St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church

It’s been my experience that the Eastern branches and populations of Christianity (Greek Orthodox, Ukrainian, Russian) really don’t care much what the outside of the church looks like – they’re sticking with traditional styles on the inside, no matter how bizarre the resulting contrasts may be.

And so it is with St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic (1975, architect Zenon Mazurkevych), another one of those churches that seems like an alien spaceship that landed from another world. Even though it is surrounded by MidCentury houses and flats, their conservative style does nothing to prepare you for this rocketship of a building.

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On the outside, it’s almost entirely concrete and glass. A large central dome is surrounded by a dozen reflective glass tube towers, each structured in tiered concrete and topped with a smaller gold dome, representing Jesus and his disciples. The only ornament consists of small crosses atop each dome.

Inside, however, it’s a completely different story.

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Ornate and rich, the traditionally styled artwork is impressive in its complexity, but it simply doesn’t work with the barebones nature of the building. It doesn’t even try.

There’s no hiding the modern structure of the space, of course, but the iconography sure as heck tries!

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Turn away from the center, and a few bits of Modern style reveal themselves, undiluted by the traditional artwork. The only contemporary decoration is the lamps in the tower, and they have not been maintained, as many of the globes are broken and missing.

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It seems like a surprisingly simple space, but in truth that’s a result of the clashing art styles. In a properly decorated building, art and architecture merge into one entity. Here, however, the art exists separately from, and in opposition to, the building that contains it. Neither enhances the other, leaving both feeling incomplete and lacking.

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It’s a bit baffling why a congregation would choose such a space age building design, then do a complete about-face on the interior. It’s a disappointment, as the exterior is truly mind-blowing. And there are plenty of churches where the artwork would be a beautiful enhancement of the interior volumes – but this is not one of them.

St. Joseph's Ukrainian Catholic Church

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5 thoughts on “St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church

  1. I would never have guessed the interior to look like that! I do wonder, however if the more traditional elements are original to the design or if they were added later. It would be interesting to track down some photographs of the place right after it was built. Unfortunately, I've seen too many wonderful mid-century churches renovated in the name of 'tradition.'

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  4. Forty years ago, I was a 27 year old architect living in nearby Des Plaines. I worked with Xenon on obtaining the building permits from the city of Chicago and followed through on construction monitoring for the year that it was being built. When it opened, the interior was very stark and the twelve towers were open from the main floor all the way up to the domes. I am living in Los Angeles now and must admit that seeing the houses in that neighborhood makes me homesick.
    I will check my storage locker to see if I still have a copy of the plans.

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