Nearly all of the world's most beautiful churches are pure Gothic, and many of the least beautiful are latter-day imitation Gothic. Even in the functional-minded mid-20th century, few architects have tried to break the mold, and only a rare few have had any success at it. One of the boldest tries is Joseph D. Murphy's gymnasium-like St. Ann's Catholic Church in Normandy, Mo.

Nothing about the church is more functional, or more imaginative, than its 38-ft.-square window, which Emil Frei and Robert Harmon designed. Since the window faces the congregation, they made it only partly transparent—to cut down glare. By day, the...

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