Our architects were invited to develop a Church and Parish Center in the Lisbon region, more specifically in the district of Setúbal, municipality of Moita, parish of Vale da Amoreira. The experience we have in the work of a social or symbolic nature with public entities such as the central (Ministries) or local (City Halls) or private entities such as Santa Casa da Misericórdia allowed us to approach the project that contains all the dimensions of a program religious.
The new Building, the arrangement of the Exterior Spaces, the Rehabilitation of the Existing Construction (current Church) and the implantation spot of the Parish Residence were all thought of as a coherent architectural ensemble. However, it is important to note that the project was developed in order to ensure that each of these elements can be carried out in stages according to financial availability.
The project seeks, on an urban scale, to give, above all, a new urbanity that effectively reflects the reality of religious activity taking place in that sacred place.
For this purpose, a deep reflection on religious action was essential in order to make it effective from the scale of the urban form to the scale of a constructive detail.
The experience of religion in the community is thus structuring for the proposal, allowing to develop an integration with the existing urban context, both in terms of its constructions and surrounding public spaces, and in terms of its social and economic context. It is precisely this adaptation to the specificity of the place in all its aspects that will allow the originality of the proposal.
Underlying the proposal is a desire to enhance the cultural identity of this community and refuse the uncritical repetition of models that are out of step with local and contemporary reality.
The project is born after a careful analysis of the urban context, its surroundings and the needs of the program. The intervention area is located in a corner and has a moderate slope, being the highest zone in the north and the lowest zone in the south next to the existing building that is currently used as a church.
The land is currently used as a passage space, with its footpaths visible and adjacent to a tree that resists inside. To the west and east of the land are single-family houses. To the north are multi-family housing buildings. To the Southeast is a public space used as sports equipment, liturgy and festive activities. To the northwest there is a public garden adjacent to the multifamily buildings. To the south, a water line separates the land from another multi-family housing area accessible by footbridge.
Thus, the importance of the land as an element that articulates all these urban uses becomes evident. And it is precisely this reality that will guide urban strategy. It is thus based on a profound appreciation of free space and all its symbolism.
In this way, the corner and the entire area surrounding the tree existing in the place is maintained as a public free space, as well as all its natural topography so as not only to maintain the crossings but also to give centrality and accessibility to the area of the Church, Residence / Pastoral Service and Reception Space.
Along with this desire to invite the pedestrian to stay and cross the lot, the urban inconsistencies of the surroundings were identified, namely the existence of the gable to the east and the finishing of the plots of single-family homes to the southwest. The implantation of the built volumes is thus a natural consequence of the valorization of the public space and the filling of the shape of the adjacent urban areas.
In this sense, it appears as evident the placement of the church in the Northeast area of the lot, with its entrance placed in the highest area, facing east and thus directly related to the whole new churchyard in the corner. This side entry strategy is common in Portuguese conventual architecture and here it guarantees the dignity and space necessary for a noble churchyard, protecting the entrance from inconveniences related to car traffic. This new churchyard takes on the typical characteristics of Portuguese architecture with respect to the original topography of the sites. As we will see later, the implantation of the entrance in the highest elevation and its direct relation with the volume of the tower allows to signal with a clear urban form the importance of religious activity in what is the tradition of Portuguese cities. That is, the volume of the tower dominates the surroundings and highlights the importance of entering the sacred site. At the same time, the entrance is always associated with a noble public space commonly known as churchyard.
In a lower level and in the east of the land the volume of the Parish Center or Pastoral Residence / Pastoral and Social Service is placed, allowing not only to fill the gables of the adjacent lots but also to give more importance to the new centrality of the landscaped churchyard. This building will thus have its most important facade facing the public space. Considering the existing terrain limitations, the desire to provide quality pedestrian spaces, the numerous existence of surrounding parking spaces, the importance of discouraging the use of the car and the necessary dignity that the space of the perimeter requires, they were not purposely considered as car parking spaces.
It is important to note that all public spaces reduce architectural barriers in total and allow a total enjoyment of spaces by people with disabilities.
The outdoor spaces also seek to be an example at the level of sustainability, increasing to the maximum the garden areas or permeable trampling. The Church is the building that stands out the most and is composed of four volumes clearly visible from the outside, following a strategy that privileges authenticity instead of concealment, purity and simplicity of forms in place of ornamentation and disorder.
The tallest, narrowest and most slender volume is the tower and, as described above, marks the entrance to what is the religious tradition of Portuguese architecture, which always symbolically dates back to the door of the Roman wall.
The largest volume, but with a lower height than the tower, corresponds to the assembly and the presbytery and follows the tradition of divestment of the Gothic hall, typical of Portuguese architecture.
The volume of the chapel of the most holy, is the smallest volume of the set, but several elements make it fundamental in the set: it has a central position on the ground and visible from the entire churchyard; it consists of a delimited volume resulting from the cross that crosses the façade of the presbytery; it is a volume oriented to the east guaranteeing the placement of the tabernacle at that very end.
The volume adjacent to the east of the church, narrow, low and long, encompasses all the uses that complete the religious act: children’s space / future baptismal chapel, confessionals, bathrooms, sacristy and priest’s office.
The entire outdoor space is publicly accessible, guaranteeing access to the three buildings and the minimum waterproofing area since then, with the natural dimensions of the land being maintained in general, basically a commitment to the best sustainable building practices.
With regard to the functional program of the Church, the strategy is based on the desire to respond in a balanced way to the needs of the Church adapted to the identity of the community and the symbolism inherent to each use.
It is important to note that the conceptual strategy is based on a desire to simplify shapes, spaces, volumes and materials, in a search for purity and authenticity. The formal language is thus voluntarily limited and the result of a project design. This desire also ends up coinciding with the budgetary limitations inherent in a Christian community where financial resources are also scarce, but where a diverse and diverse culture that yearns for authentic and own aesthetic references. The antechamber is the first space after the entrance , guaranteeing the thermal and acoustic comfort of all the faithful. This space has the particularity of allowing technical access to the roof through a trapdoor in the ceiling with subsequent ladder of man up to the highest elevation. It also allows for the future installation of audible or bell equipment.
The assembly is the largest possible space with a ceiling height that not only guarantees comfort but also reflects the solemnity required by the liturgy. It is illuminated by simple cuts in the walls and ceilings that distribute the light in a clearly distinctive architectural language and that indicates the presence of a space of a religious nature. The assembly has a slight slope towards the presbytery, a fact that reminds us of the respect for the original topography or even for the first evangelization actions in the open field, and in the end, it guarantees greater visual comfort to all the faithful. Coupled to it we have the choir. Ensuring visibility to the altar of choristers and organists.
The presbytery is the continuation of the assembly in a simple way. Its wall bears the cross of Christ in every dimension through a huge window that lets in the light. Here we use the purest and most noble material: light. This south-oriented light will project your cross over the whole assembly during all the days of the year, since it is facing south.
In the presbytery, balance and careful execution of all liturgical acts are sought. The altar is the center, an ambo on one side, the presidency on the other. Two ramps allow access to this higher area. A door on one side allows modest access to the sacristy, on the other side and at the assembly of the assembly we have a doorway to the chapel of the Most Holy flooded with light.
Visual projection of multimedia content is also possible on the main wall. At the border between the presbytery and the assembly (and opposite the choir) we find the symbolic presence of the Virgin.
The chapel of the most holy tries not to forget the legacy of the apse in Portuguese architecture, and reconciles this same formal aspect with the current functionality. This space also allows the tabernacle to be to the west and there is a protected walk to get there.
The small chapel that is accessible through the assembly entrance area guarantees several functions as a result of the future evolution of the community and its needs. On the one hand it allows children to have a more reserved space without impairing the concentration of the faithful, on the other hand it will in the future serve as a baptismal chapel, assuming in this case a central sink and a small rectangle of vegetal soil for collecting water.
The bathrooms are accessible by an anteroom connected to the assembly and to the outside. Thus guaranteeing maximum efficiency in terms of circulation and uses. The bathrooms are prepared for people with disabilities. Accessible through the same anteroom is the storage space that can accommodate instruments to support cleaning or floral arrangements.
The confessional is accessible from the assembly and has the degree of transparency balanced with the confession.
The sacristy has an autonomous entrance from the outside to a corridor that divides the area of the attendance office from the area of the sacristy itself. Two storage spaces support the bathroom and the entrance. In the vestry itself there is enough space for a washbasin, table and cupboard for vestments. The washbasin has a direct connection of the water to the earth that is found outside through a gargoyle on the facade. The sacristy connects directly and discreetly with the presbytery through a door.
Basically, all architecture takes on a role of simplicity. Formal minimalism coupled with the exaltation of existing nature and simple sunlight is the purest possible approach to the Divine and religious action.
May 25, 2021
Architecture, Public Buildings