Another swooping stunner by Victor Lundy on today's midMOD monday.
Victor Alfred Lundy, Architect, and Client First Unitarian Congregational Society. [First Unitarian Congregational Society church building, Hartford, Connecticut. Sections, plans, and elevations]. Connecticut Hartford, 1962. July 9, revised Dec. 7. Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2017659508.
Somewhere between futuristic tent, blossoming lotus, and a pair of clasped hands stands Victor Lundy's Unitarian Meeting House in Hartford, Connecticut. Provocative and bold, the meeting house is yet another fine example of Lundy's iconoclastic mode of modernism, an organic form underscored by innovative structural technology. After outgrowing its 250-seat meeting house in downtown Hartford in the late 1950s, the local Unitarian Society planned a move toward the more suburban West Hartford, hiring New York-based Lundy to design a new church on Bloomfield Avenue. Lundy, who had built a reputation on daring religious buildings like a drive-in church in Florida and the First Unitarian Church of Fairfield County, Connecticut, utilized his signature expressive forms and expansive spaces to create a church that looked not to the Gothic spires of tradition but to the organic possibilities of modern spirituality.
Completed in 1964, the Hartford Unitarian Meeting House is a striking concrete and wood structure defined by its radical roof form. At the building's center, a circular sanctuary holds 350 people and is covered by a tented ceiling made of thousands of pieces of cedar slat, each one arranged at a gentle upward angle. The effect is a fluid and floating worship space that offers intimacy, light (in the unexpected clerestory windows), and a textile-like sense of movement (see the interior here). Surrounding the sanctuary, an ambulatory provides circulation for all of the church's programmatic areas (offices, meeting rooms, and a chapel). This outer layer of support spaces is divided by twelve concrete fin walls radiating from the center. From the exterior, these walls hover low along the edges of the building before rising into angled pinnacles. In true Lundy fashion, the architect designed a complicated roof system consisting of a series of segmented roofs spanning the fin walls and supported by draped steel cables. Over the sanctuary, a separate roof drops dramatically like a fabric canopy levitating over the contemplative worship space.
Two years before the new meeting house was completed, Lundy presented his design to the congregation, receiving a mix of reactions. According to research by architect Michael J. Crosbie, several members objected to a building that looked nothing like a traditional church, while others felt apprehensive about the functionality of the roof form. That apprehension became valid criticism when soon after the structure's completion, leaks began to create serious maintenance issues. Several early attempts to remedy the structural problems proved unsuccessful, but after years of diligent work by the congregation, many of the leaks have been repaired.
Despite these issues, there is little doubt that Victor Lundy's imaginative experiment in powerful forms and structural technology makes for an impactful religious experience. Looking beyond the "Bauhaus Box," Lundy created a distinctive structure that seems to grow out of the earth, its cedar ceiling soaring at the center. And even for its structural faults, the building manages to deliver a unique exploration of space and form, its concrete spires coming together like divergent paths leading to the same spiritual truth. Bold and adventurous, the Hartford Unitarian Meeting House is a deserving modernist icon, even if it is a "leaky landmark."
You can read more about Victor Lundy here.
Image at top:
Carol M. Highsmith, photographer. Unitarian meeting house, Hartford, Connecticut, October 2011. Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, 2012631594.
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