What should a sacred space look like today? How should it work? Is there such a thing as a contemporary idea of the sacred?
In spite of a glut of typological clues we choose an anti-form. We did not want legibility. We sought to reinforce the experience of the search. Religions are defined by their mysteries and the stories of individuals who break through.
Our contemporary condition is increasingly defined by a shared sense of exile—we are never entirely at home. The sight of a foreign object that resists iconography and presents with a furtive experience of anticipation might be a version of the architectural sacred.
Our design for the 100 Walls Church in Cebu is an attempt to think through strangeness in architecture. What would it be to see something we don’t know? Like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane forest, we are puzzled without reason to save us. We need to wander and think through the system by ourselves.
All the walls are placed only in one direction so that the building is completely opaque from one side and totally transparent in the opposite view. Anywhere in between these two states is an optical play of light and dark. The walls are aligned along a grid that follows the spacing of the pews marking the relationship between the two: the minute scale of the individual and the cosmic scale of the universe. The monolithic quality of the walls plays off the fleeting reality of the colored light that filters through the clerestory windows. The sacred is after all inexorably linked to the fact that we are here only for a short time while our architecture aspires towards permanence.
The gothic idea of space might have been one of the most poignant statements of this conundrum. The best churches of medieval Europe sought to present parishioners with an architectural image of a dense and layered mass of buttresses, ribs, vaults and spires—God as both a mystery and a source of enlightenment.
The 100 Walls Church invites us to wander around its grounds and discover sunken gardens, pockets of blue light and an enigmatic profusion of talismanic walls. The multitude of doors and passages is a reminder that there are as many paths as there are lives and that a sacred space today should draw out meaning in its inscrutability.