A graceful, elegant project started like something akin to a Blade Runner plot. For a decade the residents had watched over the “End of the World” from their neighborhood. Then it was time for them to gather, to discuss how best to address one of Estroil, Portugal’s last slums. The result was a project called the Senhora da Boa Nova, or Our Lady of the Good News.
This precise project includes a church, a community center (providing jobs and childcare to some of the slum’s former residents), a primary school, and an auditorium. The church contains 1,200 seats, while the auditorium contains 600.
“The key conceptual elements were two empty spaces: the courtyard, a place where the community could meet; and the nave, a sacred space presenting that which could not be presented,” according to the designers, the Lisbon, Portugal-based Roseta Vaz Monteiro architecture firm.
The designers’ respect for context is one of the most redeeming aspects of this project. The program surrounds a courtyard and opens to valley and sea views. The courtyard connects to the city’s nearby public spaces. From beyond, the church’s tower stretches upward to become an iconic reference. Meanwhile windows placed mindfully along the horizontal and vertical axes throughout the building’s interiors allow more of the compound’s outdoor essence inside.
The more I take in the building, the more its cleanliness reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright. Yet its sweeping geometric tension reminds me of Mexican architects such as Luis Barragan. The strict whiteness of its facades mimics the purity of any deistic belief. The curves possess godly grace like the moments after mass. The character of the building doesn’t blatantly bespeak its religious purposes nor the often bland aesthetic of community centers; therefore its composition appeals. It harkens to visitors. I, for sure, want to ramble along the campus, to listen to sermons reverberating off the walls’ curves, to witness light bouncing off the ceiling’s ripples.
The Senhora da Boa Nova might surely be a journey into something divine.
This originally published in Perspective, a Hong Kong-based international design magazine.