Classic simplicity

Nick Myall
Tuesday 26 Jun 2018

The simple design of this Portuguese church allows the churchgoers to focus on prayer and reflection

The church of S. Tiago de Antas is situated in an ideal location with views over the surrounding landscape and the centre of Vila Nova de Famalicão, in Portugal. The building is integrated side by side and harmoniously with an existing church, which gives it a distinct character and reference with the community, especially for all those who cultivate the faith.

The elaboration of the proposal was preceded by a study of the location of surrounding spaces and the integration of the building into the site location. It was not simply limited to the study of an organized implantation in the site but also an intense study of the history and religious activities associated with the locality. Its intergration works as a unifying element with the existing spaces and surroundings, such as the Romanesque church, the mortuary chapel and the cemetery.

The church itself is a simple building, with no notable monumentality, and the volumetry was studied with the aim of not having a visual impact on the landscape. The volume develops on two floors, clearly separating the sacred space from the other spaces with cultural and educational functions for children and young people. The ground floor has been developed as a space for religious celebrations, with capacity for more than 500 people. On the back of the altar are located all the points related to the pastor and sacristan. On the basement floor there are five spaces for catechesis, one of which has the capacity to accommodate up to 200 people, and can be used for shows or lectures.

The project incorporates a vast symbolic significance, since several liturgical elements are present in order to create a narrative. The elliptical form of the church emerges from the chalice and cross of passion, and the rings surrounding the temple symbolise the crown of thorns, an instrument of torture used by the Romans during the crucifixion of Jesus. On the wooden floor there are two marble lines that connect the exterior of the building to the altar. One of the lines represents the Jordan River, the place of Christ’s baptisms, connecting the exterior of the church and the baptismal font and then on to the main altarpiece. The other represents the blood coming from the sword of St. James, and connects from the outside to the pulpit where the readings of the sacred texts are made.

The volume materialises its shape through the exterior concrete walls with almost no openings, which creates a mysterious and austere image, despite the suspended arches that encompass it. On the other hand, the white interior walls of the nave are illuminated by a diffused light, created by hidden skylights that transmit to the place a serene and poetic atmosphere that evokes prayer and reflection. Lighting plays an important role in the intervention. During the night there is a careful and articulate lighting effect, both inside and outside, which was developed with the aim of emphasizing the church.

Inside, the only present ornaments are placed on the altarpiece, which consists of two panels that were built in pottery and decorated with gold and silver leaves, with images of St. James and Our Lady of Conception. The  wooden furniture was designed by the team, specifically for this project.

The simplicity of space and architectural language present in the project aims to create a space in which the protagonists are essentially the people and the events.

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