Worship space design is driven to some degree by the functional aspects of liturgy, acoustics, sightlines, and other considerations. Symbolism and aesthetics also play major roles. On occasion it is necessary to leap beyond the usual design challenges, and conceive a project that embodies the rich heritage of a particular congregation in ways that project its pride and accomplishment beyond.
Such was the case at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Rosenberg, Texas, a church assembly where immigrant families from Mexico have come together for generations to worship the Lord. This growing parish on the outskirts of the Houston metropolitan area is now intergenerational and economically diverse, welcoming people united by the love of their religious heritage.
Sanctuary Construction (Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church)
Project Size: 301-800 seats
Completion Date: February 27, 2015
When the church embarked on its effort to create a new house of worship, it directed the architects to achieve a few vital things. First, the architecture must be a fitting expression of honor for the "Empress of the Americas," the namesake for the parish. In order to accomplish this, the architects chose to base the design on a Spanish Colonial concept, with which the people of the parish would be familiar and comfortable.
This use of an historic theme thus would follow in the tradition of American Christian architecture by which English "Georgian" colonial, central European Gothic, Italian Renaissance, and other design expressions would accompany newcomers to America and help them follow their faith in a familiar environment. At Our Lady of Guadalupe, white stucco walls; red roofing, both tile and metal; Spanish baroque decorative motifs in relief on the walls and in windows; and stone arches which create a covered loggia linking to exterior spaces, all converge to produce an architectural composition of timelessness and cultural appropriateness.
Second, a plaza for gathering and celebrations would be essential. Towns and villages in Mexico are centered around a church and square in which community activities occur. This same sort of public space would be integral here for the congregation to conduct the broad range of fellowship and devotional activities which flow from worship.
The expansive plaza is focused on the main entry to the worship space, and is also bounded by other church facilities that feed directly into the space. All of the elements drawn from the Spanish baroque architectural heritage are incorporated into the designhardscape ground surface, landscape providing shade and color, and flowing water. Thus, the concept connects to the Mexican immigrant community, and also back to the birthplace of Spanish architecture on the Iberian peninsula.
Third, the worship space must be visually expressive of the Mexican-American culture of the congregation. Not only would the design need to draw upon the historical themes mentioned above, it needed to use materials and colors that would be at home in a North American context, and that would introduce visual energy into the space. This was achieved by means of the shrine incorporated near the altar table, and the "sunburst" of gold leaf on the backdrop wall.
It was also accomplished with a stunning, soaring dome that gives this relatively modestly-sized church of 650 seats a cathedral-like presence. Native timber structural framing and stone flooring complete the assemblage.
The result is a design of visual power and feeling which belies the modest size of the overall structure. By drawing upon a few historic and cultural connections desired by the client, a design was devised which not only achieved the specific goals set forth by the client, but ended up reaching well beyond the specifics of its location to communicate the pride and Christian devotion of its congregation.