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Wren-Gibbs  - University Presbyterian Church

3330 Main St. at Niagara Falls Blvd., Buffalo, NY

University Presbyterian Church - Official Website (online Jan. 2015)

The Wren-Gibbs church typology evident in North & Shelgren’s design takes its name from the work of two architects, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and James Gibbs (1683-1774).

After the 1666 fires in London, Wren designed a number of urban churches to replace those lost. This provided an opportunity to move away from a typology that was associated with the Roman Catholic processional service to one that met the needs of a Protestant congregation that was more interactive, where preaching and reading passages from a prayer book were the focus. As a result, Wren’s churches were designed to facilitate speaking and listening. Wren’s name for the churches was “auditories.”

He utilized curved plaster ceilings to amplify the minister’s voice, provided large windows with clear glass for natural illumination and favored a square over rectangular plan so parishioners were closer to the pulpit and minister.

Wren’s ornamental program was classically derived and restrained, in contrast to the dark and mysterious Gothic styled churches. His designs had to be economical and quickly constructed, given that nearly ninety parish churches were destroyed in the 1666 fire.

Perhaps the most defining element of Wren’s designs was the spire and steeple that were visible from great distances.

Gibbs refined the elements of Wren’s auditory church, introducing a large pedimented front entry-portico and the Palladian window as part of the design typology.

The Wren-Gibbs church became widely utilized in the American colonies until the mid-1800s, when Gothic and Romanesque styles became popular. Though it never really faded from use, the Wren-Gibbs style saw a resurgence in popularity in the 1890s, when Classical architecture in general became stylish and there was a renewed interest in Colonial history.

North & Sheldon’s plan for the University Presbyterian Church was a longitudinal, basilica type, as opposed to the square plan of Wren’s auditory type, likely in response to the irregularly shaped site and programmatic requirements that included the future construction of an educational wing.

The interior ornamental and decorative program designed by North & Shelgren is classical and restrained, with references to the Federal style, the use of the Doric order and a Palladian window at the chancel, the focal point from the nave. Though currently painted pale blue and white, the architects intent was that “gray would be the proper color as ivory or white would be too light. However it was the opinion of the Board that gray was not a desirable color and …the interior decoration be carried out in ivory and mahogany.”

- Source: Kerry Traynor, University Presbyterian Church National Trust Nomination. Section 8, pp. 5-6 

Photos and their arrangement 2015 Chuck LaChiusa
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