Long before Frank O. Gehry brought his curved forms to our fair city, there was the Episcopal Church of the Crucifixion up in Hamilton Heights, a building that’s stood for over forty years. Designed by Costas Machlouzarides, a relatively unknown Cypriot architect trained at Columbia University’s School of Architecture, the building is often compared to Le Corbusier’s delightful design for a chapel in Ronchamp, France. The comparison is hard to avoid, though there are obvious differences that set them apart.
The roof of the chapel in Ronchamp is said to evoke the shape of a nun’s cap, while Machlouzarides’ seems to resemble a swamp airboat. The walls at Ronchamp elegantly fan out, inviting the visitor, while the walls here appear as medieval fortresses, protecting the church from the outside. However, the sighting of both these buildings, each on small rise in the landscape, despite one being rural and the other quite urban both frame a similar view as one approaches from below. It is perhaps this vantage that makes the similarities seem stronger than their differences.
The Church functions as the home for the Episcopal church, and considers itself to be High Anglican. It was founded in 1916 as a Parish of West Indian immigrants who didn’t feel welcomed in the established churches of the area. They first met in the living room in an apartment on Madison Avenue and soon relocated to a building on West 140th street, before purchasing a former red brick Gothic building on West 149th street.
On March 25, 1963, on the Feast of the Annunciation, a tragic fire destroyed that church, thus paving the way for the parishioners to hire Machlouzarides to build their new and modern home. Perhaps less loved by architects and critics, the parishioners seems very proud of their building.