Ad Limina

2020, Portugal.

#rural #institutional #competitions
A competition entry for a new monastic retreat on the Atlantic Coast of Portugal. Positioned in the boundary zone between land and sea the structure embraces the importance of spatial transition to spirituality. The meditation spaces aid the pilgrim’s journey by becoming increasingly introverted as you moved through the building. Alongside the competition images, a short-story describes the experience of entering the building:

Before casting off into the unknowable waves of the Atlantic, sailors would stop at Forte de Baralha and its chapel Señor Jesus dos Navigantes. For many, the little chapel perched out on a jutting spit of rock would be their last taste of solid land for months, for some their last ever. Huddled in silence they would pray to He - who once walked on water as if it were land – land they were about to leave, and hoped to see again.

Nearby another chapel on a cliff lays open its welcoming wings to travel-weary pilgrims. It is believed that at this spot, hundreds of years ago, a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared out of the waves along with an idol that now nestles within the walls of its sanctuary. Visitors gaze in wonder at the sculpture that emerged from the thrashing sea as the rattling breakers sound across the chapel walls. What better symbol of God’s power than the unending force of the water.

Now a new place stands among the imminent shapes of the Atlantic sea cliffs. It both reaches out to the ocean that brought forth the Virgin and flees a power that threatens to moulder it. Those inside are here to ponder this space, between land and sea, solid and liquid, past and present.

The entrance is an experience of earth, from the overarching viewpoint of the old fort, down into the depths of the foundations. Carried further by an unending staircase you reach the spires of damp rock with the crashing sound of waves ever growing. When at last you enter the monastery it is to a view of the sea not as a picturesque, distant horizon but as a force, real and immediate and large.

Below, the private spaces feel concealed and safeguarded. Shying from the sea view, reading nooks and gathering spaces create opportunities to retire and study as well as exchange and converse. A sculpted stair leads up to the inner spaces for meditation and reflection. Above, you may feel enclosed at moments, protected from the water, whilst at others you are brutally exposed to the vastness of the beyond. A series of rooms to honour the surroundings, the other and the self – each in its turn.

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