The 1960s and 1970s saw many experiments in the use of engineered structures to create dramatic, monumental interior spaces. In the United States, buildings by such architects as Eero Saarinen, Matthew Nowicki, and Eduardo Catalano generated interest in such structures. They in turn were inspired by such leading European engineer-architects as the Swiss Robert Maillart, the Italians Pier Luigi Nervi and Giuseppe Terragni, and by the Mexican Felix Candela, all brought to public attention when publication of their work proliferated around 1960. Here huge roof beams of laminated wood shaped as segments of a parabolic curve are inverted off concrete anchoring piers arranged in a near-circle to make the tentlike enclosure, its aspirant climax a funnel of light down to the altar. The principal beams project beyond their column supports and are cut at their ends so as to terminate in a perimeter wall which is square in plan. The result is arresting outside, although the building, which, like most such structures, makes a long ascent from the ground, is too low in profile to be truly commanding. Moreover, if the exceptional shape of the roof were to make a compelling architectural and symbolic expression, it should have been of a material with more physical presence than asphalt shingling. Finally, the openwork of the bell tower over the entry and the similar climax to the upward swoop of the roof seem too spindly and frilly for the shape they are meant to enhance, and more attached to than integrated with the larger structural elements.
The interior is more impressive, especially in the intimate relationship between the altar and the semicircular sweep of the pews. This seating plan reflects theological efforts of the period to supplant the remoteness of high altars in deep choirs with an environment permitting a rapport between communicant and priest comparable to that which theater in the round provides between audience and actor. The suggested simple circle of supports on the perimeter is subtly complicated by alternating roof bends of shorter lengths and steeper tilts to provide a circumferential aisle inside the perimeter wall. Similar variations in other bends permit the shift of the seemingly centered altar to a position which is actually off center, providing more space for worshippers in front of the altar and less for the sanctuary behind. Like the exterior, however, the interior shows problems endemic to such free-form spaces. How, for example, can walls, windows, doors, and ornament be integrated with the roof when the curvature of the larger forms calls for kindred shapes? Criticism notwithstanding, however, St. Jude is perhaps the most serious attempt in the state at modern freeform structural expressionism in ecclesiastical architecture.