Wednesday, July 16


Matthew contra Saskatoon Cathedral

An early rendering of the approved design.

It's be quiet on the Shrine this week, because I've been talking up a storm over on The New Liturgical Movement contra the unfortunate new proposal for Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a $28 million (Canadian) project that resembles nothing so much as a 1960s Pan-Am terminal, despite a sincere and much-appreciated desire among the designers and planners for noble beauty and local materials. I appreciate the open e-mail ear one of the building committee members has offered to my contrarian sentiments, even if we may agree to disagree.

The somewhat outmoded design, nonetheless, remains a disappointment to me on many levels. We are in an age, surprisingly, of cathedral-building--Los Angeles, Oakland, Houston, Steubenville, and now Saskatoon, and yet, we see not a white garment of churches, but an ecru chasu-alb.

Matthew Alderman. Perspective Study of a Hypothetical Proposal for Saskatoon Cathedral. July 2008. Click to enlarge.

Money is, of course, one of the big issues, but as I have said many times in the past, traditional design is not expensive vis-a-vis modern design. Quality design is expensive, whatever sort you're looking at. And cathedrals deserve the best, or close to it. If this should not be possible, it might be better to wait for better times.

A "high-style" modern building is just as expensive as a "high-style" classical one, and often more. Look at Los Angeles Cathedral, a bloated excrescence with hardly a scrap of ornament on it, and yet the bill came to nearly $200 million. If one is going to spend any money, one should spend it on something good. Better throw in some extra cash and do it right. If you show people beautiful drawings, and aim high, you often get donations. It takes time, but it can happen. Better a cathedral that takes time and care to raise, or no cathedral at all, than a bad one.

Matthew Alderman. Hypothetical counter-proposal for Saskatoon Cathedral. A plan of the principal floor. June 2008. Click to enlarge.

Think of how much money that was raised for the yellow armadillo in L.A. and Oakland's nuclear sugarloaf--if people are willing that much to donate for such hideous structures, think of how they'd flock to something beautiful. And even if a design must be simplified, better a clever classicist to do it; simplicity is more than turning geometric diagrams into construction documents.

Anyway, if you want to know more, head over to The New Liturgical Movement and see what's going on. You will find a brief run-down on the problems of approved design here, and my own hypothetical counter-proposal here and here, which also include some more realistic variations derived from my admittedly somewhat fanciful proposal.

Matthew Alderman. Hypothetical counter-proposal for Saskatoon Cathedral. Perspective of Romanesque alternate scheme. June 2008.

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