When the Episcopal congregation of the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore decided to expand, they hired internationally renowned architect Pietro Belluschi to design a modern church and two large support buildings for offices and classrooms. The nine-acre site on upper North Charles Street already included a 1858 Gothic Revival chapel, a rectory, and a 1928 parish hall. Completed in 1958, Belluschi’s design was one of the earliest examples of non-traditional church architecture in the region and an influential example of progressive mid-twentieth-century ecclesiastical building. His careful approach included using local materials and responding to existing historic buildings, while utilizing the contemporary architectural vocabulary of modernism.
At the time he designed the new Church of the Redeemer, Italian-born Belluschi was serving as dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His private practice included many church, commercial, and institutional buildings, as well as residential structures. For this project, Belluschi chose to work with Maryland architects Rogers, Taliaferro and Lamb, a firm well-versed in the principles of modernism. The partnership with Belluschi launched the firm’s national reputation; known as RTKL Associates since 1961, they still maintain a Baltimore office in addition to many others worldwide. Rogers, Taliaferro and Lamb supervised construction and were responsible for the sophisticated site planning that incorporated the modern buildings with the historic ones.
Belluschi’s design scheme for Church of the Redeemer included a new sanctuary on the site of the former rectory, an administration building, and a large, two-story education building. The new structures are linked to the mid-nineteenth-century chapel and the 1928 parish hall by a series of loggias. The loggias create six courtyards, designed by landscape architect Edward Bruce Baetjer of Baltimore, that provide spaces for contemplation and reflect Belluschi’s interest in traditional Japanese architecture. The steeply pitched cross gable on the church’s hip roof matches the form of the historic chapel while creating a dramatic sculptural profile for the new sanctuary that suggests traditional Japanese irimoya roof forms. The loggia columns and the low walls of Belluschi’s church are sheathed with the same stone as the historic chapel, which was obtained from the demolished rectory and by reopening the original quarry. A ribbon window of colored glass that runs along the top of the non-load bearing walls, however, signals the modern structural systems inside.
Church of the Redeemer is also an early example of a communal rather than hierarchical interior plan for ecclesiastical architecture. The altar was pulled out from a traditional position against the wall to reflect recent liturgical reforms that turned the celebrant to face the congregation. Designed by Belluschi, the altar is a highly polished slab of white marble placed on a raised platform. The cruciform plan recalls historic church forms while the interior materials and finishes communicate a spare and elegant modernism. The roof is supported by a series of exposed pointed arches composed of laminated strips of Douglas fir. The arches for the nave and transept intersect at the crossing, just above the altar. They also appear in the window walls at the gable ends, suggesting a modern version of the bargeboards on the historic chapel. Using laminated wood structural members was a new and economical technique that also added visual warmth to the interior.
Another noteworthy and innovative interior feature is the stained glass altar screen designed by artist György Kepes, one of Belluschi’s colleagues at MIT. Utilizing abstract squares of glass rather than a figurative design, this screen is one of the first in the United States to use the French technique of dalle de verre. Rather than lead seams, dalle de verre has one-inch-thick, hand-cut pieces of glass set into a concrete frame with metal reinforcement. The technique gives the stained glass a particularly warm glow and creates a more architectonic appearance than leaded glass. A hanging cross of nickel and silver alloy was designed by Ronald Hayes Pearson, a young silversmith from Rochester, New York, whom Belluschi personally selected. Belluschi continued to work in the Baltimore region immediately after the Church of the Redeemer commission, designing the Goucher College Center in nearby Towson in 1960 and serving on Baltimore's Architectural Review Board when it approved the Charles Center project.
Feldman, Jen, Isabelle Gournay, and Mary Corbin Sies, “Church of the Redeemer,” Baltimore City, Maryland. Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties #B-1381, 2005. Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville, MD.