Witnesses say Cardinal Cushing asked that question aloud as he walked into the brand new St. Malachy’s on Bedford Street to officially dedicate the church in 1963. He drew laughs from the crowd gathered outside. As he left the building, he noticed little Patrick O’Dougherty of Liberty Ave. staring at his bright red shoes. The cardinal asked him, “Like the shoes, kid?”
Obviously the cardinal didn’t take his job seriously at every moment, but let’s take his architectural question seriously. Who designed Burlington’s bedazzling church? It wasn’t Walt Disney. It was architect Daniel F. Tully.
Where did the design come from? “I believe it originated between my ears,” quips Tully, now 88. “I never saw a building like it. I entered the idea in an international design competition in the early 60s, and it was very successful, so I thought I’d use it once again for an actual building.”
But didn’t this mean taking a huge risk with an unproven structure? “What you have as a backup is mathematics,” Tully says. “Proper analysis will give you the performance of such a structure. I did fall back on some support from other engineers in that respect.”
Initial reaction could best be described as confusion. When the building was under construction, and the radical frame was taking shape, a hurricane passed through the area. It left the building unscathed, but Tully visited the site to inspect it anyway. A motorist pulled off Bedford Street and rolled down her window, aghast. “Oh my God!” she yelled at Tully. “Is that what the hurricane did?”
St. Malachy’s was not even Tully’s boldest design. Look at this one in Reading, MA:
Tully championed the hyperbolic paraboloid roof, the shape of a Pringles potato chip. The next time you bite into one, notice the combination of thinness and rigidity — a nice pair of traits for a building. Pringles are stacked on top of each other in cans without breaking. You can even build complex structures with them.
When St. Athanasius was completed in Reading in 1962, it was the biggest hyperbolic paraboloid in the Western Hemisphere.
Tully designed over 40 churches around New England, including this one in Norwood. That little arched structure on the left echoes St. Malachy’s a bit:
And he designed plenty of non-churches, such as the athletic center at Wesleyan University in Connecticut . . .
. . . and the Weis Center at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania:
He was raised in a devout Catholic family but married a Jewish woman. In his early 70s, he completed the Congregation Sha’are Shalom in Virginia, even incorporating a Star of David along the edge of the ceiling rotunda.
Mid-career, while he was teaching at Trinity College, he helped save the Leaning Tower of Pisa from collapse. Yes, he found a fast way to stabilize it, to buy time for a permanent solution. Walt Disney would have been way over his head with this stuff.
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