firm active: 1907-1921

minneapolis, minnesota :: chicago, illinois
philadelphia, pennsylvania :: portland, oregon

Navigation :: Home :: Selected Works :: Institutional :: Commission List :: Parabiographies
Third Church of Christ, Scientist, project
Minneapolis, Minnesota   1914

Text by William Gray Purcell
Parabiographies entry, Volume for 1910

Job Date (in Parabiographies): June 1, 1914

Christian Science Church

The Third Christian Science Church, of Minneapolis, was going to build a new building and in an effort to secure this commission, we developed this new approach to the Christian Science Church auditorium. It was not until twelve years later that these ideas were to appear in an actual Christian Science Church - the Third Christian Science Church of Portland, Oregon - and even then the building of the more significant half of the church was deferred and in 1939 the church was still not strong enough to undertake it completion.

To what extent we were influenced in the design of this church by Mr. Sullivan's St. Paul's Church in Cedar Rapids might very properly be considered, but in one sense I think not at all, for in all of our Protestant churches, we had been considering the problem of securing a more satisfactory relation between each individual in the audience and the speaker in the pulpit, and it had already appeared to us that semi-circular banks of seats, as in a Greek Theatre, offered the best solution for non-liturgical services.

In this Third Christian Science Church, the noise of Lake Street, which was a traffic thoroughfare, was a serious problem, and for that reason we insulated the auditorium behind a mass of the building which contained all of the service and circulation units. This plan, which was the reverse of the Cedar Rapids Church, thus grew out of a detailed investigation of specialized mechanical functions that were peculiar to this particular church.

We were much interested in the exceedingly ingenious handling of the circulation in Wright's Unity Temple, in Oak Park, and his solution was impulse for the line of thought that led to this quite different solution. Elimination of confusion has never been more simply and perfectly accomplished that in Wright's Oak Park Church.

There is simply no need for walking in aisles. From the two entrances to the auditorium from the main lobby, the people pass entirely around the auditorium beneath the seats, and a step or two to their seats is all that is required. In addition to this, when the service is over, the two natural subconscious possible for each individual in the audience are provided for. First, those who feel the social instinct proceed naturally and directly down the aisles toward the pulpit and the speaker who is already there to greet them, because the main exits from the auditorium are not at the same time entrances as in most churches. These exits being either side of pulpit instead of at the opposite end of the church as universally arranged, the minister is not obliged to race around the building, often outdoors, to meet his parishioners as they leave. On the other hand, those who wish to slip out undisturbed or who have duties calling them quickly out of the building, return through the end passages by which they came, and exit through the entrances. This whole thing seemed so perfectly rational and sensible that we built this plan on a similar organization of circulation. This was the governing feature in the Third Christian Science Church in Portland. It should be noted, however, that in the Portland church, the use of the Sunday School room as the temporary auditorium, by only solving half of the above problem, did not solve it at all and created a very unfortunate situation, the full force of which was not realized for some years. That is to say, in this church the doors either side of the reader's desk were both entrance and exit. Now a great many people are so self-conscious that they are unable to face a large body of people, even to find their seats, and the reluctance of a considerable number of people to enter the church in the face of the audience was found to have actually brought the normal growth of this church to a practical standstill, and in 1938 some steps were considered to rectify this condition by establishing main entrances at the rear of the auditorium, with proper foyers, etc, retaining the present entrance-exits primarily as exits only.

In both of these Christian Science Churches, there was an especial effort to take account of the fact that a well controlled contact between the adults and children of the church is a very desirable factor. The practical contact between parents and their children, and emotional opportunity for those who do not have children to see and enjoy them, if it can be done without confusion, is an important factor in maintaining a right organization atmosphere. Both these churches give each member of the audience an opportunity to reach the street directly and undisturbed by contact with others, if he so desires, but with equal convenience he may pass into and through those rooms and passages where the Sunday School children are arriving. Third Christian Science Church in Minneapolis was planned with the idea of using the main auditorium as the Sunday School room because at that time the services were held at a different hour, but provision was made for an additional Sunday School building and auditorium on the north end of the lot equally accessible to the classrooms which were placed under rear seats of the main church auditorium.

We did not secure an opportunity to build this church because of acute internal politics on the board of directors. Those members who were favorable to our employment, finding themselves at last in the minority, the rift in the church was much deeper than disagreement over the church plans, which became more or less of a blind to a real issue involving personal ambitions. Before long, this fundamental difference of opinion caused a considerable body of members to withdraw not only from this Third Christian Science Church, but from the National Organization. The same issue appearing all over the country developed in 1917-1918 into the historic battle between the Board of Directors of the Mother Church and the Board of Trustees of the Publishing Society.

Then came the war, my activities were transferred to Philadelphia, and in 1919 Hewitt and Brown were retained to build the Sunday School auditorium on the north end of the lot, to be used as a temporary church auditorium and still so used.

It is interesting that Hewitt and Brown adopted out semi-circular facing toward the reader's desks, but chose the form of a hollow square rather than a semi-circle. They did give the outer five rows of seats considerably more than the conventional slope, following along the slope of the floor in our plans which was made the maximum which could be given to an aisle without an undue sense of climbing a hill.

In both our plans it was impossible to make this slope considerably sharper than in a conventional long aisle church plan because practically all travel in the aisles was down hill except for the ushers.

The building is not constructivist in design, but expresses itself in very intimate and human forms, is friendly and open to the possibilities of decorative material which would tie it into the daily lives of those who were to use it. But at the same time, we secured a remarkably effective and efficient relation between cost and design through very direct, practical construction, multiplication of the many parts and details, all exactly alike and precisely the same size. There was very little concealed construction. Every part supplied full measure of both use and appearance and values.


   Collection: William Gray Purcell Papers, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota [AR:B4d1.8]
research courtesy mark hammons