Sanctuary of Fatima, Church of the Most Holy Trinity and assembly hall for 9.000 pilgrims, Fatima, Portugal. International competition by invitation, 1st prize.
In collaboration with P. Santos, architect, for the execution of the design
In order to erect a Church for 9,000 seated pilgrims, the Sanctuary of Fatima launched a two stage competition between pre-selected architects. The new building is set opposite the existing historic Basilica and in front of the Pastoral Centre at the south end of the 500X150m plaza with easy access for large numbers of visitors. It thus creates a monumental axis which is further accentuated by the circular shape of the new structure.
The basic principles of the design encompass a sensitive approach to the site, interaction with the existing religious activities and an architecture that uses simple means to evoke the desired religious atmosphere. Two basic elements, a 125m diameter circle and a linear element in the form of two large (180 m) beams intersecting it, are the geometric shapes that dominate the architecture. A symmetrical circular layout has been chosen for symbolic, aesthetic and functional reasons due to the size of the building, so as to enhance monumentality, the dominating central axis and the closeness of the congregation to the Presbytery.
The building is developed on two levels. The main ground level gently rises from the existing square. The Chapels in front are developed underground so as not to exceed the floor level of the plaza and impede the monumental relationship of the old and new church. Other auxiliary spaces are also entirely developed underground with connecting ramps and stairs to the main areas of circulation. The Church has a recessed main entrance on the level of the square. Access ramps, defined by the two side walls and the two centrally located shallow reflecting pools contribute to a gradual transition from the open, inevitably noisy public space, to the underground Chapels and Confession areas, preparing the visitors for contemplation and prayer.
Functionally, the main interior space, which further to its function as a Church can also be used for assemblies, can be divided into two zones. Accordingly, the hall can be used either for a smaller number of up to 3,000 or to its full capacity of about 9,000 seated persons.
The main circular interior space, despite its size, embraces the congregation intimately maintaining the feeling of a Church and providing a panoramic view of the Presbytery. The external walls, clad in a light beige colour sandstone similar to the existing buildings, and the -invisible from the outside- saw-tooth roof structure define the character of the building.
The roof is intersected by the two beams that create a central axis, which rises towards the altar in a counter-movement to the sloping floor. It emphasizes the vertical focus related to the purpose of the place and incorporates south-facing daylighting that accentuates the procession from the entrance to the altar. The remaining two parts of the roof on either side of the central beams consist of a saw-tooth shed steel construction which further to permitting the use of daylight, functions as a structural element that frees the hall from vertical supports. The south-facing inclined surfaces of the sheds serve both to reflect daylight towards the north-facing clerestory strip windows and to support 3,200m2 of photovoltaic panels. A translucent membrane is hung below the shed in order to avoid that it be visible from below and in order to create an overall soft distribution of both day- and artificial lighting. The uniformity or accentuation of day- or artificial lighting in different areas of the interior space can be computer controlled by closing or opening light directing blinds that are incorporated within the clerestory glazing and by turning on indirect artificial lighting when desirable. It could be said that the use of (day)light is the driving force of the overall design and the intense spirituality of the space.
A number of pieces of contemporary art by artists from various countries (Robert Schad, Maria Loizidou, Pedro Calapez, Kerry Joe Kelly, Marco Ivan Rupnik, Catherine Greene, Alvaro Siza, Benedetto Pietrogrande and Czeslaw Dzwigaj, including the graphics by Francisco Providencia) are incorporated with the architecture, playing a major role in the overall quality of the space.