Perched on top of a hill and towering at 30 meters high, the Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel was designed for it to be seen from afar. Its silhouette is organic and soft inspired by the Madonna Lily flower. Clad in white aluminum, the chapel gleams when the morning rays of sun hit its surface.
Renowned Japanese architectural firm Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP was enlisted for this project by Filinvest City. Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP is known for the unconventional. Take for instance the Ribbon Chapel in Hiroshima. Two pathways curve and loop – much like a ribbon – and meet at the top. The Tokyu Plaza along Omotesando skips the first and second floor and chooses to make its main entrance on the third floor, necessitating visitors to take an escalator with a prismatic mirrored ceiling.
Kohei Omori, associate of Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP and head architect for the Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel says, “Usually we study the site and context very closely and have a dialogue with the client. This was no exception. Because the site was on a hill – it’s elevated – and there’s a creek, we thought about the story of Jesus Christ climbing the hill of Golgotha. At the top after the crucifixion, he was embraced by Mother Mary. That was the inspiration. We wanted to create a chapel on top of the hill where it gently embraces people who visit.”
An Inviting Architecture
Lush greenery surrounds the chapel on two sides with the Alabang River passing through. “Instead of closing it off to its surroundings, we wanted the chapel to be very open to the public,” adds Omori. “People can feel that they’re always welcome even from a distance. It can make them want to climb this hill and just stop by in their daily life.”
The chapel’s shape funnels out the hot air through its neck and allows it to escape through a skylight. Cool air from the creek then enters through the passageways creating passive cooling of the chapel. Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP employed strategies to take advantage of the natural environment to ventilate and cool the chapel. “As you can see all around there are deep eaves outside to protect people from the harsh sunlight. Before entering the chapel, they feel protected by the chapel and they don’t even have to come inside to feel that,” mentions Omori.
Upon entering the chapel, your eyes follow lines that lead to the heavens as perforated aluminum strips clad the ceiling. According to Francis Gotianun, Director of Filinvest Development Corporation, “The ceiling of the church used white metal panels to satisfy the curved form that simulates the femininity of the Virgin Mary’s white dress. The perforated panels were useful in ensuring high-quality acoustics in the space.” The structural design of the chapel was complex. It relied on metal members interacting with each other like a tent-like concept rather than columns.
Six segmented roofs compose the structure of the chapel that symbolize petals of the lily flower. Further made up of over 600 panels – all unique in size and angle – the design team custom fabricated the roof’s materials. Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP have designed many churches in the past, but this one was different in terms of scale. “The client asked us to design for at least 500 capacity, 800 max with people standing. A lot of our chapels are a little smaller. Even though it was bigger in scale, we still wanted to propose a design that would give people the opportunity to reflect. Whether it was light coming through the stained glass or looking outside towards the greenery. So there is that similarity that it is about the reflection that the space provides for people,” shares Omori.
The six stained glass panels on the roof incorporate abstract Marian symbols designed by UK-based Helen Whittaker. “The architectural challenges brought about amazing design opportunities to create a glazing scheme that would fill the chapel and the people within it with light and color,” she shares. The stained glass of the chapel forms the largest stained glass installation in the Philippines with each window spanning 20 meters high and measuring a total of 180 square meters.
“Because this is a place to reflect, we wanted to allow people to feel the passing time throughout the day. When they come in the morning, the lighting would be different. If they come in the afternoon, there would be more light coming from the skylight,” adds Omori.
Crafted in teak, the pews feature soft curves. Calacatta marble, meanwhile, is the material of the altar. Artist Daniel dela Cruz created the steel Risen Christ which rises to 4.5 meters tall. “So even the selection of materials and the details of the small curvature of the furniture. You feel welcome or embraced,” says Omori.
A Touch of Filipino Craftsmanship
Hiroshi Nakamura and NAP were keen on using as much local craftsmen as possible. “We wanted to employ the construction skills that the Philippines had. We took that into consideration for construction to make sure that the local subcontractors and craftsmen can realize a lot of the design,” reveals Omori. Although designed by Whittaker, local fabricator Kraut Art Glass manufactured the stained glass.
Whether one is devout or not, they may appreciate the complexities and thoughtfulness of the chapel’s architecture. It stands tall and with a form unlike anything else in the country. “The exterior of the chapel appears as a design feat and has sparked curiosity from different types of people. Many think of the architect’s concept of the feminine form as smart because it still makes the chapel inviting even from the outside,” Gotianun says. “The walk inside is spiritual. The people are drawn looking up to the majesty of the ceiling and stained glass.”
Possibly the reason why the architecture works so well though it’s structure isn’t the usual, is because of the architect’s design philosophy. “Whether it’s this chapel or any other building, we believe that design affects people emotionally or spiritually. But this is a chapel, and that part of the design aspect is very pure in form,” says Omori.
Photos by the author