From Bauhaus to God's House

Page 6 of 8

"It did not look like a finished building," Stovall says now, explaining her comments. "It was kind of a shock--I thought, 'Is that all?'"

In the same News article, Father Balint acknowledged that his congregation wasn't happy with the school. For his part, Cunningham repeated his arguments: that the concrete was an economy measure, that it was a "humble and honest" material, and that landscaping would improve the view from Plano Parkway.

Balint, who says he loves the church but agrees with critics of the school, remembers conferring with Cunningham and the committee about what could be done. "The consensus was that we would landscape and add vines," the priest says. Recalls Cunningham: "Father started spending money that I didn't know we had on landscaping, trying to appease people."

As the year progressed, it became apparent that the furor over the school was not going to die down.

Under normal circumstances, Cunningham, as the architect of the first phase and the author of the master plan for Prince of Peace, would have continued with the second phase. But, says Father Balint, because of the dissatisfaction, the choice of an architect for phase two "became an open question." In the meantime, Cunningham was still dealing with Balint on a "weekly, if not daily" basis throughout the summer and fall, clearing up details and dealing with other problems that arose, such as continuing difficulties with acoustics in the worship space.

During these months, the subject of phase two never came up. But Cunningham and Odum knew that the time to think about it was drawing near. "We began talking about phase two and saying 'What will we do if they call us?'" says Cunningham. "If we got the job, we'd have terrible struggles, and we were beginning to worry about our mental health. But if we didn't get the job, we wouldn't get to finish our project."

On the advice of the building committee and the fund-raisers for phase two, Balint finally decided to take Cunningham out of the running. "Our development task force said that it would cost us in terms of fund-raising if Cunningham was the architect," he explains. "The decision wasn't based on architecture, but on the well-being of the community."

In December 1994, Balint sent Cunningham a letter informing him of the decision, and offered to meet with him to explain. But Cunningham says he understood, and didn't really want to make Father Balint explain a decision that he imagined was painful for the priest.

Asked if he would have covered over the concrete to keep his job, Cunningham responds quickly: "No, and they probably knew we wouldn't have. I knew the design would have developed over time, but that requires patience, and patience is not in great supply right now."

With the help of a year's growth of ivy, the school wing doesn't seem so bad when you drive by it today; the violent reaction seems far out of proportion to the building's capacity to offend. In truth, Cunningham's choice of the word "homely" seems just about right. But the architect believes the flap over "the concrete" was just an excuse--that the classroom wing was simply the easiest part of the building to attack. "The people who were unhappy were unhappy with everything," he maintains.

Cunningham also feels that money played a key role, and that wealthy parishioners pushed Father Balint around. (In talking about the affair, Balint and Cunningham speak protectively of each other; their mutual respect has clearly survived the ordeal.) "Father is often treated like an employee. The idea of money still speaks loudly there," Cunningham maintains.

"There is a conflict between these people's theology and their daily life. Money and power speak in their daily life, but that shouldn't be true in a church or in a school. And that hasn't been true in any other church we've been involved with."

For phase two, Father Balint refreshed the building committee with new blood, appointing several new members to replace others who had bowed out.

The new committee went to work interviewing Prince of Peace's third group of architects. Phase two consisted largely of a school expansion, with additional classroom space (the school now goes through fourth grade and adds a grade every year), a cafeteria, a gymnasium, and church offices. After interviewing six candidates, the committee chose a Dallas firm, Corgan Associates, partly for its expertise in schools.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Alden Branch