The Tree of Life Chapel
Wooden Chapel conceived for the Conciliar Seminary of Braga with the collaboration of the sculptor Asbjörn Andresen.The firm are predisposed to loving all things that involve curving wood, natural light and minimalism, it is not surprising that they fell head over heels in love with this exquisite chapel.
The design of this project-”body” wants this to be a unique structure, balanced and visible, making a piece with this exceptional presence within the building.
After outlining the vision of the sacred space that surrounds this body, we look for a proposal to absorb the religious character of the set, creating spaces and environments that promote a spirit of inwardness, reflection and retreat thus maintaining the same language.
The design of the new volume is articulated to the pre-existence, creating some openings and new forms of perception of the surrounding area. This semi-compact body is distinguished by the existing because of the form but is completed in symbolism.
The space surrounding the new volume is assumed as a time of transition. The aim of the project proposal is to create curiosity of those who wander there, inviting them to walk in his direction.
Walking along the Seminar we are faced with a rigorous “quiet” imposed by the rhythmic position of the access doors to the rooms. It was the intention of the proposal, break the rigidity designing an access door to the chapel in one of its corners, coinciding with the center of the antechamber. Thus, a subtle gesture drew an element with unique characteristics. This design is not in any way due to chance or the result of purely formal constraints and is purely aesthetic, but rather a consequence of the fact giving another dimension to the very concept of space causing a special attention and symbolism.
The internal layout of the chapel was designed taking into account two levels of appreciation and two types of vision. These moments distinct but closely related, refer to the celebration of the word space and the area of the Eucharistic celebration. These two moments are given by the asymmetry between the ambo and the altar.
Inside also reserves an area for the celebration of the word, which appears as an element of surprise, giving a moment of mystery when they approach. This space for individual prayer can be visible from common space of community prayer and vice versa, by the imposition of blades on the walls surrounding it. This constant relationship between the interior and exterior conveys feelings of permeability and “expands” the space visually while giving some privacy visible on the outside.
The structure of the chapel is designed by hand, developing in almost sculptural contours coated wooden blades that create moments of opening, allowing light to filter the power from inside to outside and vice versa giving greater dignity to the structural elements a result of manual labor. Banks arise from the excavation walls, as if it were a cave.
The culmination of this composition unfolds horizontally, with moments of rupture, which is drawn freely through a single gesture, a body. It is like a hug, an arm embracing something that is precious – the Chapel.
It is made with 20 tonnes of unadorned wood and not a single nail or metal fitting. It is called “The Tree of Life Chapel” at St. James Seminary in Braga, Portugal. Built inside the existing seminary, the chapel was designed by architects António Jorge Cerejeira Fontes and André Cerejeira Fontes, with sculptural work by sculptor Asbjörn Andresen. All three are with the Braga-based Imago, also known as Cerejeira Fontes Architects – Imago Atelier de Arquitectura e Engenharia.
Andersen is a Norwegian sculptor, who lectures and works in Sweden, Norway and Portugal. The Cerejera Fontes brothers are both engineers and architects currently pursuing PhDs in Urban Planning. Other participants in the beautiful chapel project include sculptor Manuel Rosa, painter Ilda David, the organ builder Pedro Guimarães, Italian photographer Santo Eduardo di Miceli and civil engineer Joaquim Carvalho.
The chapel functions as an intimate prayer room, a place of quiet contemplation for those living in the seminary. Every detail of the structure and its adornments draws its origins from the Bible. Even the overall floor plan and structural solutions echo the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest.
There is an intimate and gentle connection between the outside world and the chapel itself, with an inviting, fluid pathway leading into the space, instead of a categorical doorway with a heavy, excluding door. The structure resembles a hut, a boat, a honeycomb or a forest. The wooden slats – that also provide shelving for books – and the open ceiling allow light to play its magic at all times of the day.
Project name: The Tree of Life Chapel
Location: Braga, Portugal
Type: Chapel Interior