San Diego, California
I found James Thunder’s article most interesting, particularly in his display of how important land is to the benefit of helping entire towns during Pugin’s time, earlier times, and even continue into today’s times. The article gives a good overview of Pugin’s Contrasts, as a way of life, Christian life. Thunder touches on the role of monasteries as centers for learning, schools, libraries and housing for the elderly. Not what we think of as the main role of monasteries today.
Pugin’s Imaginary Town was drawn when Pugin was only in his early 20s. Thunder’s article shows how the Imaginary Town really started Pugin on his vision of towns having interrelated religious buildings, and why Gothic architecture is continually linked with religious architecture. Something I always wondered about. If a reader has any interest at all in architecture, Thunder gives us good coverage of what Pugin brought forward to his time in architecture, drawings and land use, as it provided for neighbors and for the love of God. I came away with a far better understanding of how beneficial land use is wherever there is a desire is to have “homes” for the poor and the elderly.
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Rev. Francis de Rosa, Pastor, St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church. Colonial Beach, Virginia
(Click here to see pictures of 2012 renovation)
James Thunder has made an insightful contribution to an important topic that gets to the heart of why and what our communities ought to be seeking when they carry out building projects. The great tendency to soulless functionalism is really a dehumanizing trend. But great men like Pugin intuitively understood the stakes, and his stunning architectural career and vision shows how supernatural Faith can transform and elevate human endeavors. His emphasis on the Gothic means that he fully embraced the best Christianity had to offer in raising up buildings, and by extension, environments, that give glory to God and are conducive to uplifting His creature man.
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Peter Szegedy-Maszak [M.R.P. (Masters in Regional Planning), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; former Professor of Planning, Ryerson University, Toronto Ontario]
Jim Thunder offers a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate regarding the development and components of a values-based framework for civic planning in the United States. Using and applying the Christian vision and ideals, A.W. Pugin, the 19th century architect, designed the British Houses of Parliament and over 50 Roman Catholic churches and cathedrals primarily in the United Kingdom. Mr. Thunder identifies principles that Pugin championed in his church architecture as a core framework for “faith-based development.”
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Michael Morrissey, Ph.D. in Philosophical and Systematic Theology
Associate Adjunct Professor, Dominican University
San Rafael, California
This essay provides a very informative overview of the life and work of the early 19th Century British architect and designer, Augustus Pugin. Americans may know Pugin only as the interior designer of the Palace of Westminster and architect of Big Ben, but he was in fact the most influential figure in the Victorian Gothic Revival. To illustrate his contribution to this movement, Thunder takes us through some of Pugin’s major works (which include nine cathedrals and 60 churches), offering an annotated catalog of some of his lesser known buildings and designs.
The most important theme Thunder draws out here is Pugin’s Christian sensibility as a neo-Gothic designer, a neglected aspect in reviews of Pugin’s work. Thunder argues that Pugin was a strong advocate of faith-based land use development, over against the pagan classical style, as seen especially in his designs of imaginary towns, which places in their center houses of worship and service. Thunder includes helpful links to a number of Pugin’s drawings and buildings so we can see for ourselves the artistic genius of this great architect. He ends with a provocative contrasting of Pugin’s Christian style with examples of American land-use that has because essentially secular. We owe Thunder a debt for illuminating the little-known work of this illustrious British figure.
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John Van Vranken
I have learned so much about Pugin in this and in Thunder’s earlier article commemorating his bicentennial. (Ed. note: see Spero article here) His vision of land use, incorporating space for worship among all the secular uses was perhaps visionary. I don’t know if that vision could be applied to any large-scale government-driven development in the current U.S. It would perhaps be more applicable to smaller, private developments.
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After reading this I want to change add “The Great” after the first word in the title. I was not familiar with Pugin before reading this and am amazed at the way he tried to restore what was lost in architecture and attitude. Churchill’s statement that “...our buildings shape us” is a summary of Pugin's vocation. “Career” doesn’t apply here because Pugin’s behavior and work fundamentally reflect an interior love of God and his neighbor, to which he put all his talent and ability, and what they earned him.
The contrast between Pugin’s vision and modern day Tysons Corner (a few miles from my suburban home) is between beauty/service and function/revenue. Our modern roads and parking garages and places to shop and eat and work dominate the landscape -- convenience, entertainment, and pleasure are things offered to those who can afford them, and “tough luck” for those who cannot. Pugin’s ideal town excluded no one, and provided the essentials of life food/clothing/shelter/medical attention while preserving the dignity of all.
It is amazing to think how things have changed over the course of history. Pugin’s favored Medieval period is called the “Dark Ages,” and we see the age of faith leading to works that care for the hungry, the poor, the widow, and the orphan in a person to person interaction that manifests love for neighbor. The Reformations of Luther and Henry VIII and the subsequent French Revolution ripped so much of this away -- as faith as a way of life was assaulted and adherents put to death, lands and buildings were confiscated and destroyed and the whole fabric of life as it was lived for centuries was shredded .... to be replaced by Government. Now instead of neighbor helping neighbor (and family member helping a family member from another generation) directly from their own resources, Government becomes the agent of charity by redistribution of collected taxes according to policies and programs (instead of actual need) and the resulting depersonalization of aid delivery leads to scams and fraud and inefficiency. The absence of church buildings in Tysons Corner, a suburb of Washington, DC, both shapes us and is the shape of us.
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Readers who might be hesitant to read an essay about a Victorian Gothic architect should persevere. This essay richly rewards the reader who will be introduced to a life and work worthy of emulation in an article that is accessible and engaging. What emerges from this essay is the humane vision of a truly good man, a vision that could have significant and wonderful implications for neighborhoods and communities. James Thunder’s work is highly recommended.
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Richard L. von Luhrte, FAIA
President and Senior Principal
RNL has offices in Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Washington DC, Abu Dhabi, and Singapore. www.rnldesign.com/en/
I found your article fascinating. While I am not a student of Pugin, I found your insightful commentary to be very relevant in the way we view planning today in a primarily secular world.
I will make a few points based on my own work in Community Planning and urban design, as well as that of our profession as a whole. There is no doubt that the movement away from traditional city planning is also accompanied by a focus on secularism versus religious values. The transition from the Gothic cities of Europe to the American cities of the East Coast translates first and foremost away from the church and towards democratic government and freedom as the focus. This has to do with a significant emphasis upon democracy as the social equalizer, and actually a movement away from the perceived persecution from the Church of England.
With the U.S. Revolution, the U.S. turned quickly to a vision of a community led by equality and open dialogue, not the hierarchical dogma of the traditional church dominated society. In essence the separation of church and state of the U.S. constitution drove a newfound focus on the government of the people with the freedom to worship as one pleases. In many of these traditional Eastern communities, the new civic focus was indeed the library or the courthouse, and the common element to all with the civic or town square. Even in the movie Back to the Future (1985), the singular theme in each of the three sequels was the continuity of the clock tower on the courthouse, and its pivotal role in the movie’s theme. In fact, I did a series of lectures in the 90’s that were entitled “Return to Town Square” where I essentially admonished the current form of contemporary cities, and our lost sense of community in urban sprawl and auto driven suburbia. In my mind, the issue is not a return to a church dominated town planning, but rather a town planning based on the values of the person, upon equality, and upon the family. Pugin would have been sympathetic to this perspective, and while I would not necessarily agree with the precept that the church needs to be the singular focus, I would agree completely with the value of humanity as the driving force in the vision of a new town.
New Urbanism does not really get it either because it is essentially a commercial endeavor driven by the value of retail, or housing, and of nostalgic architectural style. This is a trend that when applied to the city has some benefits in scale and form, but misses the boat when translated to community building and humanity. There are however, some significant examples where New Urbanism has achieved a kind of image that either by accident, or specific intent, achieves the right kind of statement about the sense of community. In Orenco New Community, outside of Portland, the town square forms the focus of family gathering. While the places of worship are not the featured elements, the sense of community is anchored by a place for families to gather and for children to play.
It seems that the enlightened designers today are returning to “classic” forms in community planning, with the church, the library, and the courthouse as central elements in creating form. This can be because of nostalgia, and in many cases, is based upon a preference of style or appearance, but it can also be because of a lack of community and a yearning for values that we have long lost as a society. I am a firm believer that the return to classical planning principles can be directly translatable to a society that is gravely looking for someplace safe, for a haven to call home, for a sense of place that has been lacking in everything that we did in the 50’s through the 80’s that has created so much of what is bad in planning today. And carrying this further, maybe planning today is intended to bring back a sense of humanity that really is founded in religious principles of higher purpose and a celebration of a humanity and a sense of stewardship. Sustainable design is clearly driven by the values of respecting the planet as “God has mandated in the Bible.”
Suburbia is struggling today, not because of need, but rather because of the lack of identity, form, and place created by the infinite expansion of subdivision, shopping center, and congestion out onto the countryside. Instead, like the vision the Pugin presents, urban planning today seeks an identity that is based on community, sustainability, and a sense of compassion for the human plight, including the infirmed, the elderly and the disadvantaged. This is why today we are seeing a return of cities, a revitalization of the value of density, and the sense of community that only can be achieved through urbanity. In these enclaves, just like the renderings of the past, the Cathedral is important, as are the civic monuments to our government, to education, and to human culture and enrichments. Our libraries, museums, and colleges, all thrive in urban context.
I firmly believe that the ultimate vision for city planning reinforces the values of traditional classical (gothic) planning principles, with the vital and exciting public realm coupled with a truly successful private commercial vibrancy. That is why Paris is a great city; classic places formed throughout the city, either motivated by the cathedral, or rather by the great civic and cultural buildings of the day. This vision of historic classical design truly creates a magical combination of both religious driven city design and civic based planning, altogether which celebrates humanity at its finest.
G. Tracy Mehan, III. Former Assistant Administrator for Water, US EPA, and adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law
Before Jane Jacobs and her landmark work Death and Life of Great American Cities, there was the Augustus Welby Pugin, a name associated not only with the Victorian Gothic Revival, but with a humane and communal approach to urban design and planning which, for him, including a role for religious expression in the public square.
We are fortunate that James Thunder, a devoted descendent and student of Pugin, has provided a comprehensive and enlightening essay on this seminal character in western culture. Pugin was a convert to Catholicism who offered an alternative to Lockean, individualist thinking as expressed in architecture and the design of cities. From the standpoint of hindsight, we can see how these intellectual trends interacted with the automobile-centric society of modern America to produce a society which is increasing sterile and segregated by class and function.
James Thunder’s authoritative account is a welcome counter-balance to both Modernism and the Whig Interpretation of architecture and planning if not history.