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AR_EA 2005 Prize winner - Church Complex in Louisiana, USA by Trahan Architects

A peaceful place between secular and sacred

The combining of sacred and secular in a complex of buildings is a familiar architectural programme, and one that encourages a creative combination of the functional and the spiritual. In this instance, the judges were impressed by the calmness and serenity of the oratory space, with its shades of Tadao Ando, not to mention Le Corbusier, in its exploitation of concrete and varying types of light.

The oratory element creates what the architect describes as the equivalent of a crescendo in music, but one which breaks from the remaining fabric of a campus which also has educational and administrative functions. Its location and height mark it out from the everyday buildings around, while the rotation in plan is intended to signify the break between secular and sacred, and to create a void between building types which can be used for communal gatherings of varying size, or for private meditation.

Site plan

Site plan

Site plan

The threshold between the outside world and the oratory is marked by a sculptural castglass door, designed to gather and refract light, which glows brightly at the perimeter and luminously at the centre as a result of the lens-shaped plan. The architects intended to achieve a fusion of secular and metaphysical experiences through light, shadow, colour and movement, before visitors and congregation take their place inside.

Internally, the oratory is intended to evoke a sense of mystery while providing a pure space which could be described as womb-like. Each of the six sides is the same size, and has the same colour and texture, the uniformity creating a certain lack of orientation and sense of mystery. Variation and stimulation is provided by light drawn into the oratory through irregular activities cast into the walls, whose thickness varies. As the images show, the effect is to introduce brilliant light near the ceiling and softer light near the floor. Each aperture is inspired by a single episode of the paschal mystery of Christ.

General plan

General plan

General plan

No costly materials have been used in the creation of this complex - board-formed concrete, plate glass and cast glass are the key elements, creating an atmosphere the architect intended to be neither opulent nor overly austere. The judges, on balance, felt that this had successfully been achieved, and that a feeling of serenity pervaded the design, doubtless helped by the simplicity of the plan and the cloister reference in what is in part, at least, a community resource.

Church Complex, Louisiana, USA

Architect: Trahan Architects, Louisiana
Project team: Victor F. Trahan, Brad Davis, Kirk Edwards
Photographs: Timothy Hursley

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