What makes a good design for a chapel? Can Modern Architecture be incorporated into these religious structures? The Philippines, a country in Southeast Asia, is where you will find the City of Cebu coined as the “Queen City of the South“. Rich in culture and history, it is the oldest city in the Philippines and is considered “Asia’s Cradle of Christianity” since it is the first place the Portuguese Explorer Ferdinand Magellan settled and introduced Christianity in the country. With that, there are a lot of Heritage churches in Cebu, and you will find these in almost every municipality in the province. These churches are some of the oldest and most outstanding in the country and local architects seek to conserve these sites as much as possible. But Cebu is not all traditional, it is also one of the most developed provinces in the Philippines, which offers a mix of both traditional and modern architecture. Here, you will find the most modern church in the province of Cebu – the San Pedro Calungsod Chapel.
San Pedro Calungsod
San Pedro Calungsod is a Filipino Roman Catholic martyr who along with Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores, suffered from religious prosecution and martyrdom while promoting their missionary work in Guam in 1672. Through their efforts, many Chamorros natives were converted to Roman Catholicism. He is the second Filipino Saint after San Lorenzo Ruiz. His story shows us that young people are capable of doing great things making him a role model for the youth. San Pedro Calungsod Chapel is dedicated to this great Saint, the first Visayan Saint, who believed in the power of religion.
The architecture of San Pedro Calungsod Chapel is bold and expressive. Designed by Carlos Arnaiz Architects (CAZA), the chapel’s design is meant to be a homage to the dynamic spirit of Cebu. CAZA oftentimes calls this chapel “Stonehenge” which is a prehistoric stone circle monument in England. Looking at the chapel from afar, the chapel consists of 100 concrete walls of different sizes. Hence, it is often called the “Church of 100 Walls”. Each wall varies in both height and width. According to Filipino-Columbian Architect Carlos Arnaiz, “The inspiration was the notion of diversity. They wanted a church that represents what society is today. They wanted a church that stands for many paths, that wouldn’t be just one path to God.”
The design of San Pedro Calungsod Chapel may be simple – made of just concrete walls and paint – but the organization of these walls at varying heights creates the experience of light and air. Designers have discovered that all churches have two common elements amongst each other. One is a vertical element that brings the people’s eyes up like looking up to God in the heavens. And two, light like in Gothic Churches where stained-glass windows allow light to enter the church in many ways. The chapel has achieved these two elements through its walls of varying heights which represents the verticality of the chapel and the placement of the walls in one direction that makes the building opaque from one side and transparent on the other that creates an optical play of light and dark.
The Chapel of San Pedro Calungsod has four main design concepts. One is the notion of a mysterious structure that piques people’s curiosity, making them want to learn more. Two, the church invites its users to wander around the chapel, which recreates the sense of seeking which is part of the religious experience. Three, the church embodies what spirituality is in the present times. People are not dictated to only one way to God, and there are different ways to God. People experience him in many ways and the Church symbolizes that. Four, walls were made of the same thickness but different heights, coordinated and designed in various ways. Designers tapped into the history of ecclesiastical design, which mainly consists of verticality and the interplay of natural light with volume.
Materials / Construction
The Chapel of San Pedro Calungsod used materials like sand, stone, and glass that represent the Cebuano contemporary aesthetic. Mimicking Mactan Stones, the walls were made in rough finish to give it a sense of place. According to Architect Arnaiz, “They wanted the church to appear like it’s protruding as if these things were a ruin”. This also gives the chapel an added texture and visual interest to the exterior of the chapel. The extensive use of glass in the chapel allows natural light to enter the interiors, creating a serene and ethereal atmosphere. To provide structural support to the chapel, various metal components, such as steel, are introduced and used in the construction of this chapel. This ensures the stability and integrity of the architectural elements of the chapel.
San Pedro Calungsod Chapel is located in a reclaimed area that tends to be flood-prone. The elevation of the chapel became a part of the design since this elevation acts as a barrier against the natural calamity of flooding. But this elevation also provided opportunities for sunken spaces or gardens in-between that are used by the pilgrims for meditation and prayer. Along with these sunken gardens and the design of the chapel wherein walls are organized in a way that it is completely transparent on one side, this promotes natural ventilation within the structure that minimizes the need for artificial cooling systems and promotes natural lighting in the interiors minimizing the need for artificial lighting. These methods help reduce the energy consumption of the chapel.
The Chapel of San Pedro Calungsod is a well-balanced blend of traditional and modern. While the Church is mostly composed of modern minimalist elements, the design still has connections with the past. Its design encourages its users to wander around the church and experience the space firsthand. Its puzzle-like design provides opportunities for a more spiritual experience of seeking God in our daily lives. The chapel is a testament to the richness and creativity of Filipino Architecture which makes it a significant cultural and religious landmark in Cebu.
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