Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
San Antonio de Padua in Chepica, Chile by Cheungvogl Architecture
May 22nd, 2011 by Sumit Singhal
San Antonio de Chépica was founded in a town north of San Antonio in 1824. In 1875, the church was relocated and the new San Antonio de Chépica was rebuilt in 1876. The structure suffered serious damage in the 1906 earthquake.
On 27 February 2010, the massive 8.8 quake struck Chile for 90 seconds at a depth of 35 km. Seismologists estimate the day may have shortened by 1.26 microseconds, the axis of the earth shifted by 8 cm and its territory expanded by 1.2 km. San Antonio de Chépica is, once again, destroyed.
In the first quarter of 2010, US Geological Survey recorded six earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater which claimed over 222,000 lives. The damages caused by earthquakes to developing countries are severe due to unsophisticated earthquake-resistant construction. Most reconstruction schemes in remote areas and small villages aim to ‘reproduce quickly, exactly as it was’. Without the luxury of time and resources to critically rethink the impact of these significant changes to the environment, without precise reconsideration of urban planning and architectural mistakes, the same will happen again.
The destruction marks a milestone on the timeline, where the existence becomes memory. Memory defines awareness. Human personality is defined by memory. Having no memory means the loss of awareness of the ‘self’. Also, as memory represents the view back into the past, it also stands for the current state in the present, stepping into the future, and building upon the experience from before. In reverse, you can’t recreate the past, unless –if it was possible- stepping back to a state, where you knew less than you do now, in the presence.
Could architecture be a witness of time; with memories that traces the past, present and future? Could the consequences of these unexpected events be an improvement to the way in which people live in future? Could knowledge and recourses be shared so that affected villages, cities or counties are revitalized through positive changes? After all, in the end always lies the opportunity of a new beginning.
The church connects the past with the future through faith and reflection, symbolizing the new beginning through the end. With all major stages of a lifetime (from baptism, marriage to funeral) being celebrated here, it is a symbol of birth, change and end of materiality through time. With the church being destructed itself, it becomes a metaphor for end and beginning itself.
Within a large room of 850 sqm is a small room of 350 sqm, quietly slotted in on the first level, providing flexible rooms for smaller gatherings.
The dynamic movements of the roof, shifting in two planes, subtlety define the interior spaces. Upon entry, the tilting of the roof structure seamlessly integrates the volume of the bell tower into the main volume of the church. The dramatic spatial experience towards the highest point of the church leads to the bell tower, orientating one’s mind to reach out. The fold on the roof plane allows its simultaneous extension to another high point, directly above the altar. Below it marks the thin standing cross. The music echoes and rests upon its open interior space. It is a place of calmness without physical and metaphorical division.
The space is penetrated with subtle rays of natural daylight through all sides of the facades, submerging in extreme tranquillity. The room is furnished with rows of timber benches, orthogonally placed, silently gazing upon the altar and the 7 meter high cross. The eastern wall is cladded with recycled timber panels, documenting history and time. Structurally, seismic resistant reinforced concrete construction is engineered to provide thermal masses that keep the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter by storing energy effectively.
Chépica finds in the reconstruction of San Antonio church, the opportunity to demonstrate courage and strength after experiencing such devastating natural catastrophe. The architecture becomes a visible expression of relentless faith.
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