John Allen is someone whose writing benefited greatly from trying to understand good faith people he disagreed with. It made him a must-read from 2000 to 2013. You might not have agreed with him at the end, but wrestling with opposing views made his views more intelligible and thought-provoking.
As has been said on a monthly basis since March 2013: what a difference a conclave makes.
Now that he interacts with messaging far more congenial to his left-of-center-outlook, he no longer has to wrestle with discordant arguments, and his output has suffered accordingly.
It's...not good. Not at all.
Where to begin?
Who are these folks, and why is their judgment so devastating in the eyes of Allen?
No explanation. One is tempted to say that for Allen, that it appeared in the Times is all the imprimatur he needed.
Sulzberger locuta est, causa finita est?
The solons who weighed in on The Most Important Architecture in the Past Four Generations are simply identified as "contributors" whom "we'd all do well to pay a bit more attention to."
As opposed to matters such as:
That striking fact [the Style supplement's listing of only two religious buildings] has passed largely without comment in the arena of
Catholic media right now, consumed by whether the President of the
United States should be denied communion, which senior church official
will be the next to be outed for private use of a gay hookup app, and
who’s stabbing whom in the back in the Vatican’s blockbuster trial over a
$400 million property deal in London gone bad.
I'm reminded of the King of the Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail urging the traumatized citizenry: "Let's not bicker and argue about who killed who."
In the midst of the rot and filth sloshing around the ankles of the passengers of the so-called Barque of Peter, Allen boldly stands on a barrel near the forecastle and hollers:
"Get over fixations on the endemic moral, financial and doctrinal corruption of Catholicism from top to bottom and focus on what's really important--modernist architects don't like our new buildings!!!"
And make no mistake, the Style Section's Magnificent Seven loves itself some architectural modernism:
Modernists, of course, played an important role in this discussion, and a
few of them — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Lina Bo Bardi, Luis
Barragán — were named again and again on our individual ballots. There
were also three buildings — Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1951;
Plano, Ill.); Kahn’s Salk Institute (1965; La Jolla, Calif.); Bo Bardi’s
SESC Pompéia (1986; São Paulo) — that received three preliminary votes
each, practically mandating their inclusion as finalists.
And hoo boy, is there a cavalcade of Bauhaus 'N' Brutalism at the Times piece.
Perhaps sensing the trivial nature of his complaint, Allen attempts to tie the allegedly-damning judgment of the Perdon No Te Conozco literati to a wider theme of defensive-crouch religion in 2021.
Leaving aside that we aren't given any reason to regard the judgment of the Times piece as authoritative, much less damning, Allen manages to miss the fact that Catholicism's taste managers have taken runs at avant garde architecture. For example, $190 million was dropped on Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Not for nothing did the Reverend Mahony utter these timeless words in 1997:
Writing a check or coming up with cash is a vital liturgical deed in the root meaning of liturgy, a work done by people on behalf of the larger community.
Two generations before OLA saw Muskegon, Michigan's brutalist invitation to Christ, Our Lady of Room 101--------------er, Saint Francis de Sales Church.
Heavily redolent of Le Corbusier's
Lest we forget, examples such as OLA and SFdS can be multiplied by numerous modern-thinking Catholic builds. And yet none of them--despite being within the general gestalt of modern architecture--came to the attention of the supposedly definitive judgment of the Style essay. Maybe because the label of the architect matters more than the product? Such is true in the rest of the fashion world. Why should fashion employing rebar be any different?
I like to think that the Iron-Sharpening-Iron Allen of a decade ago would have pondered different questions and not have worried about Catholics getting gold stars from their secular betters. He might have, at a minimum, wondered aloud if there was a disconnect between modern architectural fads and Catholic worship.
He definitely would not have castigated the faithful for their well-founded outrage and concerns about corruption. Least of all juxtaposing that criticism with a cringe-inducing plea for forward-thinking architecture.
In the end, the bauhausiest "worship space" in the world isn't going to make up for the bad witness of Catholic clerics and laity. A genuine shame the Allen of 2021 can't see that.