Nestled diagonally across a suburban corner block in St Mary’s, Sydney, Our Lady of the Rosary Church also resides within a broader evolution in modern Church design.
The years surrounding the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) led the institution to reevaluate many of its liturgical processes, much of which was realised through innovative architectural design.
As one approaches the quiet crossroad, a small Baptistry of sinuous pre-cast concrete columns and circular plan steps beyond a broad curved sandstone wall.
Set within this, a large west-facing window from gallery floor to ceiling, shaded by an unembellished white grille, breaks the unadorned facade. Continuing towards the corner of the street block, this Chapel window frames the elegant concrete Baptistry.
The striking composition is an early work of Kevin J. Curtin, whose career of four decades (1951-1992) involved the design and construction of over 50 churches and 200 schools. Much of this involved forward-looking church typologies of fan-shaped and circular plans, considered Baptistries, and innovative structural solutions.
He is credited with the design of the first parabolic-arched church in Australia, St Bernard’s, Botany (1954).
Built in 1962, Our Lady of the Rosary Church champions a variety of profound transformations in late twentieth century Ecclesiastic design. In a period of post-war self-assessment in the transmission of religious ideals, Curtin’s architecture demarcates some key reconsiderations in the Church’s liturgical processes.
In this case, the primacy and positioning of the Baptistry is a major focus. Its detail, and its positioning as a milestone in the process of entering the church, is tied to the enhanced focus on baptism’s significance and its associated rubrics.
Passing by the circular Baptistry, the congregation enters through the squat brick modernist equivalent of the narthex, underneath the gallery backed by the west facing window, into the nave. It is here that the impact of the structure’s plan is clearly felt. It is composed of two fans; one, the nave that tapers towards the central alter; the other, much smaller in scale, housing the sanctuary at the rear of the alter.
Steel columns offset from the walls support the gallery and the roof, which is corrugated into a series of varied triangular panels. Patterned concrete blocks line the tapered walls either side. This church is traditional in neither form nor finish.
This composition is in direct exchange with further alterations to the process of worship in both Roman Catholic and Protestant congregations. The Late Twentieth-Century Ecclesiastical Style diverged from traditional rectangular plan design, and the ritualism associated, in preference of formations that enhanced the space of the preacher.
These designs acoustically and visually draw the congregation towards the alter now offset from the wall itself. This largely involved a shift from rectangular plan to a ‘face-the-people orientation’. The fan shaped plan is one of many typological experiments Curtin utilised to satisfy these changing parameters.
Our Lady of the Rosary Church resides comfortably within the new liturgical formats produced out of religious discussions taking place at the very time of its construction.
Kevin Curtin’s versatility across the early decades of his career is symptomatic of his contemporaneity with such a conversation, one conclusion reached on this quiet corner block in St Mary’s.
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