St. Benedict the African Church: Modernism's late entry--or first sign of its comeback?

April 25, 2011

I was driving through the Englewood neighborhood recently when I passed the modernist St Benedict the African Church on west 66th Street. I pulled over to get a closer look.

I figured it to be a superbly preserved piece of midcentury modernism. Given the minimalist curve of the entry canopy and the clustered circular massing of the worship all to the right of the photo, I placed the date of construction at about 1966 and marveled that the church looked that good for 45 years. The I took this photo:

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin dedicated the church? He was created cardinal in 1983, which means this modernist church was built no earlier than the 1980s, when the style had fallen far from favor and when postmodernism--with all of its historical design references--was king. Think of SOM's former Quaker Oats Tower, a 35-story building at 321 N. Clark. The steel-and-glass beauty was a bit dismissed when it was completed in 1987, partly because it looked as if it were built in 1957.

St. Benedict was completed in 1989, making it 20 years too late, or--given modernism's current resurgence in contemporary design--20 years too early?

St. Benedict was designed by Belli & Belli, an architecture firm responsible for a wealth of midcentury churches, schools and hospitals within the Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese, including St. Patrick High School, St. Joseph Hospital and personal fave: the east building of the former Cuneo Hospital at Montrose and Clarendon. A motif of interlocking circles runs through the building's design and floor plan--a West African design principal that gives deference to its congregation and namesake.

The church is located at 340 W. 66th Street.