The horrific killing of two young children has resulted in the creation of a space of solace and support for local residents
The story of this place begins on 3 June 2008, high in the mountains above the small village of La Nava, Honduras. While the parents had briefly stepped out, the rural home of Jennie Lopez, aged 12, and brother Karlin Valdez, aged 10, was broken into and the children were murdered. Their deaths deeply affected the local community, which extends to the nearby town of Guaimaca with a population of approximately 15,000. The young lives of these children held great promise; Jennie in particular was a star student, and walked several kilometres each day to her all-girls school run by a mission headed up by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation.
The people quickly organised protests. ‘We demanded justice’, says a neighbour. To their great surprise, three of the four killers were caught, brought to trial, convicted and sentenced. But punishment does not bring back the children, and the community wanted to commemorate the joy they had brought into the lives of others. The family entreated Sister Maria, one of the Dominican Sisters, for help: ‘We wanted to build a humble space with a small garden, where no one could walk on top of where the bodies were found,’ Marta Lopez, the children’s mother, says.
‘The idea was to convert the existing house into a space that honoured the children’s memory while also serving the local town as a gathering area’
At the time, missionaries from a Catholic parish in Lexington, Massachusetts, had been traveling regularly to Honduras to help the mission in Guaimaca. They had met Jennie before the tragedy, and Sister Maria told them the story of the children and showed them where the event occurred. ‘Being in the house up in the hills and seeing the location where the children were killed, marked by two sets of flowers on the dirt floor, made a deep impression on all of us who were there that afternoon,’ says American architect Paul Lukez, a missionary who would go on to design the memorial.
After the visit, Sister Maria asked, ‘What could we do to honour their memory?’ ‘That night, I went back to our dormitories and began sketching,’ says Lukez. ‘The idea was to convert the existing house into a space that honoured the children’s memory while also serving the local town as a gathering area, community centre and a place of celebration and worship.’
The community embraced the idea of a place of pilgrimage that would also function as a memorial and religious space. Based on this endorsement, Lukez initiated the project, named Clamor de Paz, working as a volunteer to create its design, and with a committee to raise the funds and coordinate the building process.
The original home was a simple three-room structure surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and coffee farms. The house, constructed from mud brick, reinforced with straw and horsehair, and clad in stucco, overlooked the valley to the south, while the porch provided access to all rooms. The roof structure was fashioned from local pine trees, with the trusses slightly elevated from the supporting walls to allow cool breezes to circulate. Clay roof tiles protected the interior from torrential tropical rainstorms and vertical slats atop the masonry walls filtered light into the dark interior spaces.
The initial intention was to make some minor changes to the existing building but the original home did not allow for this, as the structure was crumbling. The decision was taken to tear down the old house and build a new structure on its footprint – a more ambitious project. The new building is composed of three rooms: a multi-use community space, a chapel and a washroom. There are additional exterior spaces and features including an entry court (for parking), a bridge and a tiered, terraced courtyard. The method of construction is based on the local contemporary practice of concrete block with an exterior stucco finish. The interior exposes the steel members and aluminium roof, and speaks to the longevity of the structure, with wood and steel doors, screens and windows.
The main room contains two medallions made of bronze, inscribed with the names of the children. A faceted cross marks the spot where they took their last breaths. Black polished concrete anchors each medallion to the floor, where they are illuminated by two lights suspended from the roof structure, like two stars in the night sky. During the day, light washes in through the wooden louvres, continuously changing the atmosphere of the space. Linear shafts of light from slits in the walls pan across the floor and, in mid-afternoon, illuminate both medallions simultaneously, uniting for a brief moment the spirit of the two children.
‘Both the family and visitors are deeply moved by the space and its story’
Terraced steps on the south side of the structure act as seating overlooking the valley as well as an extension of the main gathering space, while a second room serves as a modest chapel – a small window provides a framed aperture to a spectacular view of the valley below. The shutters were designed and built by local craftsmen and the windows and doors, constructed from wood fitted together with lead, form a stunning work of art. There are three sets of double doors, which form three crosses when they are closed. A bench recessed in a bay allows visitors to look out over the valley and cool breezes enter the space through strategically located wood screens. The east-facing window is filled with a shutter-like panel, which creates the silhouette of a cross.
Built over a three-year period, the Proyecto Clamor de Paz memorial is the result of the collaborative efforts of many. Over $30,000 was donated and more than 65 people from the town participated as volunteers, including the extended family of the young victims, the all-girls school, its administration, the mayor of the town and the American missionaries. ‘This project – both the process of designing it and getting it built – has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my career,’ says Lukez. ‘Both the family and visitors are deeply moved by the space and its story.’
The memorial now hosts mass every week, as well as weekly community group meetings and celebrations, in addition to religious retreats. ‘The building is always open to the people; it helps them to feel the fellowship and support of the church by not feeling alone,’ says Sister Maria. ‘I believe children are saints, and to pray to them is a joy.’
What began with tragedy ends with a memorial that functions as an inspiring place – a space that supports the local residents populating the hills of the beautiful landscape and helps them to commemorate all their family tragedies and slowly heal from a terrifying feeling of loss. ‘This memorial has been a gift,’ says Jennie and Karlin’s grandfather, ‘a new way to find God and peace.’
Clamor de Paz
Architect: Paul Lukez Architecture
Design team: Paul Lukez, Alex Hogrefe, Mike Fahey, Jing Cai, Ryan MacArthur, Andrea Vilanova, Jackie Feng
Contractors: Carlos Rodriguez, Ermin Varela, Edwing Morales, Brigido Lopez
Photographs: Paul Lukez Architecture