Looking Back, Looking Forward

Volume 50, Issue 3 :: Douglas Hoffman, AIA

50 Years of History

First issue cover, 1967

The cover of the first issue of Faith & Form, 1967.

Faith & Form, journal of The Guild for Religious Architecture, represents the collaborative efforts of architects, clergy, artists, craftsmen – of all faiths – to develop a forum wherein the inter-relationships of theology, architecture and art as a total expression in religious architecture can be shown.”

With that eloquent introduction by Benjamin Elliott the first issue of Faith & Form was launched in 1967, a half-century ago. His remarks were joined by Robert Durham, then president of the national American Institute of Architects (AIA), who commented, “The first issue of Faith & Form comes to the architectural profession during significant times. The theological implications of new forms for churches and temples are of interest to an ever-widening number of practicing architects, educators and students.”

The Guild for Religious Architecture (GRA) was at that time an affiliate of the AIA for a period of two years and was gaining momentum as the go-to organization for exciting changes in religious art and architecture. Since its inception in 1940 it “championed the cause of good design in religious architecture and its allied arts,” per then Executive Director Dorothy Adler. Members of the Guild included architects, artists, religious leaders, and craftspersons, and its primary mission was educational. In cooperation with religious organizations the GRA sponsored annual national conferences featuring speakers and program content on significant new trends in religious design. Additionally, GRA hosted an architectural design competition, essentially the forerunner of the current Faith & Form/IFRAA Religious Art and Architecture Awards program.

Following the launch the magazine was issued quarterly and appeared not unlike its contemporary version, except that it was published exclusively in black and white. It contained similar content, e.g., themes articles, conference announcements and subsequent coverage, relevant book reviews, and a “notes and comments” section. An annual $5 subscription cost included postage! However, within three years it became too big a financial burden to publish quarterly and dropped to two issues (Spring and Fall) annually. By 1970 Faith & Form was reduced to a single issue per year, and this was devoted to coverage of the annual national GRA conference. A turnaround occurred in 1974 when the journal returned to a biannual publication and this kept apace until 1987.

A big change for Faith & Form happened on its tenth anniversary, when the GRA merged with two other organizations with like interests: the American Society for Church Architecture (ASCA) and the Commission on Church Planning and Architecture (COCPA). They adopted an interim name of the Society for Religious Arts and Architecture and combined administratively at the GRA office at 1777 Church Street in Washington, D.C. By February 1978 a charter for the newly formed Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture (IFRAA) was drafted at Catholic University in D.C. Simultaneously, several prominent religious architects and denominational clergy led workshops to broaden participant knowledge of “history, belief system, organizational structure, decision-making procedures, funding mechanisms and available resources of the religious groups that design professional may be called to serve.” A second goal was to expose participants to and begin proficiency in various consultant skills, including communication, problem solving, and contracting.

Ironically, suburban expansion and the call for new church development in the 1970s and early 80s occurred about the same time denominational offices were reducing or eliminating their architectural staff, having passed the baby boomer bump in church growth. The void of good counsel was filled by the emergence of liturgical consultants, persons trained in interfaith liturgical practices. This was especially true for Catholics who were struggling to implement Vatican II mandates for liturgical reform. IFRAA played a key educational role in assisting with interfaith training and regular regional and national conference tours of contemporary religious art and architecture. Faith & Form documented the conferences and featured articles on exemplars with explanatory text from architects, artists and clergy involved with the projects.

Betty Herndon Meyer took over the helm of Faith & Form editorship in 1980 and became a familiar and much-loved participant at IFRAA conferences and tours. Her leadership stabilized the magazine after a rocky few years of staff changes, plus her superb editing raised the quality of journalistic style. A devotee of cutting-edge art and architecture, Betty never hesitated to feature innovative works. Architects and artists regularly submitted articles for publication. Editorial meetings between editor, advertising and production managers, and dedicated volunteers were spent sifting through the merits of submittals, checking for adherence to the magazine standards for quality, educational content, and theological underpinnings.

The magazine flourished, moving from a biannual publication schedule to three issues per year starting in 1988. The following year color covers were introduced to afford a more contemporary appearance and by 2000 the entire issue was printed in color. Another improvement during this period was the return to quarterly publication, which continues today.

It was also during this period that IFRAA, the parent organization to Faith & Form, transitioned from a stand-alone organization of artists, architects, and clergy to a more permanent relationship with the AIA as a “Knowledge Community.” It is in this capacity that IFRAA operates today, as an AIA professional interest area. Together Faith & Form and IFRAA jointly host the annual awards program, a long tradition of recognizing outstanding works in religious design.

Our current editor, Michael J. Crosbie, joined the Faith & Form staff as an assistant editor in 1998 and continued in this role until assuming the mantel of editor-in-chief in 2001. Under Michael’s leadership the magazine thrives with quarterly issues, two dedicated to themes, one covering the annual awards, and one devoted to a variety of topics. Michael’s role as a professor of architecture at the University of Hartford keeps him in touch with emerging trends in architecture, education, and technology as they impact design and construction.

Michael continues to enhance this esteemed journal by securing knowledgeable authors, theologians, clergy, artists, and craftspeople to discuss and showcase innovative religious art and architecture. He furthers the proud tradition started 50 years ago by the nascent GRA/AIA partnership. Weathering staff changes, rising publication costs, and an ever-diminishing audience for print media, Faith & Form’s readership and subscription base has remained intact. The magazine continues as an important forum and highly respected reference manual for those who follow religious art and architecture.

The author is a retired architect living in Lakewood, Ohio, who served as managing editor of Faith & Form from 1984 to 2004.