Originally published in Futurismo, vol.I, no.4, 2 October 1932.
© Translation generously provided by Chris Adams (Estorick Collection) and was published in the exhibition catalog for Piety and Pragmatism (26 September – 23 December 2006, Estorick Collection, London).
Modern construction materials are not only suited to buildings of a commercial character, but contain the potential to be exploited to achieve effects equal to the best results obtained with the ancient, ‘noble’ materials. These are not rejected by today’s architects, but are used in conjunction with modern materials, which correspond better to the needs of our time in the majority of cases.
Whilst the architectural revolution initially had to win its battles in the technical and utilitarian spheres, one is today able to foresee the possibility of working on more lyrical, inspirational projects where creative imagination is not curtailed by rigorous, practical necessity, where the architect has the freedom to express the full power of his state of mind and where new methods and materials find an interpretation that reveals their natural splendour.
Churches are without doubt the buildings upon which architects can hope to impress the greatest individuality. Naturally, churches require respect for dogma, but this consideration has never imposed formal restrictions and different architectural styles throughout history have proved themselves to be equally well adapted to religious ends.
Sant’Elia dreamed of raising great cathedrals constructed from reinforced concrete that would dominate his ‘new city’ with their audacious constructive poetry. His death prevented the realisation of this dream. However, today in many European countries the first churches stylistically coherent with the Rationalist quarters of cities are appearing. Iron and glass are used extensively and without damage to the religious character of the building which, over and above every other value, must be expressed by such edifices. Indeed, new materials help the architect avoid the serious disadvantage of many ancient buildings, in which ‘noble’ materials were often imitated because of difficulties concerning their transportation and excessive cost – a solution in direct opposition to the constructive spirit of a church, which must be absolutely pure.
Let us recall the ultra-modern Catholic churches of Basel, Hamburg, Berlin, Düsseldorf, etc. Many architects, such as Holzmeister, Herkommer, Barting [sic], Berlage, Martin Weber, etc., etc., have realised totally Rationalist churches that are immediately open to religion. All of these buildings naturally reflect the environment in which they were created, and even the structural laws that are today common throughout the world require a reinterpretation for our Latin sensibility. But for Germany and the north of Switzerland they correspond perfectly to their function and harmonise with the renovated aspect of the cities for which they have been designed.
In a number of churches that have been built abroad, a rigid, rational constructive sense prevails, yet there remains a respect for certain traditional forms that betrays a fear of decisively liberating the design from what was at one time characteristic of a religious building. Consequently, this results in a vague nostalgia for other styles in contrast to the renovated architectonic spirit, and this is absurd because the religious quality of a church does not reside in particular defined outlines, but rather is expressed in the general rhythm of the whole, by the poetic harmony of its volumes.
Although they have not yet been realised, the new churches envisaged by Italian architects demonstrate an infinitely more lyrical inspiration.
And, alongside the architects, all the innovatory Italian artists are concerned with reaching a unity of style inside churches that has never been attained abroad. Through such collaboration, the character of the twentieth century church matures.
Alberto Sartoris’s cathedral is the most grandiose example of what direction modern sacred architecture should take: it is a triumph of steel and crystal, a play of volumes that define an absolutely original rhythm and achieve a result of constructive severity that is of the greatest significance.
In the Futurist church designed by Fillia and Oriani, the predominance of glass and aluminium aims at attaining the greatest possible sense of weightlessness, and in this project light is studied as a strictly architectural element. In another church, being designed by Prampolini and Fillia, the intention is to interpret through architecture the ‘aerial’ sensibility, which is today the most typical expression of our civilisation.
All of this creative fervour therefore represents the will of avant-garde architects and artists to endow our era with a physiognomy which, through the total application of new building materials, will interpret the spirit of modern life.
Futurismo, vol.I, no.4, 2 October 1932