Re-establishing poetics in modern architecture. Anders Munck in the Forum
A review of Anders Munck’s lecture in the Forum, Tuesday 24 November 2009
I have never been to Sigurd Lewerentz’s Saint Peter’s Church in Klippan, but from the images I have seen and the reports of those who have, it is placed very high up on my architectural wish list. Anders Munck’s talk about the church, last Tuesday evening at Spring House, only increased my enthusiasm for planning a journey to Sweden, as soon as possible.
Anders Munck is an architect teaching at the Architecture School at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art in Copenhagen. His talk was entitled Re-establishing poetics in modern architecture and after a brief tour of Lewerentz’s Chapel of Resurrection in the Woodland Cemetery of Stockholm, got underway with a photographic promenade first around, then inside the Klippan Church. My impression of this building has now been supplemented by several vivid images presented by Munck, but my desire to see it in the flesh has also grown due to his decision to avoid certain themes.
Munck showed how outside the church the atmosphere is intensified with the doubling up of downpipes and streetlamps, the notion of ‘redundancy’ playing a crucial role. He showed us the steel sections (’what you might call a cross’) holding up the roof, de-materialised by the darkness beneath the soffit. I remember his vivid description of the way the bricks within the church appear to have been ‘magnetised’ by some power, which arranges and articulates them before the altar. He recalled his amazement on feeling the vastness within the cave-like crack beneath the font and how the water dripping from that font seemed to connect with the water outside, pooling in the grass as it ran down from the roof. I recall his description of the gothic arrangement of bricks by the west door and of the ‘Buzz Aldrin of bricks’ who wants to ascend upwards.
If I understood him correctly, it was Munck’s intention to present Lewerentz’s architecture in a direct way, so as not to obscure, or betray, its powerful materiality. He spoke about ‘buildings that are, rather than represent something else’ and, of symbolic meaning, he said he would ‘try to keep that out of it’. Munck’s intentions echo Adam Caruso’s description of the church, which he said demonstrated Lewerentz’s rejection of ‘iconography as a basis for form’. But the absence of a religious frame of reference was not fully explained and, for me at least, did more to obscure the building rather than illuminate it. One almost had the impression that Munck was trying to circumvent the church’s identity as a place of worship. Who used the space and how?
Munck’s portrayal of the way the uncut bricks are arranged in different ways on the floor of the nave, acting as an articulated ground that supports the activities of the church, seemed in fact to clearly demonstrate that materiality is never encountered in a simple, unmediated way. Materiality in architecture is arranged and ordered and therefore speaks about more than just itself but also about the world in which it is encountered and in which we live.
Munck said that that ‘we, like bricks, are animated clay’ and that, at Klippan, Lewerentz was attempting to ‘find the soul in the matter’. I found these poetic insights both illuminating and precise, whereas I got the impression that evening that Munck himself thought such phrases represented a failure to really say what he wanted. I’m tempted to see his discomfort with the spoken word when presenting Lewerentz’s masterwork as a sign that he’s made a genuine connection with the work. But it also reminds me that, despite any qualms about ‘representational’ architecture, materiality ‘speaks’ about a lot more than just itself.