I may have had a fall out with religion, yet I find fascinating how a church, mosque, synagogue or other type of spiritual building is traditionally an expression of religious rhetoric and the power of the institution. Ye olde worlde sacred spaces are fascinating to me as spaces of artifice and psychological manipulation. A place where in the old days (and you will have to forgive the generalization), church and state asserted their moral and community ‘guidance' to ignorant and sinful commoners through soaring, awe inspiring architecture. ‘Man', the individual is meant to feel small and insignificant when faced with the soaring and echoing spaces. ‘Thou shalt be silent and reflective' and ‘thou shalt not laugh at the green indicator above the confessional because we are a modern church now, you know'!
Things have moved on a bit since then. These days the spiritual connection need not be so much about reminding humans about their insignificance. Our spiritual selves can be celebrated with simplicity and modest architectural artifice distilled by light and form like in St Thomas Aquinas Parish Church in Charnwood, Canberra. This church is another architectural legacy that the great Italian born architect, Romaldo Giugola bestowed on Canberra, yet is little known.
Romaldo Giurgola is better known for his contribution to the nation, with his competition winning design for the Australian Parliament House, completed in 1988. When he won the competition in 1980, he moved from academic and architectural acclaim in the US to Australia (he became a citizen in 2000). No small thing to do for a man who at this time was already in his sixties.
St Thomas Aquinas Parish Church in Charnwood is located in the North of Canberra. White brick, big cross - you can't miss it as you drive in (but you do). It is a form that is a mediation between open landscape and domesticity. The form of the building reflects both Giurgola's modernist roots, as well as his departure from modernist tenets through the influence of one his inspirations - the work of Louis Kahn. Spatially it does what you expect a church to do - draw you into an intimate entrance and then push you out into vertical height, light and a big cross behind the alter. Cue shaft of light and angelic symphony.
It's not a resplendent stained glass windows and weeping saints kind of church, but it is nice. It makes you feel welcome; it's a warm fuzzy kind of religious experience. It's the kind of church that is about the suburbs and community and you would hope, not about preaching dogma. I will ponder this the next time I reflect on spirit, just maybe not on consecrated ground!
Images and Text by our Canberra Correspondent.