Charles W. Moore is indeed one of the pivotal architect and the author of the now notorious and often inadequately understood (and naively dismissed on formal grounds) Po Mo period of 70's and 80's.
In early eighties, Moore's collaborative, still known and functioning to date as Moore Ruble Yudell, has produced a breath taking masterpiece in a Los Angeles suburb Pacific Palisades. The Parish of Saint Matthew or commonly known as Episcopal Church of Pacific Palisades was a product of architects' close collaboration with the community in the design stage and results were a perfect blend of architects' talent and community's approval.
As the recently graduated young architect, I remember my visit to the church when it was first opened in 1983 or thereabouts.
After nearly thirty years, I was again there last Sunday morning to pay my respect to a deceased friend of a friend and while I was there, I said hello to Mr. Moore who died in 1993.
I delightfully observed how well building held up and like most exceptional pieces of architecture, it has aged gracefully.
For a relatively small church, the sequenced cathedral like volumes are perfectly proportioned. The spatial sequence is enveloped under the intersecting hipped roofs, then sloped down in a swooping composition adjusting the scale to human height. The stucco walls are of 4" plaster inside with uncompromising acoustical properties. The structural program is expressed by two large arches supporting a pair of steel trusses, one on the "x" axis which then supporting the other on the "y" axis at the crossing, stiffened in the center against the torque with butterfly wing like wood members acting both in tension and compression, perhaps a grammatic take on Aalto's famous wing trusses fanning in Saynatsalo Town Hall.
Moore's play of crucifix form on the floor plan, sort of shortening the long arm of the cross by the forward placement of the organ side arch and visually elongating the narrower horizontal arms terminating at circular stained glass windows, thus allowing semi circular seating never farther away from the altar more than seven rows, topped by a suspended wooden cross on a critical tilt, a definite commentary on the perhaps deeper meaning on the dynamics of our times, held by the God, reaching out to his subjects intimately but commanding indisputably.
Then there are perhaps mosque influenced hanging light fixtures custom designed in collaboration with lighting designer Richard Peters, their incandescent lights saturating the color of the extensively used reddish blond wood and following the curves of the seating below.
The mosque influence speculation on my part is educated one from school years, formed after listening Mr. Moore talking about Moorish tiles, then switching to terraced gardens of Indian palaces in scholarly precision and creative history telling, weaving the Islamic architecture intimately for about three hours, in the similar fashion as Robert Venturi would talk about complex and contradicted places in architecture.
During my pensive moments at the memorial service, my eyes elevated up to operable sky lighted t&g ceiling by the vertical battens on the walls several times, and each time they would come down, I would wonder out to gardens beyond the clear glass, perhaps as a reminder of the ephemeral and beautiful world outside. How is that for an architectural narrative? Mr. Moore is like that. Now you know it in a snapshot way.
OA, 01/2011, Los Angeles
Photographs/Slideshow. Orhan Ayyüce ©
Here is the description of the project from the architects in the church website
1031 Bienveneda Avenue
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272