‘Typecasting St Bernards’ Stephen Frith
The commission to make additions to the former church of St Bernards’ at Reidsdale, near Braidwood, NSW, offered an opportunity to explore notions of type in architecture. The church sits in the middle of a paddock in a rural setting. The architectural challenge for the new design becomes in large part one which plays with type: kitchens as side chapels, bathrooms as a belltower.
Type in the history of architecture is inextricably linked with the study of rhetoric, especially that part of rhetoric concerned with memory. In the community of structures that form the city, the interpretation of its architectural language, its signification, is dependent on type. Type in architecture is part of the internal reference structure of the mind. The assumption that there is a perfect type for architecture is a characteristic of later post- Enlightenment speculation, especially that at the Ecole Polytechnique in France. Type is moralised, characterised by notions of what is ‘correct’: type in architecture becomes a speculation on origins, as if by being true to type, by a process of whittling, architecture is reduced to its essence. Such reduction of elements becomes an issue of legibility, of the clear reading of architectural elements through the language of type.
Type expressed as a participation in origins is distinguished against the notion of a ‘model’ in architecture, suggesting a rigid adherence to a predetermined path. Type carries with it the suggestion of an a-temporal participation, operating in the same way as a participation in myth. At St. Bernard’s Reidsdale, notions of type are explored with some license, best explained as a ‘conversation’ with the nineteenth century Gothic Revival church. This both gives freedom to architectural invention, while engaging with that understanding of type which seeks the appropriate telos, the right and good end of the architecture.