Paris Orthodox Go Modern

The Atlantic has an interesting article on a controversial new Russian Orthodox Church and Cultural Center to be built near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Photo via ArchDaily

The article notes that:

The project is staunchly opposed by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who has described the architecture as “pastiche” and “mediocre.” […] In 2011, the online real-estate television station La Chaine Immo announced plans for the cathedral with enthusiasm, describing the building as a “happy marriage between tradition and modernity.”

What do you think? “Pastiche” and “mediocre” or a “happy marriage between tradition and modernity?”

A much more extensive treatment of this project from an architectural standpoint is available from ArchDaily.

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8 comments

  1. 1. The mayor is right – it *is* mediocre and a pastiche. It aspires to be a Gehry centerpiece without sacrificing traditional forms, so it just throws a Gehry-esque blanket over the the whole and pokes the onion domes through. All this would be bad enough, but at 27 meters high, it’s not going to be an easy eyesore to ignore. A “happy marriage between tradition and modernity?” More like an angry codependent relationship.

    2. That said, this seems like a strange place and time to start objecting to bad po-mo architecture in Paris. It has so much already.

    3. I don’t mean to sound an anti-ecumenical note, but it’s striking to me that the ROC plans to erect a massive cathedral in the heart of Paris, and yet the only objections lodged are to its aesthetics. Yet every Roman Catholic church erected in Russia is treated by the ROC as 1204 all over again, a brutal frontal assault of proselytization of innocent Orthodox believers.

    But there ought to be freedom for each church to build accordingly to serve its existing adherents in each territory, subject only to reasonable zoning restrictions, without damaging ecumenical sensibilities. There has long been a sizable Russian expatriate community in Paris, and it’s entirely reasonable for the ROC to want to serve the spiritual needs of that community. But the same is true of Catholics living in Russia’s cities as well.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #1:
      While I understand the ecumenical difficulties, Paris is, as I think you realize, not the place to make a stand on this point. The large Russian Orthodox presence in Paris dates to the exiling of “white” Russians following the Russian revolution … it has a degree of legitimacy that, say, the missionary efforts in Latin America lack.

      I’ve been following this Paris project and haven’t yet seen any descriptions, drawings, or plans of the interior. The other outside images make the Church itself (other than the roofed garden aspect of the project) look entirely traditional. Given that the traditional forms of Russian Orthodox architecture are generally well suited to its liturgy, it makes sense to follow those traditional forms.

  2. Hello Sam,

    I hope it’s clear that I have no objection in principle to an ROC cathedral, or any other kind of church, in Paris, nor can I think why Parisian Catholics should either. As you say, there has been a large Russian community in Paris for many decades, even going back before the Russian Revolution.

    My only point was not to object to the cathedral being built – save to its dubious aesthetics – but to highlight by contrast the constant complaints by the ROC whenever any effort is made by Rome to provide for Catholics living in Russia or former Soviet states. It’s unfortunate. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    I agree that the form appears quite traditional (at least on the exterior) in this rendering save for the bizarre blanket cover thrown over the whole thing. If you removed that, what remains appears reasonably acceptable.

  3. Actually, the canopy is quite innovative. The architects have planned for sun-heated water to drain off the canopy into cisterns. In turn the cisterns will heat the church. There are also plans to install solar cells in the canopy.

    France is a secular country (laïcité). It severed its religious ties to Rome during the Third Republic, about than a century ago. So long as the zoning is secured and the necessary capital is raised for this project, I cannot see why any Parisian, let alone the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, would have even a comment about the project. A laic state is designed not just to separate the secular and religious spheres, but also protect worship and its places from governmental interference. The mayor of Paris might find the canopy unappealing, but he cannot direct the affairs of the parish-cultural center.

    I am quite aware of the entangled relationship between Vladimir Putin and the Moscow Patriarchate. I am also aware of the historical antagonisms between Rome and Moscow. Yet, I do not see why this conflict would be of immediate concern to any Catholic. In fact, this Catholic is quite eager to see this project to fruition, and would gladly take a tour when next in Paris.

    1. Actually, the canopy is quite innovative.

      But ugly as hell.

      I don’t think there is any moral objection to a municipality setting aesthetic or other norms for major construction in its bounds, especially in sensitive areas.

      But that wasn’t really my point. My real concern is the treatment that gets meted out to Catholics and Protestants in Russia.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #5:

        I shouldn’t provoke further antagonism, but there is an important point here that has been overlooked. The canopy is not the church. The church is not the church. The assembly is the church. So, any proposals for the church and cultural center are not in themselves a reflection of the true reason churches are built. Churches are built so that worshipers can create liturgy, not so that a church creates liturgy on its own.

        I used to think that a church creates liturgy. If the church was “ugly” (read: contemporary architecture), Mass would be bad. If a church was “good looking” (read: faux gothic or faux romanesque), then Mass would be good. Unfortunately, these metrics are entirely subjective and not strong enough to withstand even brief experience. Why should an artist’s renderings convince me that liturgy cannot be created in that place? Worship has yet to begin!

        Neither the EF, the OF, or Slavonic Divine Liturgy corresponds with a perfect liturgy within a perfect church. Mass is about being perfected, being open to grace. This is facilitated wherever persons have been, are, and will be assembled for the sacraments — from Chartres to the hood of a Jeep.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #6:

        True, but I think the small things such as architectural styles can have an effect on the worshippers and the dispositions that they bring to the assembly. It isn’t the primary thing by any means, but I don’t think it is negligible.

  4. Not having been the recipient of further infromation, I should have thought it was a Russian-themed attraction at an amusement park.
    I do not at all see Jordan Zarembo’s ‘innovative’ (no. 4 above), but, rather, think that Richard Malcom summed it up beautifully in a mere four words (no. 5) which I shant repeat. No taste!

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