Jeremy Goucher The Cube as an Anchor for Rural Communities
Rural communities of Louisiana often revolve around Parish churches as the center structure and the backbone of the community. The St. Amant community near Baton Rouge, Louisiana is no different. Outgrowing their 1905 building that held merely 300 people, the St. Amant community was in dire need of a more contemporary and symbolic structure that would reflect their beliefs and the time. Commissioned by the community, Trahan Architects was asked to design such a building. What he provided them was a pure, simple, and functional take on an ancient courtyard typology. The cloister, often associated with the monastic lifestyle, would prove to be a perfect fit for the Roman Catholic community. The community was provided a model of devoted structure and a sense of unity with Trahanâ€™s design. The Holy Rosary Catholic Church complex was designed based on a series of tasks and programmatic needs. With the existing buildings lacking any sense of unity and permanence a plan was needed. Drawing from the courtyard typology, Trahan arranged the programmatic necessities. This basic design type allowed the secular to be separated from the sacred. Spatial bars of administration offices and classrooms enclose the courtyard space providing privacy and serenity to the members of the congregation. With Trahan being a practicing catholic, he devoted special attention and care to this project spending a year discussing both function and poetics, including â€œwhat the chapel would feel like, how the buildings would function, and what their relationships would be.â€? (Ivy 248) This cooperation was critical in creating an anchor that the small community would treasure. As a growing community of 2300 families they needed a more suitable space to congregate. (Ivy 246) They needed more than a casual jumble of buildings to reflect where
they are in the world today. A building committee established by the congregation’s leader, Robert Stine, concerns that “the beauty and rural character of their region was being swallowed up in the detritus of the strip mall economy” that is eating away at local communities. With their own property showing these characteristics they sought out Trahan Architects to help develop a master-plan for their growth. Trahan proposed a cloister of austere concrete masses with transparencies relating to the courtyard. Drawing significantly from Le Corbusier’s work one can see that his monastery of Sainte-Marie de la Tourette is a visual precedent. The placement of the classrooms mimic the cells of the monks surrounding a courtyard with the oratory placed as an object into the sacred, protected space. The structure of the complex helps to reveal the beliefs of its users. A concrete wall punctured by an overhanging entry does not allow one to know what the activities of the interior are, but invites the visitor to enter the space. All needs of the program are divided into respective masses. These masses are threaded together by reinforced concrete canopies that establish paths of desire according the task at hand. The oratory acting as an anomaly within the orthogonal plan makes a “deliberate break in the fabric of the campus.” (2) The rotation of the structure is only a trick used to distinguish the oratory from the secular structures that surround. Upon entering the oratory you are in a perfect cube, back on the orthogonal grid. In placing the oratory in the center and shifting its orientation, Trahan references Le Corbusier’s ideas at la Tourette. This is a physical embodiment, showing the importance of personal prayer in the lives of the priests and members of the congregations. Seen as the most sacred space in the complex, religious symbolism heavily influenced both designs. “Design of the oratory stems for the concept of… sacred space every human has experienced- the womb.” (3) Trahan and Le Corbusier used the cube as the basic formpure, simple, and identifiable. The space carved from within is meant to symbolize the womb or the cave that Christ was buried in after his crucifixion. As a cube with a very strong triangular geometries roof allowing
diffused light into the space, a strong connection between the works can be seen. Within these dark boxes light is provided from above, appearing as soft glow would through a cave tunnel, providing a sense of orientation and a connection to the receiver of oneâ€™s prayers.
Henze, Anton. LA TOURETTE The Le Corbusier monastery. New York: George Wittenborn, Inc., 1963. Ivy, Robert. "Holy Rosary Catholic Church". Architectural Record May 2005: 246-251. Saieh, Nico. " Holy Rosary Church Complex / Trahan Architects." www.archdaily.com. Editor. July 200. October 2009 http://www.archdaily.com/30145/holy-rosary-church-complex-trahan-architects/ Trahan Architects. "Trahan Architects - Holy Rosary Church Complex." www.archinnovations.com. Haras, William. June 2008. October 2009 http://www.archinnovations.com/featured-projects/religious/trahan-architects-holyrosary-church-complex/