Research is all about discovery. An obscure source illuminates more of your subject than you anticipated. An unexpected bit of information suggests a question you had not yet thought to ask. Or several smallish discoveries accumulate until your view on a topic becomes markedly transformed. And then there are occasions when, buried in the midst of minutiae, as you follow along little lines of inquiry or focus upon specific parts of your problem, something broader and bigger appears. Your work overlaps with the work of others with larger, overarching consequences. Just such an occasion is part of the backstory to a newly released book of essays, for which I am a contributor and coeditor: Sanctioning Modernism: Architecture and the Making of Postwar Identities.
While we were doctoral students in architectural history at the University of Texas at Austin, Vladimir Kulić, Monica Penick and I began to think about organizing a conference. We batted around potential topics, speakers, formats and sources of funding. We were concerned to make the venture compelling to a broad audience and to be able to sustain the effort we knew it would require. But perhaps most of all, we wanted the conference to be relevant to the field we were seeking to enter. A nagging worry followed us around: Who were we to do this? Graduate school can do that. Ever-increasing knowledge and sophistication can underline nothing so much as how much one does not know.
But the perfect topic was there all along under our collective noses. I was working on post-WWII Catholic parish churches. My colleagues were researching architecture and politics in Socialist Yugoslavia (Vladimir) and mid-century modern American houses (Monica). We recognized our common postwar time period and focus on modernism, but the projects were individually rooted in different building types, different geographic regions and different bodies of scholarship. And yet, how modernism was important suggested something else. For we were each concerned to understand the ways in which modern architecture was appropriated, resisted or otherwise engaged within our chosen contexts. So we had our topic: architectural forms of modern identity in religious, political and domestic life.
But that was only the beginning. For after bringing a rich array of scholars to Austin for a successful one-day event, we were soon convinced that the presentations should be enlarged and revised so as to compose a book of focused, interrelated essays. And so, during the long editorial process, we continued our individual work. I sought to understand modern religious architecture more fully. This involved not only theology, liturgy and architectural theory, but also close observation and fine-grained analysis of the churches themselves. With Luigi Moretti’s Sancta Maria Mater Ecclesiae (1965–70, the subject of my essay in the book), the church design was expressly intended to celebrate the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) as a modernizing moment for the Catholic Church. Here and throughout, however, Sanctioning Modernism demonstrates the value of making connections between focused study and the shared matter of modern identity.
—Timothy Parker, PhD
Assistant Professor, School of Architecture + Art
Top photo: Sancta Maria Mater Ecclesiae, Rome (1965-70; unbuilt), by Luigi Moretti. Front Elevation.
Central State Archive, Rome, Luigi W. Moretti Archive, Box 91, “Relazione”.