A Cat and a Career

Tomorrow morning I’ll sit in the chair looking out over the trees on the street below my bedroom window and think how I used to balance my books on its arms as I read and wrote because our cat would lay in my lap—stretched out, paws crossed, eyes closed and purring to the quiet sound of my prayers.

Rose is a stinker, feisty and free, able to outsmart the den of foxes that used to live next door. Undaunted by them, she’d lie sleekly across the sidewalk, flaunting her bravery. Bunnies, birds and mice her prey, without front claws she’d scale a tree if necessary.

But she didn’t come home this week. She may have been outsmarted.  I’m sure she put up a fight and if she went down it was on her own terms—free to roam, to explore, experience life’s beauty. It’s interesting that she chose this week to depart—the same time of year as my mom and brother. I’m conscious of my heart, its size, its weight. Our pets come in and go out like our accomplishments—a gift so present one day and suddenly gone the next.

Love your pets. Enjoy your accomplishments when they’re there. I’m working hard to replace the hole in my heart.  We’ll be looking at a couple cats this week that need a home.

I know this doesn’t sound related but stay with me. I’ve spent a couple years trying to preserve and document Dad’s life and accomplishments as a way to hold on to him if the time came when he, like Rose, would not be knocking, (or mewing) at the back door. And just when I thought we’d finished those stories, we were outsmarted, so to speak.

We were on Washington Island together recently when he told me this:

“Well, after fifty-five years as an architect, I’ve done some reflection.  When I graduated from college I thought I would design worship spaces that would help bring people to Jesus.  St. Edmund’s congregation has moved on and the building is for sale.  The Chrystal Cathedral in California, perhaps the grandest scale of church architecture stands empty and is also for sale.  Whereas, there are church ministries worshiping in remodeled warehouses all over, and are very effective. The conclusion I’ve reached therefore is, it’s not about architecture.  So what does that mean?  My life as a church architect was a waste?

“My journey as an architect taught me a lot and gave me many opportunities to witness for the Lord.  But did the spaces I create accomplish this?  No.  I believe the answer is no because that which I pursued could never be attained.  And yet perhaps, there were aspects of that journey that were beneficial to the purpose I pursued.  In the end, I realized that it can never be architecture that draws people to Jesus, it’s only the Word.”

I was moved.  I thought that was the end of the story. Then I got a call from Scott Sprout. He oversees missions at Crimson Way which is the new church, he said, inside the old St. Edmond’s which was just recently sold.  Scott didn’t know the architect was still living but found out he was when he came across Sundays with Dad. It looks like St. Edmond’s will once again be filled with music, and children and worship and, most importantly, the Word. You can imagine Dad’s joy when he heard.

They invited Dad to come and share the story of his design at the service tomorrow.  If you’re free, stop by at 10:30, 14625 Watertown Plank Road, Elm Grove. We’d love to see you.

So, just when I thought it was the end, I discovered it was only another new beginning.

God bless you Rosie.

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What a Wife!

I flew into Tucson for my Dad’s birthday on a Friday, two days before his celebration and just in time for a fish fry. I couldn’t wait to give him his gift—a Kinko’s copy of our blog stories assembled and spiral bound—but I did.

I hadn’t finished documenting his Fellowship which was my goal for his birthday so we spent most of Saturday working on it. We didn’t finish. He had to take time explaining the four zones of the allied occupation of Berlin and I kept confusing West Germany with West Berlin so he had to get the World Atlas out. We finally made it through Berlin but still had Denmark and Scandinavia left to cover.

Map of trip

Total territory covered on Dad’s fellowship

I woke up Sunday morning and waited to see the light go on under Dad’s bedroom door. His “No Birthday gifts!” rule didn’t apply to me because the 172 pages I was planning to give him—with or without the final fellowship segment—were as much a gift to me as they were to him. And it wasn’t wrapped.

He really liked it.

IMG_20140211_180156His birthday was great. We went to church with my sister Joan and her family, and that evening they gave him a big party. My brother-in-law Arthur grilled 26 steaks! We had two kinds of double-baked potatoes, salad, cheesecake and a custard pie. Dad had been asking for that pie for years and Joanie and I couldn’t find Mom’s recipe. I found a recipe called My Grandmother’s Custard Pie on a Google search, sent it to my sister and gave us both computer viruses. But the recipe was spot on and the pie was perfect—thanks to Joanie. I told her I would make it but got busy editing Dad’s story on Berlin. I started the pie and then she took over. Good thing for that. I had added 1/2 tablespoon of salt instead of 1/2 teaspoon.

Joan's family in Tucson

Joan’s family in Tucson

On Monday, Dad and I had the day to complete the Fellowship so here, my friends, is the final section!

“It’s very evident to me, that none of our trip throughout Europe would have been possible without the attitude and ability of Dolores.” I could tell Dad knew exactly how he wanted to summarize his experience. “I believe, having been raised on a farm, without electricity until she was thirteen, really prepared her to manage all of the challenging conditions of our trip from day to day.

While I pitched the tent, the three kids would play around—often with other kids from the campsite. Dolores would take the car and go into town, going from store to store to find our supplies and groceries.  Most of the time, she wasn’t able to speak the language but that didn’t seem to bother her.

Through all of this we stayed healthy. There were times when tension in the tent rose. For example, Dolores would bathe the kids each night in one of the green tubs we had bought along the way. I remember in Spain, she had finished getting the kids ready for bed when one of them stepped on the edge of the tub and spilled the water all over the inside of the tent, including underneath the sleeping bags. But through it all, I do not recall one time when there was a harsh word between us. Everything was seen as an adventure and enjoyed—even that spilled water. We would somehow find a way to see the humor in a situation. Instead of hollering at each other, we’d sort of laugh.

So there was no illness, no tension, never anger and really only one answer…the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the entire trip.

From West Germany, we drove on up to Denmark which was beautiful. We found an open space along the road and set up camp—it was warm and sunny and there were no bugs that I can recall.

20140105_182749_resizedHowever, the second day in Denmark it started to rain.

20140105_182802_resizedThe following morning, we got up early and did the routine—taking down the tent, and packing it up. We took the ferry and traveled on to Oslo, Norway. You could camp at any appropriate place you wanted along the road. The scenery was beautiful there too.

20140105_182628_resizedOne of the most important things I learned on the fellowship was about Scandinavian planning. I reflected on what I had learned from the city planner I had met with when we were in Amsterdam. He explained to me the reasoning behind the significant planning in their cities. In order to develop the land for their country, they had to plan years in advance because they were below sea level. In America, we expand into farmland surrounding the city.

When Norway and Sweden planned to expand a city, they would extend the transportation routes and subways beyond the existing city to create a new town. There, they would build a station for the subway and develop the town around it. This way, every one of their expanded towns had a means of transportation back into the central city. Individuals could buy a yearly pass for transportation and this could reduce the number of cars used. Many Scandinavians had cars but they would only use them on weekends and for vacations. They could use their mass transit for everything else.

It rained and rained all throughout Norway and Sweden. Fortunately, I had learned how to put up the outer section of the tent first when it rained, followed by the inner tent, so that it would be dry. This worked well for four or five days but after that, the continuous rain got everything soaked.

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Wet little Debbie

We found a hotel to stay at in Sweden so we could get the tent along with everything else dried out. I remember well, stretching the tent across the room and out to the balcony.

So to recap, after England, we went to Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Holland; across northern Germany to Berlin; north through Denmark and across to Oslo, Norway; east to Stockholm, Sweden; south to Copenhagen, Denmark; and back to Bremerhaven, Germany. We traveled a total of 12,000 miles and camped up until the night preceding sailing home—we probably would have camped the last night too, but we had to deliver the car for loading of the ship by 4:00 p.m. preceding day of departure.

20140105_183601_resizedThere is one rather amusing side light here. When we realized that we would have to spend one night in a hotel, we began to look forward to the prospect of a bath. Our last bath had been when we spent a night with friends in Heidelberg, Germany a month earlier. It turned out that the hotel we stayed at only offered baths in winter when the central heating system heated the water. We recovered from this disappointment and began talking of ‘taking a steaming bath every day on the ship.’ About five minutes after we boarded, we made arrangements with our cabin steward for baths the next morning.

20140105_183736_resizedThe tub was really full and the water very hot, but we were a little disappointed. It was filled with salt water which we found far from satisfactory for bathing purposes. ‘Oh well,’ we thought, one more week and we would be back home.

Reflecting on this whole experience, it’s interesting to recognize the responsibilities and roles that Dolores and I shared. I had studied and prepared for the trip and my part was seeing all the architecture, following through on the itinerary and details of the fellowship. Dolores’ responsibility was feeding us, keeping us healthy, washing all our clothes by hand, and making sure the kids were clean. This really was a much greater challenge than mine. She kept us all calm and happy. Except for setting up and taking down that double enclosure, two-room tent, my part was easy. What a wife!”

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On the ship headed home.

Inspired by European Architects

Look at this roof! I can’t even get bookshelves to stay mounted. My office looked like a tornado had hit when my shelves crashed to the floor. The thought of dealing with wide span concrete structures and cantilevers makes my heart pound. 

Nervi's soccer stadium in Rome

Pier Luigi Nervi’s soccer stadium being built in Rome 1959

Though I’ve been exposed to beautiful architecture all of my life, I have never really been able to appreciate the level of expertise, courage and depth of understanding that goes into it until I looked at this roof and thought of my bookshelves.

Dad’s Reflections—Fellowship Part III, 1959

“One of the highlights of our travels had been a meeting with Pier Luigi Nervi. He was an Italian engineer and architect known internationally for his large-span structures built of reinforced concrete. He didn’t speak English but with the help of one of his men as interpreter we had a very pleasant visit. He showed us around his office and explained some details of his current work. We were pleased to note that he does much of his calculations and drawing himself. The following day, one of his men gave us a guided tour through his partially completed soccer stadium in Rome. The reinforcing steel is preassembled and then lifted by crane into the concrete form.

After all the steel is in place, for any thin section, Nervi used a fine mesh (similar to our chicken wire) over the total reinforcement. Nervi’s man explained that from experience the stresses are distributed better and the actual strength is greatly increased over the calculated strength when the mesh is used. Nervi seemed to be a very forceful yet quiet and humble man—similar to his structures.

Another significant privilege was having a meeting with Italian architect, author and publisher Bruno Zevi.  A recent publication of his, Architecture as Space, guided me a great deal through my time in Europe. He eventually published quite a bit of my work including the thin shell concrete structure churches and school, followed by Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

Eden Seminary

William Wenzler Eden Theological Seminary 1968

Eden Library Interior

When I think about the renown of these two men and their incredible talent and ability in structure and architecture, I‘m overwhelmed that I could walk into their offices unannounced. Each of them gave me a considerable amount of time.

We left Paestum, Italy and traveled to Turin where we saw Nervi’s Exhibition Hall. We were quite prepared for this work form the coverage Time Magazine had given it in 1958, Poetry in Concrete, and from the photos in Nervi’s book, Structures. The interior was all we had hoped it would be, but the exterior (we had never seen a photo of that) was tremendously disappointing. The large rectangular entrance section reflected none of the beauty of the arched hall—it appeared to be an afterthought. The arched portion itself was water-proofed with some black tar or asphalt and lost all feeling of concrete. We do not know the history of this project, but we imagine Nervi did only the engineering and was not the architect. If this is the case, the building is to us a perfect example of the need for a more complete integration of structure and aesthetic design. We believe that during a period of architectural (or cultural) advance, as we are now in, structure and architecture out of necessity become one.

Next we headed south to Nice, France and along the Riviera to Barcelona, Spain. The winter before our trip, the Museum of Modern Art had the exhibit of the work of a Spanish artist named Antoni Gaudi.

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Antoni Gaudi Temple of the Holy Family

We’d never heard his name before and were quite anxious to experience his work. We stood before his “Temple of the Holy Family” which had only its front facade and spires completed but it was enough to convey his thought.

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Gaudi closeup

His work seemed to “drip” with ornament and apparently was based on no systematic module. It was entirely free—unrestricted.

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Gaudi closer up

As we continued to drive around Barcelona, seeing more and more of his work, we began to respond to it in a much deeper way than we had at first. He had shown us the vast possibilities of architecture. He used the basic structural system of the Gothic period. However, he was not limited to the development of that period as we in America were when the Gothic revival swept our country. His columns were not limited to a vertical position, his vaulted bays were not necessarily rectangular or even symmetrical, his walls were seldom plane surfaces, his roofs were not merely a covering but often sculptural shapes covered with bright colored ceramic tile. All of his work showed a plasticity of form and unity of structure and ornament that we had not seen before. When we experienced the space of his work, we realized far better the full potential of architecture and its effect on the emotions and feelings of man.

Campsite in Barcelona

Our campsite in Barcelona

Barcelona

Camping in Barcelona

We went north and west through France. Along the way, we experienced the work of Le Corbusier. The first work of his we came across was Unite’ d’habitation at Marseille. That impressed me and later impacted my work. I was greatly surprised at the honesty, almost crudeness of his use of concrete.

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Le Corbusier Unite d’habitation

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Rooftop which had a pool and workout area

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More cool rooftop

We were disturbed yet pleased by the natural, almost unkempt appearance of the surrounding grounds—no mowed grass or flowerbeds, only natural shrubs and trees. We also saw his houses at Pessac and the Villa Savoie at Passay—one of his most famous.

Savoye

Corbusier’s Villa Savoie

We had recalled seeing pictures of it but were not prepared for what we found. It had been in a state of abandonment for many years. Draperies were rotting on their rods, dishes and silverware lay on the shelves, furniture and cushions were scattered everywhere, glass broken, flower beds covered with weeds. Our French wasn’t good enough to find out why it was deserted. When we asked a policeman, he merely shrugged his shoulders. Nevertheless, the house in its present condition gave us the opportunity to scrutinize everything and see it all far better than had it still been in use. We couldn’t help ponder the question—what good is architecture if this can happen to such an outstanding example?

Along the way through France, we camped at a site right at Corbusier’s Chapel Ronchamp. The Chapel had been covered by many magazines and I could only say it was deeply inspiring—its curving roof, unique use of glass, flowing walls and brackets—all mindful of Gaudi.

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Chapel at Ronchamp

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We had at this point completed our travels in southern Europe including Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain and France. We had spent some time in Munich, Germany and were preparing to head north to Cologne, then on to Brussels and the World’s Fair, then to England and finally to Scandinavia.

Camping proved to be interesting—especially with the children—and campsites were available everywhere. The cost was usually 25 to 50 cents per night. Toilets (in one form or another) were always provided along with drinking water, sinks, showers (cold water), gas stoves (we had our own), etc. and had proven to be as economical as we had hoped.

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Mom with French bread and wine. The only way to camp.

Since Rome, we lived in the outdoors, rain or shine, including our cooking on a two burner Kerosene stove.

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Mom knew how to wash diapers. While sipping champagne of course!

We washed clothes by hand, bathed in water heated on the stove, slept on air mattresses and blankets—we missed our sleeping bags which were back home. Our camping life was a full story in itself. It wasn’t exactly restful but it was certainly healthy.

We returned to Spaichingen to the Alte Poste Hotel and repacked all our things. We left behind our trunk and two large suitcases to be shipped directly to the ship for our return voyage. We also paid a visit to the sisters in Bremerhaven.

A second visit to the sisters in Spaichingen

A second visit to Dad’s relatives in Shpaichingen

We wore blue jeans or shorts and each of us had only one good outfit for “town”. It took us two hours from the time we got up to the time we were ready to travel in the morning and about three hours to set up, cook, eat and get to bed at night.The weather was excellent for camping in Italy and Spain, fair in France and lousy in Germany—cold and rainy. We hoped for improvement as we traveled north.

In regard to food, we had had no great difficulty up to this point. We’d been drinking any water designated as drinking water and Dolores had been buying fresh fruits and vegetables with no ill effects. With the exception of a few American supermarkets in Italy, it was always necessary to shop at four or five stores—one for bread, one for pastries, one for meat, one for milk and one for general groceries. Many stores were open to the street, especially butcher shops where the half steer or lamb would hang unrefrigerated in the open. When we went out to eat, we would normally order three dinners—the kids would share one meal. “Drei mahl mit fünf tellern” (three orders with five plates.) This led to extra charges for the extra dishes used and there was always a charge for the bread, use of the table cloth, etc. Then it was always topped by a service charge of 10-20 percent.

There were many little characteristics that differed from America of course and some amused us. For instance, in one restaurant a standard meal we had ordered included a bottle of wine or mineral water. We told the waiter, who spoke a little English, that we didn’t want mineral water, we wanted orange soda. He said that would be extra. We asked him what the cost of orange soda was and he said 150 lira. We asked how much it would cost for mineral water and he said 150 lira. We asked him to substitute one for the other but he didn’t see it that way. Orange soda was extra and that was that. We had similar experiences with vegetables. A dinner in France was 500 francs with peas for the vegetable. If we wanted beans it cost more—beans were more expensive than peas, I guess.

A Fellowship and a Family Adventure

I have never tired of seeing Dad’s slides of Europe. The smells and sounds of the projector fan whirling and the popcorn popping created our own version of “movie night”.

Each slide is a story in itself.

My pictures of his slides don’t do them justice. I figured out I can hold my camera up to a 4″x4″ slide viewer screen, enlarge the picture on my camera, exhale and shoot. The lighting, clarity and dimensions are all off. It’s the best I can do right now as we work our way through upwards of 5000 slides.

I found a set of Dad’s fellowship reports. He glanced through them and read, “Government….State of Affairs…well…..thank goodness, there it is. Architecture!”

If you know my dad then you know that he doesn’t separate the concept of architecture from the cultural and historical context from which it emerged—just as early Renaissance church architecture was so fundamentally connected to the Reformation.

Dad sets down the reports—he knows it all from memory—and he starts in where we left off. Saying goodbye to his relatives in Germany. https://sundayswithdad.com/2013/09/01/one-china-cup-of-love/

“After removing the backseat out of the Volkswagen in Spaichingen, Dolores and I loaded the suitcases in with the kids on top of them and off we went. I had planned my itinerary starting as far south as I could and then we worked our way north so we would be in the warm weather. We headed down to Paestum, Italy, to see original Greek temples.

We first arrived in Bern Switzerland because I knew they had an original Gothic Cathedral there.

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Wait Dad., can we play in the snow…?

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Ed was always quick to make friends.

It was quite amazing to actually see one—all the structural forms within it. I still remember standing there looking up and walking around the outside of it. It was an amazing structural solution. Of course, they added sculpture but it was always subservient to the structure.

Gothic Church Amiens, Italy

Gothic Church Amiens, Italy

Gothic Interior

Gothic Interior

I needed a little history lesson in Gothic. A page from Dad's college history of architecture book.

Page from Dad’s college book on history of architecture–I needed a lesson on Gothic.

Then we continued through Switzerland into Austria. It was in Innsburg, Austria that I had a real surprise. I saw my first authentic Renaissance church.

Rennaisance Church in Innsburg, Austria

Renaissance Church in Innsburg, Austria

The Gothic, as beautiful as it was—posts and beams, pointed arches—was overwhelming in its scale. To see my first Renaissance church really challenged my thinking. It was very much to human scale and and they did away with structure. They made it decorative and it was just loaded with light, beautiful adornment, paintings, etc.

Interior

Interior

Close-up ornamentation

Close-up ornamentation

The fact that the scale was so different made me think about what was going on historically. This was the “Awakening”—the time of the Reformation when the printing press came to be and all the other amazing things that took place during this period. It’s historical significance became evident to me when I saw this example of architecture in person. So here I am, this architect sold on Gothic with my breath taken away in a Renaissance, nonstructural solution.

Then we continued to work our way south to Milan and into Verona,

Juliet's balcony

Mom beneath Juliet’s balcony, Verona

We spent our days experiencing all  the beauty—both natural and man made—and of course, photographing architecture.

Boat from Parking area to St. Marks Square, Venice

Boat to Venice

We reached Venice and as we were standing in St. Marks Square taking it all in, John started running into the flocks of pigeons. They’d take off and he’d yell, “Gagas! Gagas!”

Gagas' in St. Marks Square

Gagas in St. Marks Square

It’s hard to imagine him six months younger than my great grandson Eddie who just turned two.

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A moody St. Mark’s Square

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We reached Florence and spent the night in a penzione which is similar to our bed and breakfasts. Again, we were put in a garret on the top floor—I guess the price was right. At this period in my life I was subject to claustrophobia—I’d wake up at night thinking I was suffocating, not sure where I was and would try to get out. I’d wake Dolores and she’d calm me down. That’s how our night went. I remember Easter morning very well because Dolores had dressed the kids up for church.

Easter

Easter in Florence

I don’t recall actually going to church, we may have. I do remember being in this park with these precious kids all dressed up when a bee stung Ed. Dolores and I were trying to figure out what to do when an Italian woman came with mud in her hand and put it on his bite. The pain went away, the swelling went down and we piled back in the car and continued on south through the beautiful Alps.

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I loved this sweater I’m wearing. It had two zippers at the neckline and a gray pleated skirt to match. Mom would have known where we bought it. Still have it. Still love zippers.

When we arrived in Rome, we found another little Penzione but couldn’t find anywhere to eat except at a white tablecloth place. I got the bill when we were through eating and there was a large item on it I didn’t recognize.  I talked to the waiter and he kept saying, “Servitzio!” (Service charge). The kids had made a mess of the white table cloth. By now we had begun to notice that there really weren’t children in the places we were having to go to eat. That bothered us. We pondered it. Not only did we feel out of place with the children on many occasions but we were also exceeding our budget even though we would stay in the cheapest hotels we could find.

The woman who owned the Penzione we were staying at was very friendly and helpful. We found out the Bolshoi Ballet was performing that night and we asked her if she would watch the kids. She agreed and we had a wonderful time at the Ballet. We couldn’t get over the tremendous response of the audience to the dancing—they would burst out in applause with shouts and make lots of noise showing their approval of a scene. I had never experienced anything like it. In my experience at home, everyone is hushed until it’s over.”

“Okay Dad, I just have to interrupt here. I am so happy to hear that because you and Todd get hushed more than anyone I known. At the Ballet I remember you whispered, ‘Beeeautiful!’ and the person in front of us turned around and snapped, “SHHH!!”.  I remember what I wanted to snap back but I didn’t. At the Symphony Todd whispered and got a trio of shushers.”

“Hmm…you kids apparently made as much noise and ruckus as the audience that night and the woman at the hotel was not so pleased. She didn’t say much when we got back. But when we got alone with you kids you told us all she said to you was, “Naughty children!” I suspect you were just being yourselves but it was more than the proprietor was prepared to deal with.

Rome

Ed posing in front of the Colosseum in Rome

Anyway, as we continued on we discussed our situation. We had seen a presentation by a couple who had camped throughout Europe. After talking it over, we decided to camp—it would be cheaper and the kids could make all the noise they wanted. We had seen a beautiful campsite in Florence. It was absolutely gorgeous—it was high on a hill, overlooking the city. There were toilet facilities, there was a covered area to eat under in case of rain—it was just beautiful. It was also much cheaper than the penziones were costing us. So we decided we would buy camping gear and get a rooftop carrier for the car to handle all the extra stuff we were beginning to accumulate along the way.

We found a store that sold the equipment. All the tents had fly sheets over them, creating a double tent—unlike what we had at home. They were very lightweight—made out of nylon which was also unlike the canvas we were familiar with in those days. We bought an alcohol burning stove, two large green tubs to do our laundry in and give the kids baths, and a small folding table with six chairs that folded up inside. Everything fit very well on the rooftop carrier.

Home away from home

Home away from home

All the campsites in Europe were nice but none of them were as beautiful as what we had seen in Florence. I remember one site was little more than an abandoned lot but we worked our way down to Paestum, Italy on a better budget.”

Paestum, Italy

Greek temple in Paestum, Italy

When I stop and think about having these three little kids, plus my wife and myself, I just don’t know how it was possible. I guess the answer is, in our own strength it is not.

John in foreground, Mom's head peaking out on the right

Playing Hide and Seek in the Greek columns Mom’s head peaking out on the right.

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

Six Shells and a Ship

Try saying that fast six times–six shells and a ship–sick shells and a ship shix shells shin a ship shick shells shi sha shick…maybe you did better than me.  –Debbie

M. S, Berlin

M. S, Berlin, passage to Europe

After I had completed St. Edmund’s, another office a couple doors up the street from my space in the back of the food broker became available. I rented the whole thing which was equal to the space the food broker and I had previously shared. I remember I had two drafting spaces on one half and I put up a little partition of sorts down the center making a space for a conference room. And now I had room for my own secretary who worked part time along with a ditto machine for my specs. From there we went to mimeograph which was a big improvement.

One afternoon, not long after I was settled in, a man stopped by my new office.

“Can I speak to Mr. Wenzler?”

“I’m Mr. Wenzler.”

“Well, can I speak to your father?”

“He’s not here. What do you want?”

He didn’t think I was old enough. He told me he had seen my church in the newspaper and he wanted to meet me to see if we could work on something together. His name was Karl Giehl.

Karl introduced himself as a designer craftsman. He had been working in the kitchen of a monastery. He told me the story about one of the priests who was going to be ordained. They use a special chalice for ordinations. Karl had a tremendous reputation for his jewelry and other work in gold and precious metals and they asked him to make the chalice. That began a whole series of commissions to make priests’ chalices. As a designer craftsman, he now had a broad market for his talent. He came to meet me just because he wanted to offer his services if I could use him. He wasn’t certain what that might exactly be.

At this point, I had been hired to design Zion United Church of Christ on South 76th Street which had originally been located somewhere around 13th and Greenfield. A lot of the church members had moved out to the west side. When I was interviewed, they told me they were interested in a Gothic Church. I gave them the story of Gothic history then submitted a design based on pure Gothic for our period. From my experience with St. Edmund’s, I was now aware of the cost of the scaffolding that was needed for this type of design–I had had to scaffold the whole thing underneath. So now I had in mind that I did not want to design something that needed all that scaffolding.

I approached this design differently. I decided I would make a small form on the ground, then cast a shell, set that shell aside, and make five more to create six identical shells. If you were to pick them up with a crane and set the bases on the foundation and let their tips touch, they would create a perfect Gothic arch, leaving triangular side openings between the shells. Then I designed smaller hyperbolic paraboloids which connected the main shells at the roof.

The chairman of the committee for Zion Church was Horley Priddle. He had the vision that the altar at the church would be a solid block of stone broken out right at the quarry—symbolizing God’s direction to Solomon in building the temple (I King 5:1). It got a little expensive to make and put in place and as I remember, I paid for half of it.

The solid stone altar required heavy equipment to move it. The altar was actually placed on its foundation in the church before the shells were erected.

I proceeded with the working drawings of the shells, leaving the triangular openings between them unresolved.  At this point, I received a notice from the University of Illinois that I was selected for the Francis J. Plym Fellowship with six months travel in Europe to study European architecture. One of the key requirements of the Fellowship was that you could not be over 30 years of age. I remember so vividly opening the letter while we were living in the upper duplex on Humboldt and Dolores saying,

“If you’re going to Europe, don’t think you’re leaving all of us at home. We’re coming too!”

In the yard of the duplex

Just before trip to Europe outside duplex on Humboldt.

The amount of the fellowship was $1700 which was about enough to cover the travel and living cost for one person for six months. Now I was faced with the additional cost of the family. My good friend from High school, Jim Pawlik, worked in the purchasing Department of Schlitz Brewery. Jim had told one of the sign manufacturers from Chicago about St. Edmund’s and took him out to see it. His name was Hy Hammer. Jim told him about the Fellowship and explained that in order for me to go I would need to come up with the cost to cover my wife and three children.

“Bill hasn’t worked out how he’s going to handle that.” Jim told him.

“Well, tell him to come to Chicago with his wife so I can meet them and we can discuss the Fellowship.”

Dolores and I made an appointment and went down to see Mr. Hammer in Chicago. He wanted to know our story, then suggested that we work up a budget and come back and meet with him again. So we worked up the budget, went back and the first thing he said was,

“Your budget includes the expense to fly.  It’s much cheaper to go by ship!”

So we went back and revised our figures changing the cost from airplane to ship then met with him again. He agreed to cover the difference of the cost between my budget and the fellowship which came to $3,000.

I said, “Well let’s make it a loan and I’ll pay it back.”

“No, I don’t want to do that. I can see you have a lot of creative talent and I don’t want to strap you with a debt which could interfere with that talent and your career.”

The Fellowship required that I send  monthly reports to the University. I sent my part-time secretary penciled copies then she would type them up and send off the reports. I also had her send copies to Mr. Hammer.

He was quite a guy and I never went back down to see him after the trip. I really wish I would have gone and thanked him in person for what he did for me. I did thank him in the reports but I should have gone back, personally. I should have brought him something from Europe. These things come back to me now.

A Concept of Mystery

Part II of III

As I began pursuing knowledge of thin shelled concrete, I started looking for an engineer. I also started to learn as much as I could myself. I learned about a shape that was designed by a Mexican architect Felix Candella, that was doubly curved known as a hyperbolic paraboloid. The name comes from a section through the shape that in one direction gives a pair of hyperpolis and in another direction a parabola.

I kept growing in background and met with a local engineer who said he knew how to do it. As I began to learn more myself, it wasn’t long before I realized my engineer didn’t really know anything about it.  So I was sort of stumped. About this time, the representative of Portland Cement, Carl Roesser, stopped by my office. In those days Portland Cement Association (PCA) had representatives that would visit architects that had problems and Carl visited my office. I discussed my dilemma with him and he said,

“Oh, PCA’s head of advanced engineering, Al Parme, has been working on this very thing. I think you should get down to Chicago to meet him.”

Carl set up an appointment and I did just that. Al was an older man–very friendly and helpful. He showed me work he had been doing on a theory he had been developing with hyperbolic paraboloids. He said that it hadn’t been tested yet but he was sure he was right. So I asked him if he knew of an engineer I could engage to apply his theory. He then asked me,

“What’s your background?”

“I graduated in the architectural engineering program at the University of Illinois.”

“That’s great. You do it. I’ll help you.”

So I reported all this back to the committee at St. Edmund’s, explained how experimental it was but shared also the confidence I had in Al and the PCA.The committee voted to cancel their previous approval and instructed me to proceed with investigating a design with a thin shelled concrete roof.

The next day I got going on the design using thin shelled concrete and contacted Felix Candella in Mexico City who was the only architect known anywhere who had been working with thin shelled forms. He suggested I bring my sketches and come down to meet with him.

When I told Dolores–who was pregnant with our third child John at this point, she said,

“That’s going to be expensive. Where will we get the money?”

I went to the bank and got a loan for my airplane ticket and miscellaneous expenses.

Baby John

Baby John

I remember getting to Mexico City and somehow finding Candella’s office. I introduced myself and showed him the sketches I had made. He pointed out that based on his experience, the changes I’d have to make included adding substantial buttresses along the lower side of the shell. I spent a couple days working on analyzing the engineering based on his theory and in a few days flew back home.

So now I had Felix Candella’s experience with actually building thin shells and Al Parme with a theory that had not yet been tested and the two were significantly different. Using my engineering training to the best of my ability, I analyzed the two approaches.

Boy, that Professor Morgan at Illinois, and what he taught me!  Doing concrete engineering required the use of many handbooks, formulas, etc. Professor Morgan taught that we could understand the stress in a structural form—what was in the steel and what was in the concrete—so that we could first visually see what was going on in a structural form in our minds and then use the handbooks, formulas, etc. That was one of the many reasons why I highly regarded and highly respected Professor N. D. Morgan.

After analyzing the two approaches to the best of my ability, I called Al Parme and told him what I was doing. He told me to come on back down so that we could take a look at it.

I remember so well that by Al’s evaluation based on his theory, there would be no need for the large buttresses Candella said I would have to have.

After spending more time in my office trying to understand the two theories, I concluded that I was sure Al’s was correct. So I called him back again and took another trip to Chicago to explain my thinking.

Al told me that Portland Cement Association was interested in building a model to test his theory and that we would use my building to test it. He explained that PCA would install instrumentation which would evaluate the stress, strain and deflection of all aspects of the structure. After the concrete was poured and had cured a full 28 days, we would slowly lower the form to see how the structure performed. Though the form work was now free of the structure, it was still in place below the structure itself. If there was a problem we could then address it.

I reported everything I had learned to the St.Edmund’s building committee and with their approval I proceeded with the design.

Dad's model of St. Edmund's Church

Dad’s model of St. Edmund’s Church

For Part III Not a Coincidence tap here.