New York Daily Photo Analytics

Saturday, December 30, 2006


This is the home of the Tenth Church of Christ Scientist at 171 MacDougal Street as seen from MacDougal Alley. This austere, modernist structure with no windows has always seemed out of place in the heart of the Greenwich Village historic district. As one might suspect, there is more here than meets the eye. As it turns out, the building itself was designed in 1890 by Renwick, Aspinwall and Russell. The factory building was acquired by the Church in 1921 and in 1966, the building's facade was radically altered to its current condition by Victor Christ-Janer & Associates. What's exciting for the neighborhood is that a proposal was made in April, 2006 (and approved in June) to restore the building's facade to its historic Romanesque-style. There will be three bays of windows with arched windows on the next to highest floor and smaller windows on the top floor. Overall, it's a huge improvement for such a prominent location and has been applauded by the community. The upper floors (which have been unused since the alteration) will be converted to 9 residential condominiums. Unlike most churches with various activities, this building has always been eerily quiet, with rare signs of life. Perhaps with all the new windows, we will finally see what's really going on in there :)


Anonymous said...

More windows would be a vast improvement. Too bad they changed it in the first place, I wonder why?

Brian said...

Good question - one could do some print research. The design firm that did this is known. Apparently this was a 1960s style "modernization."

Susan in Atlanta said...

Anything would be an improvement over its current state!

Happy New Year Brian and Lucy!

Anonymous said...

Bonne année, bonne santé
"Le temps passe, les années filent. Quand une nouvelle année commence, on se demande toujours si elle apportera la paix et le bonheur à chacun... Fermez les yeux et faites un voeu !"

Good year, good health
time passes, the years slip by. When a new year starts, one always wonders if it will bring peace and happiness to each one… Close the eyes and make a wish!

Anonymous said...

Constituent Imagery
Victor F. Christ-Janer
Perspecta, Vol. 17, 1980 (1980), pp. 8-17

This article describes the core ideas of what my father taught while at the Columbia Architectural School in his 15 years teaching there. His work always restated the relationship of man; to the earth, the sky, the cave and the totem. These were the central images he felt the human psyche responded to in relation to our sense of place. My father's work always incorporated a unique blend of ideas seeded by his exploration of philosophy, mythology, theology, humanism, secularism, existentialism, recovering German Lutheranism and just down right magical wizardry!

But in a nutshell, I think the windows he was most concerned with were windows that would open inside us. The house I grew up in (which he designed) was characterized by enormous floor to ceiling windows. Light is not a missing element in his work. However, in the context of a sacred place, he no doubt chose light sources that would illuminate - not expose. It was the cave and it was to be a place of nurture, retreat, meditation, contemplation. Think of all the places where the cave comes into play - birth, death, re-birth. Circle of life. I am interested in knowing how people feel/felt while worshiping within the space.

I can almost certainly tell you that he perceived his "job" as having you the occupants resonate to that.

When my sister and I were young, I recall my father taking us fishing on a rocky outcropping at the mouth of a harbor in a small town in northern Maine. He told me and my sister to look back at the harbor and to tell him what we observed. The first thing you notice as you look backwards at the village is the church. We listened as he talked about how interesting it was that the church was built on the highest piece of land in a way that it felt as though it would guard, like a sentinel, the village below. And that's what I see at the end of McDougal Street.

Katherine Christ-Janer


Here is an interesting article recently written about the Harvard 5 in New Canaan, CT and the demise of this culture as it is being torn to bits. My father figured well into this movement and to my knowledge still has homes (as well as other buildings in the metropolitan area) represented intact. It is an interesting read. Who knows, you might be moved to take a trip New Canaan to view these historic examples of the modernist movement before they disappear; which reminds me, I probably ought to take a trip to McDougal Street to photograph the church..that is.. if I am not already too late.

Mark from Tenth said...

As a longtime member, I can tell you that there was plenty of light in the main space. The upper portion of the building was, of necessity, left unoccupied and needed no windows.

Yes, you either love the design or you dislike it. And as an architect myself, I might not have chosen this direction for the facade. But to say that anything would be better is ignorant. Just walk around New York City and you'll find plenty of buildings that are anything but better. And in Atlanta, that may be an understatement.

The design of this church was thoughtful and inspiring, and those of us who made it our church home for any portion of these last 40 years has been blessed by it.

If Katherine Christ-Janer would like to know how it felt to worship in a building of her father's design, she can call the church (temporarily on Wooster Street 212-777-1717) and get my number.

If Brian really wanted to "see what's really going on in there," he could have come to a service anytime. There have been over 4000 in the new edifice.

And if Susan from Atlanta knew what she was talking about, she'd have kept quiet.

PS: It's Macdougal (no capital D)

Anonymous said...

From Jeanne, a longtime member:

Worshipping at Tenth Church has always been inspiring. Our auditorium was bright and appealing, with its unique and very fresh interior design. On Sunday mornings, depending on the season, the sunlight coming through the single tall window would cast lovely shafts of light, sometimes all the way to the podium at the front. There was an expansive feeling to the space, seeming to reinforce the statement "God is Love" that was on the front wall. At our last Wednesday service there, many spoke of their love of the space and/or the healing embrace they felt there. All this was in tune with the sense of God's allness, that is at the center of our Christian Science belief. We are using the pews and platform furniture effectively at our temporary and very different space at 43 Wooster, so anyone who has an interest is welcome to come and take it in. The sense of community is still present and very appealing. (Our need to renovate the space and especially the mechanical systems after 40 years was urgent, and we sought a way to use the long-unused upper floors, which were still as they had been when it was a factory at the beginning of the 20th century.)

Cormac said...

I cannot speak to suitability of the current interior to those who worship there. As a lifelong neighbor, however, I have a great deal to say about the exterior, present, and promised. I have never been a fan of the current exterior. I find it banal. On the other hand, it has certainly been inoffensive, restrained, well maintained, and not lacking for dignity. In a neighborhood filled with piquant gems, its blank but warm brick facade can act as a kind of pause; the silence that allows the other notes to read as music rather than cacophony.

The facade that is to replace it, on the other hand, seems equally second rate but lacking even the saving grace of being different. In a neighborhood filled with handsome, and sometimes breathtaking, examples of genuine eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings, the new facade will be a clunky ersatz Classical Revival, more like a 2000 Moscow shopping mall than its 1890 precursor. Such a building would be banal and deflating even in the best of settings. Set so near the genuine articles, it will simply scream “cheap fake.” Apparently, the way to get things through the various permitting boards these days is to make a symbolic renunciation of any architectural convention popularized after 1900, (Never mind that this defies the spirit of both the landmarks law and Jane Jacobs, its patron saint) quality does not appear to count at all.

It seems an odd thing to cheer, as Brian does, that a long established religious congregation is being forced by circumstances to reduce the amount of space they use to praise their God in favor of multi-million dollar luxury homes. Even worse is Brian’s ill-informed opinion that the change is “exciting” for the neighborhood. Really? We should be excited that the conversion requires the addition of an entire story of new mechanical – ruining views, reducing sunlight, and adding noise? That the construction will cause months of noise and dust? That the new windows will look into the homes of existing residents? Exciting isn’t the word those of us who live here would have chosen. Perhaps cross, as in “cross to bear” would be more appropriate.

OldProle said...

It seems odd that the congregation chose to leave parts of the building vacant all these years, but that's their affair.

As a public surface, I find no fault with the design (with reference only to what I can see in the picture). Yes, it looks like the 60s. But buildings and communities have histories and there is no good reason why this facade should have been edited out of history. Preserving good looks from the past is a fine idea, and the plain facade is worth preserving. I don't think the old building facade was really all that interesting.

For 15 years I have lived across the street from a Saarinen & Saarinen church that was built in 1949 and bears no connection to any of the houses or buildings in the vicinity. It is slightly more adorned than this building, but it is still very "clean", like this facade. It is a look that will still be good 100 years from now. The original facade of this building has plenty of representatives in the neighborhood, I bet.

holzbau würzburg said...

Good Job! :)

Brian Dubé said...

My impression was that the church would remain and the the condominiums would be created from unused space. I also surmised (incorrectly) that the condos would be more reasonably priced and sold to members of the church. I am sorry if the changes have been forced by economics and against the congregation's wishes. The end result does not speak to the original historical facade in a way I expected.