In March 2012, on the good advice of Sydney glass artist, Jeff Hamilton, I took the opportunity to visit St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral at Parramatta to see the last significant commission of Klaus Zimmer (1928-2007) – a superb example of contemporary architectural glass.
When fire destroyed a large portion of St. Patrick’s in 1996, the community of Parramatta vowed to rebuild. Romaldo Giurgola (1920-2016), best known in Australia for MGT Architects new Parliament House in Canberra, designed a light, ethereal sandstone building that has the atmosphere and ambience required of a spiritual centre for the twenty-first century. He incorporated the remnants of the old building, a Gothic Revival shell, as a re-ordered Chapel that leads one into the nave of the new Cathedral. The completed building was dedicated on 29 November 2003.
Romaldo Giurgola and Klaus Zimmer had collaborated previously when Zimmer produced windows for the stairwell and private dining room at Parliament House in 1986. The same energy and rapport is evident in the seventy-eight windows that Zimmer designed for the new Cathedral. Each design is an individual work of art, but also clearly part of a carefully orchestrated suite that has a strong dynamic presence totally in harmony with the surrounding architecture. These are not traditional ‘stained glass’ windows as lead has not been used and, as a result, the abstract shapes and patterns appear to float in the window openings, reflecting the lightness of the building itself.
Not in good health, Zimmer, who had previously undertaken much of his work independently or with a small team, worked in partnership with Derix Glasstudio, Taunusstein, Germany to produce his magnum opus. The last window to seen as one leaves by the old ‘west’ door, is the Eternity Window, a joyous finale to the completed cycle.
If you live in Sydney, or have an opportunity to visit, it is well worth the ferry ride to Parramatta to see a contemporary religious building that responds to the needs of those who worship there now and future generations will appreciate its glory well into the future.
See also, Romaldo Giurgola, Luminous Simplicity: the architecture and art of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Macmillan Art Publishing, South Yarra, 2006.