In this new edition of CIARC, to be held in Santa Cruz de Tenerife from November 23 to 25, 2023, the organizers want to bring to the forefront the figure of the client – the principal, the person or entity that inspires, promotes or commissions a work of architecture – highlighting his or her relationship with the architect in a particular building.
In recent times, the central role that the client plays in the process of ideation, design and execution of a space for worship has begun to become evident. This can be a specific person -a priest, a bishop, a patron-, a community of the faithful -parish, monastic community, neighborhood association- or an institution -university, diocese, public agency, etc.-. Their relationship with the architect as the technician in charge of drafting a project and supervising the execution of the works has not been a subject to which the academic literature on modern architecture has paid much attention.
The organizers are aware that it is not always easy to find the voice of the person who commissions a church. Thus, it would be a matter of relying on personal sources and archival documents to reconstruct the process of genesis, design and construction of a religious building.
Each paper will focus on one or two examples of new or refurbished buildings, tracing through cross correspondence between the client and the architect what was the decision-making process that determined their final appearance, how regulatory issues – both civil and ecclesiastical – were discussed, program requirements, budget constraints, technical and aesthetic choices, environmental and sociological considerations, or integration into history and context, critically analyzing what result was obtained.
The cases of Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro and the Gresleri brothers and their search for Alvar Aalto to design the church in Riola di Vergato are well known; the friendship of Father Couturier with Le Corbusier, which finally led to the commissions for Ronchamp and La Tourette; or the desire of some religious orders to have architects ‘of the house’ to guarantee the success of the enterprise, as happened, for example, with Friar Coello of Portugal or Dom Hans van der Laan.
Although there may be cases in which the client has given carte blanche to the architect, this is not the most frequent option. The casuistry is varied. It may happen that projects that are too daring have failed or have been devalued during the process. Or others have come to fruition after arduous negotiations between the actors involved.
In any case, a closer look at the reasons that led to the final result -unfortunate or not- will shed light on relationships that have marked contemporary religious architecture, and from which we can always draw valid lessons for the future.