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.
The expansion of the Cathedral of Créteil in France by Architecture-Studio
September 15th, 2015 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: Architecture-Studio
In 2009, on the initiative of Bishop Santier, the diocesan association of Créteil, supported by the Chantiers du Cardinal, opted for an ambitious project to expand the cathedral of Notre- Dame de Créteil. Conceived by Charles-Gustave Stoskopf, holder of the Prix de Rome, this architecture is typical of the 1970s when “the theology of blending-in” prevailed at the time. It is part of the contemporary heritage of the City of Créteil.
The commission was to double the capacity of the cathedral and to enhance its visibility towards the city.
More than a renovation, this project involved a major redevelopment of the cathedral, giving it a new architectural lease on life from a symbolic and pastoral point of view. The new cathedral is anchored in a multicultural city, which includes five Catholic churches, ten synagogues, a mosque, a Protestant church, four Evangelical churches, a Buddhist temple and a Bahai assembly.
A dialogue between two different architectural styles, yet consistent, is established. The dome pointing skywards is based on the footprint of the original cathedral. The silhouette of the entrance, on a human scale, is now joined with the monumental proportions of the new project, focusing on the nave of the cathedral that extends from two spherical wood-clad hulls, like two hands joined in prayer that meet above the altar.
Large gatherings can be held in this new space. The existing sanctuary has been remodeled and the benches are placed in a broad semicircle. In daylight, the stained-glass window located at the junction of the two hulls shed a colored light onto the sanctuary, while at night, illuminated from inside, they become the symbol of a living Christian community.
A space structured by the liturgy
Having thus determined the architectural element of the project, we still had to determine the specifics. The new spatial organisation of the cathedral provided us with the framework we needed.
The two cylindrical concrete walls that support a horizontal terrace situated about 5 metres high from the ground, become two tridimensional wooden hulls that converge at 20 metres above the altar.
The liturgical axis was born from the creation of a chapel facing the sanctuary, in place of the former garden. It is marked by the presence of the baptistry. We decided that this axis, which would be the route of solemn processions in the cathedral, would become the standard for arranging all the structures: thus the supporting arches of the shells are all drawn in parallel to this liturgical axis.
The warmth of wood
The white architecture of Stoskopf serves as the setting for the new cathedral, clad all in wood, inside and out.
This unity of material refers back to the ancient cathedrals, where the mass of these stone vessels was cut and chiseled by the light. This allows a straightforward reading of the two layers of the building, but most importantly, stands for unity and simplicity.
And by the light
Another mouvement, another axis, perpendicular to the previous one, crosses the space of the cathedral. This axis is the one of the stained glass, whose colored light encircles the space from its zenith. There is also an ascending path that rises to the source of this light: a mouvement from the altar to the two access steps to the gallery, which is extended by the curve of the stained glass. A path of light hangs vertically from the altar, climax of the composition of the Udo Zembok’s magnificent stained glass. The cross thus signs this space in three Dimensions, a space that vibrates to the rhythm of day and seasons, the orientation of the cathedral on the points of the compass — give or take a few degrees — and the positioning of the stained glass at the head of the southern hull, allowing the building to receive sunlight throughout the day.
A sense of community
The semicircular shape, as well as the use or non-use of the galleries, gives a feeling of fullness to the community regardless the number of faithful present at the celebrations. The tiered spaces of the conference room and the auditorium continue this modularity, with their movable partitions opening out into the cathedral. The extended cathedral can accomidate up to 1000 people.
The Masses in the chapel conveys both a sense of intimacy and belonging to the cathedral, through the view of the sanctuary and the cathedra. The organ area, located at the top of the galleries, can also accommodate a choir for major celebrations.
The cultural centre
The extension of the cathedral included the creation of a cultural centre intended to offer cultural and artistic events to the Val-de-Marne’s inhabitants. A conference room and a small auditorium occupy the space originally dedicated to two multipurpose rooms. These spaces are accessible through an exhibition gallery that connects the two entrance narthexes. At its centre, a skylight allows a glimpse of the cross on the steeple. The sunlight goes trough a skylight and illuminates the entrance to each room. Near the large narthex, a bookstore café creates a friendly space at the entrance of the cathedral.
Founded in Paris in 1973, Architecture-Studio brings together about two hundred people, around 12 partners of all generations. This team of 25 different nationalities is composed of architects, urban planners, designers and interior designers. Architecture Studio has built itself upon the will of a will for broad-mindedness and group philosophy. Its foundations lie on work group and shared knowledge, with the will to go beyond individuality for the benefit of dialogue and confrontation. Thus, the addition of individual knowledge turns into wide creative potential.