28. Sep 2016

Design for a chapel in the Alps/CH

Text: Jo-Eike Vormittag


Churches are buildings where Christians seek proximity to God and a sign of divine presence in the world. Worshippers gather there for church services, to pray, and to feel part of the community and the congregation. For Christians they are the gateway to Heaven. The chapel designed by Joaquim Portela Arquitetos addresses precisely these expectations – a chapel to be built in the Swiss Alps that represents this very heavenly connection. Light pours down from the heavens and into the nave via a huge funnel-shaped structure set at an angle to the base building and projecting out over the landscape, and crowned with a skylight.


The quest for light was the underlying concept for the chapel, architect Joaquim Portela claims. The sun’s rays graze the rough concrete facades and fall directly onto the white marble altar. It is not only the location of the chapel high up in the Alps that promotes the feeling of divine proximity, but also the impressive natural lighting that provides the backdrop inside the place of worship. The nave follows on directly from the altar, the light entering through the funnel-shaped opening penetrating the entire space right through to the entrance to the chapel, which has received a glazed façade and thus allows more daylight into the building at ground level. The light-coloured wooden pews respond to the natural light from both directions and provide a suitable, calming and “earthly” contrast to the bright altar area and the exposed concrete. The vestry in the side aisle, which is also made of light-coloured wood, disposes over a large window with a view of the surrounding green countryside. The grey material used to construct the chapel perched way up in the Alps blends in with the rocky mountain landscape.


Far removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life, this will be an ideal place to retreat to and gather one’s thoughts about oneself and the world. An interplay of light and dark. Light can be purposefully designed to play a central role in places of worship of all religions, linking earthly life with divine thoughts and experiences. The design for this chapel, a sacred building that literally reaches out to the heavens, is not only truly innovative. It works – drawing heavenly light into earthly concrete architecture.


Architecture: Joaquim Portela Arquitetos


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