Cleansing Fire

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“Japanese four and a half Tatami rug configuration”

October 3rd, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

In my search to bring you the very best of cutting edge Liturgical art and architecture I ran across this powerful use of the Japanese four and a half Tatami rug configuration in an oratory design for Holy Rosary Catholic Church, St. Amant, Louisiana. Unfortunately the Arkansas Office of Trahan Architects does not explain what that is in an article posted on e-architect. Not to worry though; the congregation was

…informed of Vatican II interpretation and the importance of using materials from the site to create a unique design.

(Someone, please check that reference.)

Vatican II documents called for materials that were appropriate and permanent.

To the architects that meant cast concrete chosen because it is “appropriate and permanent” and because of its…

intrinsic beauty, reflecting nature in its depth and irregularity of finish and color.

Here is a part of the Client Brief:

The client is a rural Catholic Parish in South Louisiana with strong French influence. (Let me know if you detect where that comes into play in the final design.) There are three buildings in the first phase of the Holy Rosary Complex – an administration building housing the administrative functions of the parish; the religious education building; and the oratory, or chapel for the celebration of the rites. (The parish has a separate church building for Sunday Mass.) The oratory is intended for the daily use of small assemblies, less than 50 congregants. The parish desired a relationship between the oratory, the existing church and for there to be a place of prominence for this chapel in the new complex of buildings. The client also required the new complex to play an important role in the community life of the predominantly Catholic residents.

(Now it gets good.) Design of the oratory stems from the concept of identifying a pure, comfortable, sacred space every human has experienced – the womb. (a concrete womb mind you) Since the womb has no orientation of up or down, all sides are treated equally, thus evoking a strong sense of mystery…

(Here is where the rug configuration comes in. “What rug?” I hear you shout.)  The geometric basis for the parti of the oratory was derived from the Japanese four and a half Tatami rug configuration. This non-hierarchical system (nasty hierarchy!) accommodates the numerous seating configurations for liturgical purposes (endless change)

…Light enters through a variety of openings carved from the wall thickness without revealing context or light source beyond. In addition to giving occupants a sense of orientation, the obscured presence of light is symbolic of the paschal mystery of Christ. (This is apparently the Christian aspect of the design. Good thing they pointed it out.)

Actually, I think a rug might help. And what about that French connection? Looking, looking, still looking…

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2 Responses to ““Japanese four and a half Tatami rug configuration””

  1. avatar Mike says:

    This source tells us

    Tatami: Tatami mats are usually three by six feet and made of tightly woven rice-straw pads from 1 ¾ – 2 ½ inches thick. They are covered by finely woven mat on top, edged with cloth. Rooms are built to contain a certain number of these usually three by six foot mats, and the size of the room is referred to by the number of mats. A four and a half mat room, for example, would be nine by nine feet. A formal Japanese tea room is four and a half mats. …

    Based on this, I hear the architect saying that he designed a square Japanese tea room, built it out of concrete instead of traditional Japanese materials, and then told his clients there was some sort of religious significance to the resulting structure.

    And the idiots believed him!

  2. avatar Jim R says:

    I swear everyone should be required – an an annual basis – to re-read “The Emperor’s New Clothes! And then think about it!


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