardian Angels Cathedral, Las Vegas NV (1961-1963)

 A couple of weeks ago I was prowling around the Guardian Angels Cathedral in Las Vegas, especially interested in the fabled stained glass there depicting the casinos which helped sponsor the building project (not unlike the Chandlers' or Fishmongers' Guilds once patronized the building of medieval churches). It really is a charming window in a way, discretely tucked away in the south east window to the right of the altar behind a large fiberglass resin cast angel presumably acquired from the Design Toscano catalog, in an area cordoned off with signs advertising that entry into the sanctuary was prohibited. 

As I was photographing the window, the church guard approached me to advise me that I was not to take pictures in the sanctuary.  I explained the purpose of my visit was to photograph the church, and inquired how might I get permission to take pictures in the sanctuary?  He had no idea, as if no one had ever asked such a thing before, so I asked if I might speak to the rector of the Cathedral, and I was directed to the chancery office across the parking lot. Unfortunately, neither the rector nor the Vicar General nor the Bishop were in town to grant me permission, so the receptionist made a series of calls to this department and that, being shuffled from one office to another, until she finally found someone of authority to speak with me.

Ten minutes later, a laymen approached me and asked what I needed.  I introduced myself, explained that I was an architect and writer specializing in Catholic church design, and asked if I might take a few photos from the sanctuary area.

"No.  No photography is permitted in the cathedral."

"Errr... No photography? At all?  I've never heard of no one being allowed to photograph inside a church."

"That is our policy."

Again, I explained that I was interested in the architectural and liturgical study of the building, and that church buildings are typically photographed. From whom might I get permission?

"No one.  That is our policy."

"May I inquire as to why that is your policy?"

"That is our policy.  The purpose of the cathedral is not to be photographed". 

Realizing that his logic was as unassailable as his position was invincible, I thanked him for his time and returned to the Cathedral. The guard again approached me and asked if I got permission to photograph from the sanctuary.

"No, I didn't."

"Well, just stay out of the sanctuary and take whatever pictures you want".

Since I hold that the principle of subsidiarity is one of the bedrock teachings of the Church which speaks to how governance of temporal goods are to be ordered for the good of all society, I appreciated how those in appointed authority at a lower level and who have a competent grasp of the local specific needs of the community are able to make prudential judgments that can be obeyed without moral concern:  sort of like prosecutorial discretion or the nice policeman letting you off with a warning rather than a ticket. I thanked him and resumed my photography, assuring him that I would respect the boundaries of the sanctuary.

Here, therefore, is that forbidden image showing the casinos which supported the building of the church. (A forbidden image is one that is judged inappropriate to the faith, such as depictions of the Trinity as one body with three heads. Given the various injunctions against profane imagery in churches, from St Charles Borromeo's Instructions to Pope Pius X's Tra le Sollecitudini, this image may arguably rise to the same level of anathema as a certain statue of the Blessed Virgin wearing priestly vestments which is also discretely tucked away in a darkened side chapel of a major church somewhere in the western United States),

 Stained Glass Window, Guardian Angels Cathedral, Las Vegas NV

Guardian Angels Church was designed in the early 1960s by Paul Revere Williams, a fashionable, African American, Los Angeles-based architect who designed homes for the glitterati: Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Lon Chaney, Bert "The Cowardly Lion" Lahr, Barbara Stanwyck, Johnnie Weissmuller of "Tarzan" fame, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

The church itself was originally designed as a parish church and only later raised to a Cathedral.  The land was donated by Morris "Mr. Las Vegas" Dalitz, a Jewish businessman with rather unsavory connections to organized crime who owned the nearby Desert Inn casino. Dalitz was approached by Fr Richard Crowley, a Viatorian who was the parish priest of the recently condemned and dismantled St. Viator parish.  Fr. Corwley persuaded Moe Dalitz to support the project to serve the Catholic service workers at Dalitz's casinos.  Dalitz engaged Paul Revere Williams to design the church, having worked with him already on the Royal Nevada hotel.

  Theme Building, LAX Airport, Los Angeles, CA

Williams, incidentally, is also credited as a lead designer on the Space Aged "Theme Building" as LAX from his tenure at Pereira & Luckman. He was very much an architect of his era -- and his buildings reflect the Atomic age aesthetics of the day: Sputnik, rocket fins,  and of course the Jetsons. 

The Atomic Age! So much hope for the future of humanity! What could be a more important iconic statement of fashion than the catenary curve of high power lines crossing the nation, elliptical arcs of rocketry, or the the conventional if erroneous depiction of the orbit of the electron around the nucleus in the atom?  Surely *this* was an architecture that would speak to "modern man" in "forms relevant to his times" that the dusty old Gothic could do no more! The spirit of the age dictated the architecture by directing the sub-conscience, from the LAX theme building to the contemporaneous St Maria Goretti in Scottsdale Arizona, affectionately known as "Our Lady of the Golden Arches".

 St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church, Scottsdale AZ

The architect of Guardian Angels was a good stylist, and obviously a keen observer of fashionable architectural publications.  He followed quickly on Walter Netsch's widely published designs for the new Cadet's Chapel of the US Air Force Academy (started in 1959, completed 1962) with the repeating arrangement of Convair F-102 Delta Dagger Interceptor military jets pointing to the heavens -- which seems to be some sort of a Cold War trope for beating swords into plowshares.

Cadet's Chapel, US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs CO, 
by Walter Netsch Jr of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, Chicago (1959-1962).

F-102 Delta Dagger Interceptor, by Convair, 1954-1958.

Guardian Angels is a sort of poor cousin to the grand Cadet's Chapel, much more modest in scale and scope and materials, but an interesting period piece none the less.

While stylistically being a child of its age, Guardian Angels was built right before the Second Vatican Council, and has none of the liturgical innovations such as fan shaped seating or white washed interiors that soon became the fashion.  Rather it is a simple and somewhat elegant hall church with a strong sense of rhythm, proportion, and integration of architectural form, liturgical appointments and sacred art.

The interior is a simple A-frame space, which is provided abundant light by the monumental triangular windows which depict scenes from the Stations of the Cross.  The windows are rather dark and dense, both in material and content, and admirably cut the harsh glare of the desert sun to create a luminous interior which is easy on the eyes.  

The stained glass was designed by the Los Angeles artist Isabel Piczek, and despite its severe and spartan, mechanical approach to the human figure, is actually quite high quality and imbued with pathos and strong personality, and is entirely at home in this building. The scenes are readily understandable, and great attention has been given to the composition, content, and gestures and facial expressions of the various scenes.

The rear wall mural, by the artist's sister Edith Piczek, seems oddly prophetic.  The souls in ascension with Christ at the Resurrection are strangely evocative of the harlequined acrobats flying through the air nightly at any number of the Cirque du Soliel shows which are available up and down the Strip.

The baptismal font, Guardian Angels Cathedral, Las Vegas NV

Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Guardian Angels Cathedral, Las Vegas, NV

The church is definitely a period piece, and a reasonably good piece of Atomic Age architecture.  Its sense of datedness however, raises the question of how far architects should go in trying to "speak to the age" short of that degrading slavery of being children of their age. There is enough in this building that it is recognizably a Catholic church, even if it is not a commendable model for replication.  A-frame architecture seems just too mechanical to carry the weight of something intended to speak of the transcendent, despite the allusion to the upward thrust of jet aircraft piercing the heavens in our attempt to connect with God.