by Jincy IypeApr 04, 2022
Much has been said, explored and documented about religious structures and accompanying artefacts, and how they reflect the essence of human history, their patterns and fables of faith, tied with an immutable longing to find their purpose, from prominent domed cathedrals, columned Greek temples to bejewelled mosques festooned with calligraphy. Across centuries, these places of worship have relayed the technological prowess as well as the religious and philosophical sentiments of that time, catering to the faithful as built insignias of adoration of a greater being.
The new Alcalá Church designed by architect Alejandro Beautell imbibes a pared-back yet powerful modern stance with a sharply inclining exterior cloaked in textured lime mortar, contrasting softly with its warm, honey-toned insides, to meet the needs of its faithful community. Church of Nuestra Señora de Candelaria in Alcalá (Church of Our Lady of Candelaria in Alcalá) in Spain pays homage to the old Alcalá Church, closed for years before being demolished back in 2011, taking many years to come to fruition. The new church was built as a response to the local community’s need for a place of worship, who yearned to reconstruct the lost temple under the invocation of the Virgin of Candelaria, where the client, the Bishopric of Tenerife along with the Parish of Candelaria, the Government of the Canary Islands and the City Council of Guía de Isora joined hands for this endeavour.
"The image of the Virgin, a symbol of great devotion and tradition among the locals, was in a place that the City Council gave for worship… In an area without architectural references, the new church had to recover the memory of the disappeared hermitage, and constitute an architectural landmark in the neighbourhood, a new centre for Alcalá,” shares the Spanish architect based out of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. "The new Church of Alcalá tells us about the tradition, about the recovery of the memory of that old construction that stood alone on the “malpaís” of lava that underlies, even today, under the asphalt," he adds. The site carries remnants of being a volcanic terrain swathed with loose stones, lending itself as inspiration for the textured walls of the new church that is both distinct and calming in its clean geometry.
Spread over two levels, the 1,100 sqm church architecture has a simplified volumetry and features a semi-basement floor with spaces for servants of the parish, including parish rooms for multiple uses, garage, warehouse, facilities rooms and toilets. Above these spaces rest the main Alcalá Church and its sacristy, with access from the site’s square.
Adopting an austere, monastic material and colour palette evocative of a religious hermitage, the new temple features two formalised and different naves, the old and the new one, where the singular, primary interior expanse bifurcates into two different volumes from the outside, witnessed as the speckled white and clay brown form, inclined and growing out of each other.
The white volume with the engraved cross on its face reminisces and recovers the shape and position of the former religious architecture, a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional architecture of the islands, “as an attempt to recover its memory and attenuate the feeling of loss that its demolition caused,” says Beautell. “The walls may be new, but the air they enclose remains the same and condenses all the moments lived of that place. The image of the Virgin returns to its pristine position, occupying the same place as in yesteryear, at the head of the ancient body, this time protected in a cave that recalls its appearance to the Guanches (aborigines of the Canary Islands),” he observes.
The second earth coloured volume rises like a flame, the fire that crowns and sets the candle ablaze, seeking higher verticality to attain greater representation as a church and place of worship (which were often the highest, grandest structures marking a civilisation). This also brings the interior alive by culminating as a skylight, illuminating the presbytery and connecting both naves as a symbolic bridge between tradition and modernity. The slope of both forms informs the angularity of the ceilings inside, culminating and meeting each other at straight planes and angled surfaces.
Growing by the naves in tándem with the attached patio, the aggregation of the concrete volumes references a rarely seen typology of vernacular religious architecture. The decomposition of the Alcalá Church into the divergent yet unified volumes is also in response to the rigid urban conditions that forced the architect and his team to align the building with the perimeter road.
The chiselled white volume clad in a lime mortar finish recalls the former hermitage and is executed in cyclopean concrete along with natural stone accents recovered from the site. The whiteness juxtaposes delightfully with the ochre tinged lime used for the new volume, also built in concrete, this time mass-stained and bush-hammered with different intensities.
With an ascetic character that seeks the essential, the interior design witnesses a construction and aesthetic of austerity through the simplicity of the materials and resources used, and brought alive with natural lighting that lines the eyes to the holiest points of the church – the sign of the cross carved dramatically into the reredos, and the engraved symbols of the alpha and omega that would flank the priest as he stands centred at the cubic stone altar to offer service. The only signs of relief and decoration are seen in the subtle variation of the textures employed on the solid beige walls, some mottled and others plain, as well as honey coloured timber pews and jutting wooden frames of the ceiling supports and repeated lines that push and pull from the architectural skin.
Underpinned by a sense of simplicity and understatement, the church, as its most basic, inherent purpose, brings the people of the district together under the almighty, in an architectural skin that reflects serene hideaways within one's mind reserved for faith and spirituality. The minimal solidity, both of the exterior and interior, is an ultimate manifestation of standing steadfast in faith, the shadows and daylight playing inside to connect with the rising hymns of prayers and frankincense that these empty walls will soon be privy to.
Name: Church of Nuestra Señora de Candelaria in Alcalá (Church of Our Lady of Candelaria in Alcalá)
Location: C/ Julia Trujillo nº 1, Alcalá, Guia de Isora, Tenerife, Spain
Area: 1,100 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Client: Bishopric of Tenerife
Architect: Alejandro Beautell
Constructor: Construcciones Rodríguez Mesa
Collaborators: Eloy Fernández (quantity surveyor), IGS Ingenieros (electrical-lighting), Pedro León (security coordinator), C+C Consultores (structure)