Modern Churches in a Modern Culture
Rudolf Schwarz: modern churches in a modern culture. In the twentieth century, religious communities often employed architects who were not grounded in the traditions for which they were building. Rudolf Schwarz, however, was a prominent Roman Catholic architect who had studied theology and was closely involved in the movement of liturgical reform. He was a friend and associate of the theologian Romano Guardini and of the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. He worked in the years between the world wars (when modernist architecture was known for the boldness and clarity of its design) and again after World War II (when modern architecture was more widely accepted and sometimes risked falling into idiosyncracy and cliché—charges that have been raised against the famous chapel at Ronchamp, which Schwarz himself held in disdain). His churches were designed very largely as contemplative spaces, in which the congregation would have a clear sense of presence before God. They tend toward minimalism of form, but with multivalent symbolism that made for plenitude of meaning: Schwarz worked out a system of seven church plans, each of which had a richness of symbolic association, and he conceived each of his churches with specific symbolic reference. While the Roman Catholic worship had long been held in the longitudinal “Wegkirche” (pathway-church), Schwarz preferred the “Ringkirche” (ring-church) in which the congregation with the priest was gathered about the altar.
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