Cerrito Chapel

Javier Corvalan

Asuncion, Paraguay

December 2014










The primary objective is the celebration of mass and evangelization. Acknowledging the urgent needs of the population, the project incorporates an additional program with two main functions: a medical clinic and flexible meeting space that facilitates communal and human encounter. This is a social project in every aspect: built by the community itself, the project also generates community in turn. Evangelization in South America is not only practiced in the context of religious faith and creed, but complements primary and secondary education, artistic and recreational experiences. In such a neglected environment, needs are not limited only to those of faith and knowledge, however, but also abound in the form of disease and ill health. Thus, the incorporation of a medical function within the project becomes a fundamental requisite to achieve the objective of “mens sana in corpore sano” or health bodies through healthy minds. The building’s concretion is valuable itself as a live testimony that change is possible with unity and collective will. In this sense, the architectural fact restores dignity to a community, inspiring and facilitating space to improve their life conditions. Sustainable, requiring low maintenance, and with the capacity to withstand possible violent acts from an intolerant society—it achieves a church’s objective: to serve as a refuge, a shelter, always open to whoever might be in need.


The new San Miguel Chapel is situated in Cerrito, a poor and neglected neighborhood in one of Asunción’s urban slums. Due to financial and climatic limitations, it had to be rebuilt by the people of the local community, and safeguarded from the seasonal floods of the Paraguay River. The land, situated in the midst of slaughterhouses and waste, was high at the front edge and ended in a steep precipice, where garbage accumulated. Lacking funds to realize the project, two resources were available: a workforce capable of handling concrete due to significant, yet low-paying, masonry work experience; and garbage to be used as the structure’s formwork. The proposal had to be absolute and accomplished in one gesture that would avoid all unnecessary costs. The answer: a structure composed of a bent concrete band, sustained by a triangular grid of concrete nerves that complemented the geometry of the folds and allowed for a minimum use of supplies and materials. The cover would simultaneously function as walls and floor; resting on rustic quebracho (schinopsis lorentzii) wood capable of supporting 120 kg./cm2. The terrain’s natural inclination, in conjunction with the concrete fold structure, allowed us to gain two levels with different possible uses for the community: in the upper floor, the space for worship or celebration; and below, a space for shelter and infrastructure.


The Cerrito Chapel is not only an architectural construction; it is a project of social construction. Over 10 years old, it engages a professional collective of architects and university students that work ad honorem with a community to improve its quality of life through architecture. The work consolidates its urban context and seeks to re-dignify its geography and original identity as a former hill (Cerrito means hill in Spanish), by building a vertical urban space between the old chapel and the current quarry. Its structure, articulated as a Mobius Band, contains symbolic and practical value, solidifying the structural system and fragmenting what could have been a medium scale space into a small, domestic one. The project occupies a lot between party walls as any regular neighbor, without any monumental character except for its tectonic character. Its relationship to the public/sacred space happens through a ramp, instead of a door, which presents the celebratory level in a plane slightly elevated above the ground. The interior space is completely open to the street. Continuing along the ground level and descending we find the space for multiple communal activities under the chapel’s shadow. The space is secular and one of encounter, by nature. The project’s nature as an intermediate space without enclosures solves the basic shelter needs typical of the context’s subtropical climate. Departing from this origin, the chapel arises as a space in constant construction directly proportional to the community’s construction.