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First Church of Christ Scientist

Religious Architecture and Eclecticism

eligious architecture in the United States did not begin to develop a rich language of its own until the early twentieth century. Traditionally religious architecture was built in an established old country style like Gothic, Romanesque, or Moorish. It was also important that a church or synagogue was a recognizable building within a community. One of the most common complaints about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple was that it did not look like a church from the outside.

Architects were faced with a challenge at the beginning of the twentieth century. New materials like steel and reinforced concrete were available, but clients still wanted traditional-looking churches and synagogues. These new materials were more economical and buildings could be built more quickly, but the materials did not lend themselves easily to a traditional religious aesthetic. One solution was to try and use the new materials to imitate traditional styles by applying ornamentation to a non-traditional structure. Another solution was to take the traditional influences on the church and use them as a point of departure, rather than a standard to be copied.

First Church of Christ Scientist Bernard Maybeck built the First Church of Christ Scientist in Berkeley, California between 1909 and 1911. This reinforced concrete structure uses a series of unusual materials to achieve a sacred atmosphere inside this small church. Factory-made metal framed windows, carved wooden brackets, and decorative painting are some of the components of the church which is decorated in a number of styles including Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine.

Pictured: Interior and exterior, First Church of Christ Scientist, 1911, Berkeley, California

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