Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism Architecture
April 28, 2011 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Is The Simpsons' First Church of Springfield (the building, not the denomination) modeled after an actual church or style of churches?

Or does it just look familiar because I've been seeing it on the show for 20+ years?
posted by Who_Am_I to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's eccelstical/vernacular modernism of a kind that was popualr in the midwest, i would argue mostly after saareinen's churches in the midwest from the late 40s, i would argue.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:18 AM on April 28, 2011

It looks familiar because so many modern churches (built from the '50s/'60s onward) began to adopt a similar asymmetrical style. I grew up in Arizona and they were EVERYWHERE.

Or, what PinkMoose said.
posted by hermitosis at 8:20 AM on April 28, 2011

Given that a number of buildings in the Simpson's universe are modelled after real buildings (Troy McClure's house is the Chemosphere, Springfield City Hall is Monticello), it's always seemed to me that the church would be as well - it's a little too distinctive to be totally generic. As PinkMoose says, it's always struck me as Saarinenesque, but I don't know the actual building. I'd have to go look around, but there's a decent chance that it comes from a town in Indiana (can't remember the name) that brought in a bunch of famous architects in the 60s and 70s to do all their civic buildings.
posted by LionIndex at 9:25 AM on April 28, 2011

LionIndex, you're thinking of Columbus, Indiana.
posted by aaronbeekay at 9:30 AM on April 28, 2011

LionIndex is thinking of Columbus, Indiana. The Springfield Church doesn't strongly resemble either of the Saarinen churches there, IMHO.
posted by endless_forms at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2011

Glancing at the Wikipedia list of notable buildings in Columbus, IN, I don't see any churches that resemble the First Church of Springfield. I agree with PinkMoose and hermitosis, though: although it's not quite a Generic Church Building, it does resemble a good number of the churches in my area, and if I saw a building like that in person I probably wouldn't take notice of it.
posted by aaronbeekay at 9:33 AM on April 28, 2011

Yeah, it's Columbus and I didn't see anything matching in there either, nor did I see anything done by Eero Saarinen anywhere that would really match.
posted by LionIndex at 9:39 AM on April 28, 2011

If the church design has anything to do with Groening, one might imagine that it derives from something he saw growing up in Portland where he attended a Methodist church.

For those who don't know, the show is packed with references to the city and the state like NW Flanders St., NW Quimby St., Springfield, Ore. etc. You can read more about that here.
posted by jardinier at 9:42 AM on April 28, 2011

It looks for all the world like one of the many contemporary churches which were obviously intended to look distinctive but wind up looking completely generic. Ironically enough, it was the more progressive denominations that started building these things in the 1960s and 1970s, but now just head down to your local nondenominational evangelical megachurch and you'll likely find something which, if it isn't just a glorified warehouse, is completely interchangeable with the linked image. Bizarre, asymmetrical sanctuary, attached block-style educational/office wing, etc.
posted by valkyryn at 12:05 PM on April 28, 2011

The Roots of Modernist Church Architecture

The design of the Springfield church is pretty distinctive, with the asymmetric loft roof configuration suggesting a steeple reaching to heaven, and I suspect it is based on a real church somewhere.

I don't think valkyryn is really being fair to the era's architecture here. Certainly the hundreds of simple gothic revival churches built in the 19th century were similarly "generic". These were contemporary designs during a period of massive suburban growth and hence church construction, as many congregations relocated from cramped downtown locations to lots with parking and landscaping. It is very true that the megachurch has its own distinctive genericity, with massive auditoriums very light on "architecture" per se. But often you can see quite different approaches between Catholic and Protestant modernist designs, and the number of churches built by individual sects often depends on how successful they were during this suburbanization era.

In terms of the show, I believe this perceived genericism is being deliberately satirized, as well as a sort of plastic, modernized religion divorced from traditional principles.

If you browse the Flickriver interface for the Flickr pool Modern Church Architecture (slightly misnamed, the correct term would be Contemporary, although most of what ends up there is somewhat Modernist and generally postwar), you may find something similar eventually. I'm sure an example is out there.
posted by dhartung at 6:10 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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