The Francis Rush Centre - Architect's Statement
The Northern Development of the St Stephen’s Cathedral Precinct represents extraordinary vision by the Archdiocese. For the Archdiocese, the Cathedral Precinct has now been completed but more importantly, for the people of Brisbane it represents the gift of a new public space, one of the few new places in the CBD in decades. Whilst the building itself responds to a number of contextual concepts, it is the space created between the Francis Rush Centre and the Cathedral that represents one of the most important elements of this project.
Un-like other public places in the city, emphasis has been placed on the spiritual which gives the precinct a deeper meaning and significance. This meaning is predominately drawn from the life of St Stephen. St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was an important figure in the development of Christianity and his progressive spiritual journey through life is seen to be analogous to a journey for spiritual fulfilment. Fra Angelico’s fresco in the Vatican painted in 1449 depicts in narrative the key events of his life which is shown in three stages; his ordination, the distribution of alms, his preaching and his condemnation/martyrdom. Other frescos of St Stephen by Fra Filippo Lippi for the Prato Cathedral also have this three stage narrative quality. It is this narrative quality in the external spaces and the sense of continuity that links the spaces together that has been intended.
In this instance, the three stages of St Stephen’s life have metaphorically been interpreted as three spaces, each having a particular character. Beginning at the Charlotte street end these manifest as the Contemplative Mound, the Community Court and the Liturgical Amphitheatre. Three major elements contribute to the definition of these spaces; the River of Stone, the etched glass façade and the Loggia/Liturgical roof and screen.
The River of Stone is a strip of landscape that forms a major axis parallel to the Cathedral which is suggestive of a time line. Through the use of form, texture, superimposed text and artwork, the solid sandstone elements together with the shaped land forms become abstracted elements of St Stephen’s life, enabling varying interpretations and experiences.
The etched glass façade contains a literal representation of our understanding of St Stephen by presenting Acts 6 and 7 from the Bible. Various signifiers are used in text to emphasise important events which are then paralleled in the River of Stone.
The glazed Loggia and Liturgical Space with its undulating suspended screen symbolically changes along its length from dark to light and lifts to both reveal views of the Cathedral and define the Liturgical Space. It is this space, where the screen is draped around the edges to suggest enclosure but opens in the centre to celebrate St Stephen’s martyrdom that perhaps best encapsulates the Catholic Church’s desire to be open and inclusive to the community at large.
Lawrence Toaldo BArch(Hons) FRAIA
Managing Director, Conrad Gargett