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Compacting civic and sacred: Goodhue’s University of Chicago Chapel and the modern metropolis

Gage, S. (2020) Compacting civic and sacred: Goodhue’s University of Chicago Chapel and the modern metropolis. In: Sternberg, M. and Anderson, R. J. (eds.) Modern Architecture and the Sacred. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781350098718

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The Gothic Revival remained a prominent strand in American architecture up to the Second World War, long after it had been eclipsed in England and Europe. Much of this work has been overlooked by scholars, including the adaptation of traditional architectural languages to the complex parameters of the modern city. This paper traces the development of the University of Chicago Chapel, completed in 1928, which served as the culminating project of the University’s vast Collegiate Gothic building programme that began with its founding in 1890. The Chapel was not only part of architect Bertram Goodhue’s longstanding search for a distinctive “modern gothic” idiom, but reveals a complex relationship between civic and sacred space in the modern American metropolis. The Chapel’s gestation period was characterised by lengthy debates within the University over innovation versus tradition, alongside scrutiny of the Chapel’s site and setting. The arrangement of its subsidiary structures and exterior spaces came to exemplify an open-ended adaptation of the cloister form that integrated the Chapel into the campus and the larger city. These debates were directly shaped by leaders’ desire for the University to become an epicentre of cultural life for all Chicago. Conceived as a setting for secular public gatherings, traditional religious symbolism was co-opted for civic purposes in a very literal way. In its urban siting, invocation of European cathedrals was combined with an expansive green setting provided by the Midway Plaisance boulevard. Tension between urban density and pastoral openness was related to the desire of Chicago’s leaders to foster a shared public life that fused recreational parks with civic/cultural institutions. In this way, the modern Gothic expressed by Goodhue’s “Cathedral on the Midway” was instrumentally tied to larger conceptions of urban reform.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Science > School of the Built Environment > Architecture
Science > School of the Built Environment > Urban Living group
ID Code:84808

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