The untold story of modernism: a critical analysis of the post war church in Victoria, Australia, 1950-1970.
AuthorRichardson, Elizabeth Anne
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypePhD thesis
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© 2020 Elizabeth Anne Richardson
In the post-war decades, places of worship were radically transformed from a building type adhering to time honoured architectural traditions to one that became increasingly diverse and individualistic. Social change, coupled with new architectural ideas and the broader advent of modernity created a setting in which long held continuities with historical traditions were challenged. This thesis investigates how the church became modern after the Second World War through a critical examination of the architectural design of church buildings in Victoria, Australia, c.1950-1970. Offered herein is an understanding of modernism in post-war places of worship as a nuanced, locally inflected and diverse movement moderated by the particularity of its social setting and agency of local clergy and congregation to determine the innovation or conservatism of designs. The early colonial churches in Australia were constructed in historicist styles and as late as the 1940s, all were derived from models of predominantly British origin. Only after the Second World War did modernism in places of worship arise in the Australian context, as religious organisations responded to a wave of demand due to a ‘baby boom’ population and expanding suburban conditions, coupled with economic austerity. The unique circumstances of the post-war setting are substantiated by the number of places of worship constructed in the Melbourne metropolitan area of Victoria during the 1950s and 1960s far outweighing the number constructed in any other decade or period of the twentieth century. Under these circumstances, a wider spectrum of architectural language began to be expressed and accepted. Formally, new materials and techniques of construction paved the way for unobstructed interiors, non-load bearing walls and unlimited formal and aesthetic possibilities. Spatially, the modern church became single volume and a fan shaped seating arrangement evolved to accommodate the modernisation of liturgical ritual and worship. In their designs, Australian architects were informed by their international experiences and increasingly looked to Europe and America for precedents, in addition to British traditions. Artistically, the return to hand crafted work by practising artists as the only artistic works appropriate for worship, alongside the twentieth century shift away from figurative representation towards abstraction, was supported by the architectural profession promoting the integration of art and architecture as a way of generating symbols of contemporary life. The decades of the 1950s and 1960s were unique years of dynamic change in religious and social practices and the acceptance of architectural modernity. Using a wide range of primary source material, including images and architectural drawings, journals of the day, parish archives and site visits, statistical and spatial data on the number, location and style of church buildings constructed in Victoria during the post-war period, this study demonstrates a wide spectrum of design responses were produced: from innovative modern buildings to buildings designed in continuity with historic precedents as well as a swath of buildings that were nuanced in their combined use of innovation and tradition. Using a thematic framework, this thesis explores the complex and overlapping influences of society, architecture and modernity upon the design of places of worship in Victoria during the 1950s and 1960s. Findings are supported by detailed case studies woven across thematic chapters to demonstrate how a common range of post-war conditions moderated the design of places of worship in different ways to produce a wide spectrum of results.
Keywordsplace of worship; church; modern church; post-war church; post war church; liturgy; church design
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