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How The Architects Conceived The Moody Memorial Church Building

How The Architects Conceived The Moody Memorial Church Building poster

It is frequently difficult for the laymen (or even the artist for that matter) to understand the relation between a work of art and himself. Failing to understand this, his means of judging it are limited to its effect in pleasing him and such knowledge as he has of the opinions of others supposed more qualified to judge.

In the case of architecture, this difficulty is easily removed if we remember that the purpose of architecture in all cases is to form a harmonious and fitting setting for the life for which it acts as a shelter or background.

The facades of Michigan Avenue have an opulence which belongs in a shopping district and is appropriate there only. The nave of a Gothic cathedral of France forms a fitting setting for the ritual of a Catholic service, but would be totally out of keeping both in appearance and in use for any other form of service.

A Unique Architectural Opportunity

The architects in considering The Moody Church felt that in some ways the building presented an opportunity unique in ecclesiastical architecture. Here was a vast assemblage to be housed as economically as possible—not that the funds available were too low, but because the very principles upon which the church rests declare for simplicity in such things.

Together with this economy and simplicity the church, properly to conform to the life and service which it houses, should also have more of an appearance of permanency and massiveness than is demanded in the more or less temporary buildings in commerce.

Inspiration from North Italy

It was the first mentioned of these requirements, economy and permanence, that led probably to the use of brick both in this modern church and those of the north of Italy to which the architects went for inspiration, built 800 to 900 years ago. There at any rate brick and terra cotta were used with a sense of the proper use of material, probably surpassed nowhere else in our knowledge of civilization. And these Lombard Romanesque churches the architects felt had been also built around a form of belief and worship with at that time was probably not very far from that of the present Moody Church; at any rate, the simplicity, massiveness and permanence were abundantly expressed. The wide column spacing in some of them even indicates the form of service where adaptability for preaching is considered of more importance than for ritual.

In acknowledging their indebtedness to the Lombard Romanesque, however, the architects do not wish to give the impression that the building is in that style. For the building of a wing of an art museum perhaps, or for a wealthy man’s amusement to attempt to build a building which is archaeologically correct in all its details is very interesting, but it is undesirable as well as impractical to attempt this in a building which has uses necessarily different from those which called for the original building.

St. Sophia of Constantinople a Partial Example

The question has been raised as to what style of architecture the new Moody Church will be. The nearest historical examples are St. Sophia in Constantinople and certain Romanesque churches built during the 12th Century in northern Italy. In acknowledging their indebtedness to these churches, however, the architects do not wish to give the impression that The Moody Church is either of these styles. For the building of an art museum for a wealthy man’s amusement, archeology is very interesting. It is, however, undesirable, as well as impractical in a building which has differing from the model. As a matter of fact it is these uses which should determine the character of the building, and that character in turn gives the architect an indication as to where to go for historical inspiration.

The chief problem represented by this Moody undertaking was the seating for a large number of people to be preached to. A theatre would have answered this problem in its practical aspects, but would have been unarchitectural, in that architecture is the harmonious and fitting setting for the life which it shelters. The cathedral would have housed the congregation, but a cathedral is designed for a ritualistic service, which is contrary to the tenets of The Moody Church.

The most useful historical example was found in the early Christian church of St. Sophia. Here a vast multitude was housed in an unimpeded auditorium. The Moody Church’s large vault, its supporting piers and half dome at the Clark Street end was suggested by St. Sophia. St. Sophia, however, was built by oriental workmen and is lavish and rich in character and does not express the economy and simplicity which the life and service of The Moody Church demand.

Brick and Terra Cotta Economical

The most economical material to enclose this vast auditorium was brick. The proper use of brick with terra cotta as an aid to pliability where brick fails, has nowhere been surpassed (as used in the Lombard churches).

The impoverished state of Italy due to the Venetian wars led to an economy which induced a simplicity in the treatment of wall surfaces; a sparing use of ornament and terra cotta, depending on the permanency and beauty of the material, and massiveness of design with its deeply shadowed openings, for its effect.

These qualities so lavishly found in the Lombardy architecture do then express the principles which the architects and those members of the church working with them, felt were an integral part of the teachings of The Moody Church.