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100 Walls Church by CAZA in Cebu City, Philippines

AR_EA 2015 Commended

Designing a religious space is for many a dream job: while there are established elements that must be catered for, it is otherwise a space open to experimentation, one that must both foster a sense of community while remaining highly personal for its visitors.

The 100 Walls Church by emerging practice CAZA - located in the southern fringe of Cebu City in the Philippines - is an impressive blend of the two, questioning exactly what a sacred space should look like and represent, while subtly reinventing it.

‘100 Walls’ monolithic white slab emphasises the importance of an individual’s route into the church as much as their arrival’

interior100walls

Source: Iwan Baan

CAZA’s aim was to create not only a singular, enclosed church space, but a series of journeys across the site. Drawing inspiration from the dense and stark massing of early Gothic churches that resisteiconography, 100 Walls’ monolithic white slab emphasises the importance of an individual’s route into the church as much as their arrival. Tapping into the enigmatic relationship between numbers and spirituality, the visitor is invited to reflect and, if they wish, find some higher meaning as they circulate the walls that surround them.

‘From the outside, the building appears as a monolithic, almost fort-like arrangement of solid walls creating ambiguity’

As CAZA explains: ‘part of the reason we were interested in the walls was because they represent the most elemental building block in the history of architecture. It defines how we have always made spaces. It is a very simple but very primary element. The idea of using something that is so functional and giving it a spiritual meaning, in the case of a church, was to us a fascinating architectural idea. We intentionally made each wall different as a sort of manifestation of the diversity of life and the reality that we as humans all belong to one family, one “species” but each person is different.’

100wallsexterior

Source: Iwan Baan

From the outside, the building appears as a monolithic, almost fort-like arrangement of solid walls creating an ambiguity and sense of mystery that offers none of the familiar markings of a church. A muted palette of materials focuses the visitor’s attention on the geometrical relationship of the walls. The project steers away from a traditional church design, as demonstrated in its plan, which breaks away from a centralised organisation and instead uses a maze-like layout of walls which encapsulate the main church space. Each wall in the project has a standard thickness but is of a different height and width, arranged in a staggered formation to divide up the space and create a range of routes into and out of the church space.

Yet for all the plan’s unconventionality, another nod to the church’s historical links with geometry comes in the form of a grid that was used to ascertain exactly where the walls should be positioned, determined by the positioning of rows and pews and the amount of space required for people to kneel and pray in the church space. Any other required spaces were integrated into the grid afterwards and walls were constructed around them in something of an inside-out exercise. Internally, rooms are not defined by four solid walls, instead they appear as a series of interconnected voids left open for visitors to meander through.

‘Each wall in the project has a standard thickness but is of a different height and width, arranged in a staggered formation to divide up the space and create a range of routes into and out of the church space’

100 Walls Church floor plan

100 Walls Church floor plan

CAZA has created an innovative project that invites visitors to journey through the ever-changing maze-like walls in an attempt to find spirituality. The layers of doors and passages and twists and turns a visitor must take reminds us that the practice of religion does not have one definition - a sacred space should be kept ambiguous to draw out unique meanings for
the individuals who inhabit it.

With offices in the USA, Columbia and the Philippines, CAZA has completed a range other projects from commercial buildings to small-scale housing projects. But from the design, construction and concept, it was the 100 Walls Church that made CAZA stand out and justified their commendation in the AR Emerging Awards.

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