When we were hired to design a new church for a suburban parish, in a working-class neighborhood with a carpenter as its patron saint, we thought we should begin by thinking rudimental. At first blush the word tent (La Tenda) probably conjures the indelible scene of your mother and father fighting aluminum and canvas on a campground in the summer woods. But there are few structures so rudimentarily integral to human history. They were our first homes after caves; countless iterations served our nomadic antecedents for centuries. And they have long served as grand public gathering spaces: Alexander was married in the Cosmic Tent, Marco Polo met Kublai in the Great Tent of the Khan, and Moses’ “Tent of Meeting” has its building plans laid out in the Old Book itself.
As an architectural metaphor tents are humble and straightforward; they are central structures that naturally focus inward. For a spiritual space of reflection inspired by a humble worker it seemed the natural analogy.
So, using the stone and wood of the worker we designed around this analogy. We centralized the structure to reference the inward focus. We fixed the external wall height and from its constant horizon let the roof rise to a tent-like faceted dome. To achieve a sense of majesty without losing intimacy we swept the roof down and around the nave to nestle the 800 seat room. The stone wall of fixed height had its openings so placed as to heighten that sense of inward direction and the journey for each parishioner was designed to begin in the parking lot, funnel to a communal gathering in a traditional plaza and transition into a rooted space enabling reflection and wonder.
We wanted our “tent” to not only offer the same simple shelter that tents have offered for millennia, but to also inspire a stark conversion from the outside world into an inner sanctum. And though that latter idea is a kind of shelter for a more modern time it is still not so far from the purpose of Moses’ original Tabernaculum, which is of course, latin for tent.
Archdiocese of Portland
civil | structural
mechanical | electrical