Weekend Tourist: Inside an architectural gem

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February 27, 2012
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky
German poet, playwright, and philosopher Johan Wolfgan von Goethe once said: “Architecture is frozen music.” Decide for yourself at an upcoming concert in Minnesota’s most architecturally significant church.

When German immigrants founded Christ Church Lutheran in 1911 they most likely hoped the congregation would prosper, but they probably never imagined their home would become a mecca for architects — and now music lovers. By the 1940s the church continued to grow and needed a new home. Typical church architecture at that time was gothic — lots of carved stone columns, ornate stained glass windows, and pointed arches that lifted one’s eyes up toward heaven. It was also very expensive. So the pastor decided to contact Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish architect whose father was a Lutheran pastor. By then, Saarinen had moved to the U.S., was president of Cranbrook Academy of Art, and was on the forefront of modern design. (Two of his students were Charles and Ray Eames.)

Saarinen accepted the commission and broke all typical church architecture conventions. The minimal space is covered in simple materials: brick, concrete, tile, white pine, travertine from Winona. None of the walls are completely parallel and the ceiling slopes to one side. These angles make the acoustics superb. At the building’s dedication in 1949, he said: “If a building is honest, the architecture is religious.” This was Saarinen’s last commission, he died the following year.

Saarinen’s son Eero, by now an architectural superstar of his own (St. Louis Arch, Dulles Airport), was hired to design the attached education wing that opened in 1962. These two internationally renowned examples of modern spiritual architecture are nearly free of alteration. As a result, they are not only on the National Register of Historic Places but have been designated a National Historic Landmark. Minnesota has only 22 other landmarks with this special classification including Fort Snelling, James J. Hill House, Pillsbury A Mill, Soudan Mine, Sinclair Lewis Childhood Home, F. Scott Fitzgerald House, and the National Farmers’ Bank of Owatonna. Because of Saarinen’s reinterpretation of spiritual architecture, church architecture was forever changed.

Accordo, a classic and contemporary chamber music group with members from the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Orchestra, has been playing at the Southern Theater since they formed in 2009. This season they moved to their new home at Christ Church Lutheran. You still have time to catch two upcoming concerts. They’re sponsored by The Schubert Club that was founded in 1882 and is Minnesota’s first performing arts organization.

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Pie break
The nearby Birchwood Cafe (3311 E. 25th St.) serves creativity on a plate, before or after a concert.


Upcoming concerts
• Monday, March 12, 7:30pm
Bacchanalia (Beethoven, Cotton and Dvorak)

• Monday, May 14, 7:30pm
Brahms/Haydn Variations

For more information visit schubert.org/accordo and christchurchluth.org