Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rudolf Schwarz's influence on modern Catholic architecture

Rudolf Schwarz (1897-1961)

Rudolf Schwarz (1881-1962) was virtually unknown in the United States until the last decade of his life, and his theory of sacred architecture is idiosyncratic and problematic, yet he holds an enduring influence on the way we think about modern Catholic churches and liturgy.  Schwarz was a pupil and close friend of Fr. Romano Guardini, the German priest-philosopher whose liturgical experiments in the 1920s at Burg Rothenfels are considered seminal in shifting the Mass to a centralized, versus populum model, and Schwarz gave architectural form to Guardini's ideas.

Fr. Romano Guardini (1885-1968)
Though Guardini himself was little-known in the United States until after World War Two, his influence on the Liturgical Movement in Europe is significant. The German theologian Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ famously said that, "It is a widely known fact that the Rothenfels experiment was the immediate model for the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.”  

As importantly, Schwarz was a product of the sort of Bauhaus inspired modernism that was fashionable in Germany after the First World War, and it can be said that his sense of mechanical aesthetics (which ought to have been completely detachable from his liturgical sensibility) also had a strong influence in shaping the sort of barren, reductionist, stripped down warehouse churches that became fashionable in America after the Second Vatican Council.
Yes, that is a church and not a warehouse.... Kirche St. Fronleichnam, Aachen, by Rudolf Schwarz

Schwarz was, and still is, little known in America especially against the towering figures of Bauhaus architectural modernism - Mies der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and the others who fled Hitler's Germany and found homes, careers and influence in US schools of architecture such as Harvard, Yale and IIT. He might not be known at all here if not for another Catholic priest who fled the Gestapo and arrived in America to become a dominant voice of the Liturgical Movement in the US, Fr. Hans Ansgar (H.A.) Reinhold. Reinhold both introduced and promoted Schwarz's work and ideas through strategically placed articles in secular architectural trade publications and Catholic liturgical magazines.
Fr. Hans Ansgar (H.A.) Reinhold (1897-1968)
 For more insight on the history of how Schwarz came to influence our Catholic churches in America, I invite you to read an article I wrote a couple of years ago, originally published in Das Münster in Germany, now available on-line. (click here)

Das Münster Jan 2011

1 comment:

  1. like the buildings by rudolf schwarz!
    for some more images of his buildings: