Let's start with the outlandish exterior. It would be fun to try to describe this over the phone. This shape came from the office of the accomplished and adventuresome Wendell E. Rossman, of Rossman and Cartmell, the team who designed the VNB branch at Los Acros, and the most peculiar building on the ASU campus, the Law School (an experiment in WHAT we don't know). As of February 1975, Rossman's firm had completed fifteen concrete-shell buildings. Examples in the valley, not necessarily his, included "a pair of United Bank branches, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors auditorium, (and) South Mountain High School auditorium."
The year was 1972. In 1972 there was some slim chance that we might leave square buildings behind as a sad relic of history, the era of foreign architect-engineer visionaries like Pier Luigi Nervi (Italy), Felix Candela (Mexico) and Buckminster Fuller (moons of Jupiter) producing curvy shells all over the place. They were exciting, with a beautiful logic and unconventional beauty all their own. They seemed inherently foreign. The insides didn't always turn out so well.
As an example, the Saint Maria Goretti structure is foam on a wooden frame, with a layer of good old shotcrete applied to the outside, and a half-inch layer of painstakingly consistent plaster applied to the inside. Those graceful arching struts have structural purpose. They allow the free-span space inside. The complete original vision was a cruciform church, expanded to the west. Obviously that never happened so it remains symmetrical, or as good as symmetrical, under a 60-foot hyperboloid dome. Legendarily the designer Don Gadberry worked out all the stress calculations with a pencil.
Inside it's well-kept and feels natural and whole. As amenities there are abstract mosaic stations of the cross, an elegant balcony, an etched-glass Salvador Dali image of the crucifixion suspended in midair, and one of the most powerful pipe organs in the area, recently refurbished. The spatial effect inside depends on the lighting decisions (I'd personally prefer it darker), but the installed stained-glass at the top of the dome will always have its considerable grace and mystery, consistent with the rest of the church.
Saint Maria Goretti Catholic Church
6261 N. Granite Reef Rd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85250
Story by Walt Lockley