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Inter-War Romanesque C. 1915—C. 1940


St. Scholastica's Chapel, Glebe

The leading figures in the avant-garde architectural movement which gathered strength during the two decades before World War II may have had high ideals, but they were concerned with functionalism and materialism rather than with Christianity. The monuments of what became known as the International style were houses, apartment blocks, factories and schools. Rarely was a ‘modern architect’ called upon to design a church. An expression of Christian spirituality could not easily be translated into terms of ‘function’, so ecclesiastical architecture was generally deemed to lie outside modern architecture’s terms of reference. On the rare occasions it was attempted, the result usually turned out to be no more than a drastically simplified version of Gothic architecture.
Christian churches of the 1920S and 1930S usually adopted some form of well-worn medieval revivalism. More often than not, the Gothic language of pointed arch and steeply pitched roof continued to be employed to provide an instantly recognisable sign of a building’s use for religious purposes. But when an architect wished to avoid this stereotype and perhaps move cautiously towards the uncluttered simplicity of mass and detail favoured by the modernists, an essay in the Romanesque might be undertaken.
The Inter-War Romanesque style is almost entirely confined to churches, seminaries, convents and associated buildings for use by religious orders. An outstanding exception is the eclectic but essentially Romanesque frontispiece to the campus of the University of Western Australia, Rodney Alsop’s memorable Winthrop Hall.
Of impressive simplicity and force are the works in and around Geraldton, Western Australia, by John Cyril Hawes, an architect-turned-priest who came to Geraldton from Britain in 1915 and worked there for some years before spending the later years of his life in the Bahamas as Friar Jerome, a hermit. Hawes’s major work was St Francis Xavier Cathedral (1916—38) in Geraldton in which he demonstrated his deep understanding of the whole tradition of European religious architecture.
By the late 1930S, some architects like Joseph Fowell in Sydney had worked their way through from a Romanesque point of departure to an almost styleless idiom which remained based on traditional concepts of space and methods of construction.

Australian Examples

Winthrop Hall, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA. Rodney Alsop and Conrad Sayce, architects, 1927—31. This was perceived at the time as ‘Mediterranean’ in character, an ideal type for the local climate.

St Francis Xavier’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Geraldton, WA. John Cyril Hawes (Fra Jerome), architect, from 1918. This church is imbued with Romanesque character, yet avoids slavish imitation of the past.

St Joseph’s Church, Junee, NSW. Albert Edmund Bates, architect (attrib.), 5929. Romanesque round-arch solidity crowning aJunee hill and closing a long vista.
  Quoted from:
"A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Austrlian Architecture; Styles and Terms from 1788 to the Present"
Angus & Robertson Sydney 1995 ISBN 0207 18562 X
Copyright © 1989 by Richard
Apperly, Robert Irving and Peter Reynolds.