Sacred Places Winter 2019 - Page 16

Sanctuary of St. Paul's Photo: L.J. Schneekloth Photography become well-known as a prophet of modern architecture, and had an enormous, lasting influence on Frank Lloyd Wright and other masters of 20th-century design. The opportunity was serendipitious. While based in Chicago for most of his career, Sullivan lived briefly in Cedar Rapids when St. Paul’s decided to build a new church. St. Paul’s innovative concept was a good fit with Sullivan’s unique style that emphasized functionality and purpose, enriched with a complex, unique approach to ornament. Sullivan’s major works include the Auditorium Building and the Carson Pirie Scott department store in Chicago, but he is best known for early skyscrapers such as the Wainwright Building in St. Louis that emphasized the verticality of this new form of urban architecture. Later he was known for designing a series of small bank buildings not far from St. Paul’s that demonstrated his unrivaled creativity, juxtaposing florid decoration and severe, architectural geometry. Sullivan’s initial designs were modified by the congregation, in part to save costs, so he eventually resigned from the project. Even so, much of Sullivan’s design was respected. If anything, the pruning of ornamental touches further emphasized the modern shapes that characterize the design. The bold curved format of the main worship space or “auditorium,” along with the distinctive shape of the tower and its landmark illuminated cross, were strikingly modern in their severe shapes and bold lines. While decoration was relatively sparse, Sullivan’s well-known doctrine of “form follows function” is reflected in one of the most interesting details of the complex. The two main entrance staircases for the auditorium are expressed as major elements in their own right, emphasizing their function and creating strong visual features for the main facade. 16 SACRED PLACES • WINTER 2019 Sullivan’s design was also revolutionary in its plan. While many churches across the nation were continuing to build Sunday Schools on the 1860s-era Akron Plan (with an open rotunda circled by one or more tiers of classrooms), Sullivan provided a new and modern alternative that reflected up-to-date educational pedagogy, with separate classrooms for each age group organized along a double-loaded corridor. Renewing the Vision for Modern Challenges Though Sullivan’s design of St. Paul’s was forward-thinking in 1913, over time the building no longer met all of the needs of a modern and growing congregation with evolving programs. Like countless congregations across America, in the mid-20th century St. Paul’s constructed another building to house educational programs. And as travel by car became an increasingly everyday occurrence, the congregation purchased property across the street to create a parking lot. Common room in new connector building  Photo: L.J. Schneekloth Photography