Saint Bernard’s Chapel
La Playosa, Argentina
Martin Lavayén (Collaborator) Soledad Cugno (Collaborator) Virginia Theilig (Collaborator) Gabriel Stivala (Collaborator) Tomás Balparda (Collaborator) Pablo Taberna (Collaborator) Gastón Kibysz (Collaborator) Ambrogio Malacarne (Liturgical Consultant) Roberto Paoli (Liturgical Consultant) Gustavo Carabajal (Liturgical Consultant) Carlos Geremía (Structural Consultant) Jerónimo Silva (Constructor)
Paula Novaro Alicia Berutti Juan Federico Campodonico
The project, its geometry, form, space, material and technology, has the objective of making the main concept and its atmosphere become true. In this way, every single architectural operation is instrumental and solidary with each other, pursuing an objective with no preconceived image, intangible, belonging to a world of ideas and perception. In the plains there are no stones or woods, just earth. The brick is the Pampa`s “natural” material, so it is the only material used. The exterior was built with recycled bricks (of a bigger size) while the interior was materialized with new and smaller bricks. This duality gets more powerful when we see straight forms in the exterior and curved ones in the interior, as if they were two different worlds. The design of the main space (based on spherical geometry) has the purpose to provide a continuous surface were the light and shadows slide, curving but never breaking. The spherical section joins a conical vault pointing towards the sunset, allowing the interior space to capture most of the late afternoon light. For the construction of the interior, different techniques which could do without the formwork, were recovered and combined. In this way, every late afternoon it was possible to observe and verify that the light slides softly along the interior without projecting any shadows other than the ones from the poles.
Located in the Pampa plains, in the east of the province of Cordoba, Argentina, Saint Bernard´s Chapel (the local patron saint) rises in a small grove, originally occupied by a rural house and its yards, both dismantled in order to reuse their materials, especially its one-hundred-year-old-bricks. The site does not have electricity or any other utilities; nature imposes its own conditions. In the limit between the trees and the open country, the chapel´s volume opens up towards the sun, capturing the natural light of the sunset in the interior. Outside, a vertical and a horizontal poles are placed separately and projected towards the interior. As a result, every day all year round, the shadow of these, slides along the curved interior, finishing its tour overlapping with each other. Currently we all know Jesus Christ only carried the transverse pole on his back on his way to Gólgotha. The crucifixion is conceptually completed with the reunion of both poles, recreating the cross. Every day, the shadows of the poles make their way separately, just as in the “Via Crusis”, to finally meet and recreate the cross, not a symbolic cross but a ritual one, where the Passion happens again every day thanks to the sun, acquiring a cosmic dimension.
The cross has begun to compose and decompose day after day since the wooden poles were placed, making the past present, reviving the Passion. The sunset light which arrives in a horizontal way because of the flat condition of the land, invades the space lightening up the walls and the ceiling at the same time. The reddish light hits the bricks, reverberates and descends thick, amplified, of an intense and almost unreal colour. One interior wall where candles are placed together with a circular camp-fire in the exterior complement the decline of the solar light. It is the fire that allows completing the experience under the night sky. The built work materializes the principal concept at the same time that it achieves an atmosphere of introspection, proposing a personal path towards the interior. Each visitor can choose among multiple ways of approximating and entering the Chapel. The exterior walls unfold among the trees in order that the visitor has enough time to strip off during the walk. The entrance is unique, wide enough for only one person at a time. Saint Bernard´s Chapel has quickly taken a green patina of moss on its centenary brick walls, which have recovered their memory under the early rains, blurring the limit between construction and nature. The chapel is not in the landscape, it is part of it.