A little-known Lingwood masterpiece

Kitchener’s Carmel New Church draws comparisons to origami

By Karl Kessler

Photo by Mathew McCarthy

“I believe Carmel is one of the most beautiful modern churches in the country. I know of no other building like it – anywhere.”

Happily, Carmel New Church isn’t just anywhere. John Lingwood’s masterpiece is in Kitchener, on Chapel Hill Drive, a side street off a side street.

The quote above is offered by Rick Haldenby, director of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture from 1988 to 2013. His appraisal rests on solid foundations: Haldenby is the foremost researcher and authority on our region’s architectural coming-of-age, a blossoming of modernism in the decades following the Second World War. His analysis sets the local scene upon the stage of an international movement.

Lingwood practised architecture for 40 years beginning in the 1950s. Among the prominent local firms in that period, Lingwood’s portfolio was possibly the most eclectic, often taking sharp stylistic turns between one building and the next. Even so, some threads stitch his work together, connecting his vision.

For instance, many Lingwood designs seem governed by massing – the interplay between dimensional forms, overall shape and size. Although detail and texture are always present, Lingwood’s buildings are vigorously sculptural. Defining characteristics are expressed on a large scale, coming through loud and clear, even at a distance.

Carmel New Church and School was completed in 1962. Comparisons to origami are a common first reaction upon seeing the church wing. The steeply pitched spire and roof are an abstraction, planar surfaces folding back on themselves, moving between symmetry and asymmetry according to the viewpoint.

These translate to the interior where simple stained glass under the eaves sends light glancing across the open wooden ceiling over the seating. In the chancel, the spire is open as well, its tip hidden from sight, dramatically vanishing in darkness.

Outside, the strong horizontals of the glass-on-fieldstone seating area and school wing balance the angles. The stone plus a wood-shingle roof bring all of this crisp geometry down to earth.

John Lingwood was recently profiled in an illuminating documentary by local filmmaker Dwight Storring.

The beautifully realized concept that is Carmel New Church will be open for visits during Doors Open Waterloo Region on Saturday, Sept. 21.

Karl Kessler is co-ordinator of Doors Open Waterloo Region. His architecture column, Grand Design, appears in each edition of Grand magazine.