a tour of St. Martin's Church, Austin, Texas
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Docomomo and MidTexMod hosted a lecture and tour of St. Martin's Evangelical Church in Austin today. An acquaintance, Jason John Paul Haskins, gave a fantastic lecture about the history of the congregation, the architect, and the architecture. In addition to his Pope-ish (and half-the-Beatles) name, Jason John Paul is a multi-degreed architect specializing in ecclesiastic architecture (be sure to check out his blog, Locus Iste; I also learned that he's not a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright [the dude], so perhaps I need to go drink a beer with him sometime to commiserate...).
A fellow by the name of Robert Mather designed the church and oversaw its completion in early 1960. I drive by this church every day I go to work and wondered, based on the appearance of the vertical steel supports, if there was a Mies van der Rohe connection (they look Miesian to me, like something out of the Tungenhat House ). As it turns out, Mather studied with Mies at IIT in Chicago beginning in 1946. Furthering Mather's education in Teutonic Modernism, he later worked for a Gropius collective in Cambridge.
The University of Texas' memorial biography suggests that Mather's upbringing in Pasadena, California, sparked his interest in architecture because that's where where much of Greene and Greene's work resides. However, I wonder if his stint at the Art Center School in Los Angeles in the mid-40s gave him exposure to the early California modernism of R.M. Schindler, Richard Neutra, and various second-wavers. As a conscientious objector during World War II, his politics were "right" to run in those circles.
After his wife, Jean, graduated with her degree in landscape architecture, she and Mather toured and worked in Europe for a time before they came to Texas, first College Station and then Austin. After designing this church, the university hired him, where he taught and thought until his death in 1984.
It's really a neat church. It's austere without feeling austere. The steel supporting structure is clearly expressed, lifting the roof slightly above the walls. The steel structure is also well integrated into the design (note how the lights hang off of the horizontal steel beams) and provide continuity from the outside to the inside (although on the inside the steel is now painted brown; originally they were the same deep-sea blue as the outside). Jason believes this is an important early Modern church in the United States, even though it is relatively unrecognized.
If you want to gawk at it yourself, stop by 606 West 15th Street. And someone, please, hire Jason to design a church. Given his knowledge and love for this type of architecture, I would love to see what he would come up with.