‘An architectural representation of God’s open-ended love’By Carlos Arnaiz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Our design for the Chapel of San Pedro Calungsod is meant as an homage to Cebu’s dynamic spirit. The building is grounded in the long history of ecclesiastical architecture wherein light and structure work together to inspire. And yet, the design is truly contemporary. It is both futuristic and contextual.
The walls of the building are oriented to establish visual links to the surrounding landscape: hills to the west, the sea to the east and a new urban complex rising in the middle. The church stands as a sanctuary of stone, sand and glass from where we can meditate on the changes happening in the world and find strength in our encounter of the inexplicable mysteries of God.
We wanted to design a sacred space that embodied the contemporary search for meaning. We imagined the church as a mysterious place, a building that resists simple categorization. Like the best churches of medieval Europe, we sought to present parishioners with an architectural image of God as both a mystery and source of enlightenment. The dense layered mass of buttresses, vaults and spires in Gothic cathedrals that ascend to an overwhelming height letting in light in a warm colored glow materialize the beauty of a life lived in pursuit of a higher purpose.
The Chapel of San Pedro Calungsod invites us to wander around its grounds and discover sunken gardens, pockets of blue light and an enigmatic profusion of talismanic walls.
Our design for the Cebu church encourages visitors to treat their visit to church as a search: The bliss of existence is in the thought that in each path taken there is a lesson learned. The multitude of doors and passages in the church serves as an architectural representation of God’s open-ended love.
Like a forest, our design for the church appears to be a puzzling structure of stone and sand that has risen from the ground almost without explanation. Yet upon further study an organizational system reveals itself.
All the walls are located in one direction so that the building is completely opaque from one side and totally transparent in the opposite view. Anywhere in between these two states is an optical play of light and dark. The walls are aligned along a grid that follows the spacing of the pews marking the relationship between the minute scale of the individual and the cosmic scale of the universe. The monolithic quality of the walls plays off the fleeting reality of the colored light that filters through the clearstory windows.
Mysterious, rational being
For the Chapel of San Pedro Calungsod we revisited the Gothic idea of God as both a mysterious and rational being.
The church has 100 walls. Each wall has a unique height and width so that they seem almost like people. No one is the same and yet they are all connected in the fact that they exist together as a cluster. The systematic links and gaps between the walls create opportunities to locate the many different auxiliary spaces required in large churches such as a baptistery, an adoration chapel, prayer niches, the sacristy, 14 Stations of the Cross, and even a quiet room for childcare. The walls come together to form a kind of congregation. They work like a finely coordinated swarm of bees able to organize a multitude of tasks while simultaneously creating an open and adaptable system.
The walls are taller than normal. They appear like fins at the back of stegosaurus, providing shade to the roof and diffusing natural light to the interiors. They perform like vertical brise-soleils protecting the roof surfaces from direct radiation and reducing the building’s overall heat gain. The walls are structure, ornament and environmental control all at once.
Our design for the Chapel of Pedro Calungsod encourages the ethos of discovery. The sacred is, after all, inexorably linked to the fact that we are here only for a short time while our architecture aspires toward permanence.