From Constantinople to Charleston: Church Architecture Seminar Weds Old and New

25 June 2011 • On-campus Event

Designer Andrew Gould spellbound participants of the Church Architecture seminar held last weekend on our campus, through an image-rich slideshow presentation that depicted the historical development of Christian church structures. Using images ranging from the ancient Roman basilica to the Great Church of Constantinople (Hagia Sophia) to Russian onion domes and beyond, Mr. Gould demoDesigner Andrew Gould explains the intricacies of the Great Church of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia.Designer Andrew Gould explains the intricacies of the Great Church of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia.nstrated how to “marry” aspects of ancient and medieval church architecture with contemporary needs and New World settings.Wedding Byzantine and Russian architectural formsHoly Ascension Orthodox Church, near Charleston, SC.Wedding Byzantine and Russian architectural formsHoly Ascension Orthodox Church, near Charleston, SC.

Mr. Gould, who works in partnership with George Holt at the firm New World Byzantine, in Charleston, South Carolina, is becoming known nationwide as a designer of traditional Orthodox churches. His goal, he says, is to keep intact the "consistent and invariable” elements of early Christian architecture while accommodating the locale of present-day churches and the creature comforts (heating and air conditioning) expected by present-day church-goers.

“It would be disturbing to me to see an out-of-context church building in the United States, which might look as if it had been dropped by helicopter from ancient Byzantium,” he muses. “I believe that Orthodox churches today can be simple, inexpensive, beautiful, and comfortable, if they are well built out of ‘honest’ materials and if they include basic aspects of traditional Orthodox architecture.”Orthodoxy at home in AppalachiaSs. Joseph and Andrew Eastern Orthodox Church, Ashville, NC.Orthodoxy at home in AppalachiaSs. Joseph and Andrew Eastern Orthodox Church, Ashville, NC.

Some of those basic traditional aspects, he notes, include thick walls, lighting that lends an air of mystery to the space, arches, high ceilings, and handmade furnishings (including lamps, tables, metalwork, and painted icons and frescoes) that appropriately “vest” the inside of the temple. All of these elements together, he observes, are evocative of the New Jerusalem, where heaven and earth meet. Moreover, he asserts, present-day church buildings, though based on ancient models, can nevertheless be built simply and relatively inexpensively—and can even be intrinsically “green,” if constructed from local, “honest” materials.

In particular, Mr. Gould warns against “bowing to the god of ‘modernism’,” that is, the movement that started in the 1930s that rejected traditional forms and pushed toward “new forms.” He instead advises the adaptation of traditional forms to modern needs, and during the presentation he gave several drawing-board renderings and photographs of his completed churches, like the stunning church near Charleston, South Carolina, Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, where SVOTS alumnus Fr. John Parker is rector, and Ss. Joseph and Andrew Eastern Orthodox Church,  near Ashville, North Carolina, as examples.

To view more of Mr. Gould’s work, visit his firm’s Website, New World Byzantine.