Architects uphold liturgical designs for quincentennial

October 20, 2020 | By: The Manila Times

AS the Philippines prepares to celebrate 500 years of Christianity in the country in 2021, architects and designers are looking to keep liturgical architecture and the design of sacred spaces alive.

According to Arch. Stephanie Gilles, chairman of the United Architects of the Philippines Committee on Liturgical Architecture and Sacred Spaces (UAP-CLASS), in a time where making sense of faith is one critical point of thinking amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, developing an appreciation for places of worship is vital for people to keep going through life.

“The role of liturgical architecture, along with the use of Scripture and practice of our tradition, help better inform the lay people and make them recognize God’s sovereignty and protection,” said Gilles.

Upholding liturgical architecture is very timely for next year’s celebration on the 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines. Gilles stresses the renewed interest in having churches and other sacred spaces renovated to make them more elegant and dignified for next year’s festivity.

She adds that unlike other countries where the beautiful churches are now being abandoned and converted into secular spaces, the country still preserves its churches and retain their functions as venues of worship and prayer.

Some notable local examples of liturgical architecture are those of National Artist for Architecture, Arch. Leandro Locsin’s the Manila Memorial Park Chapel in Parañaque City, whose shape evokes that of hands in prayer; The Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Quezon City, that looks like a salakot (native hat); and Church of the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, of Ifugao character.

Gilles also cites other designs that are in the neoclassic and baroque style such as the San Agustin Church in Intramuros, The Gothic-inspired like the Basilica of San Sebastian, the only steel church in Asia, and many other modern or minimalist chapels inside shopping malls.

“These renowned sacred structures contribute to the wealth of Filipino religious structures and spaces designed for liturgical celebrations,” she said.

Sacred spaces in the new normal

In the new normal, liturgical architects and designers think of ways to adapt to new perspectives in reaching out to people in places of worship.

“As people adapt to the new normal on liturgical celebrations such as observing safe distances from one another and wearing masks when attending mass at church, the sacred spaces also conform to the pandemic situation by providing safety measures and spaces to implement health protocols,” said Gilles.

Besides the usual health and safety protocols, there are markings in areas placed in designated areas in the church, pews are rearranged, limited seating capacity is strictly implemented, instructions and reminders are posted on walls, and movement is organized in bringing offerings to the altar.

For their part, UAP-CLASS has made efforts to provide technical assistance to parish priests, bishops and rectors on the design or renovation of their churches and chapels, even to the extent of looking for sponsors and donations in the form of building materials, fixtures, and furniture that are needed in these sacred buildings.

Liturgical architecture

Gilles looks forward to unifying the practice of church architects and designers of sacred spaces through UAP-CLASS, which aims to meet the standards of liturgical architecture, to live the liturgy in architecture and culture as expressed in spaces and the physical form. It also seeks to provide a platform for designers of sacred spaces to share experiences, bring up concerns, and lobby for common causes and advocacies. UAP-CLASS seeks to make people aware of what is liturgical architecture and the proper way of doing it, by providing a manual on liturgical guidelines, offering courses and modules on sacred spaces from seasoned practitioners who will impart their wealth of experience.

“Being a liturgical architect myself, I can say that this field of specialization is a very fulfilling endeavor, as it is concerned not only with building houses for ordinary people but of designing and building a House for God, who is our Primary Client,” said Gilles. “It may not be as lucrative but it is an enriching and satisfying experience to get involved in this practice. There is no specific design for churches or chapels. It may be either traditional or modern, but what is important is that we design spaces that lead people to communicate with God and to form their spiritual edifice, which is our ultimate goal.”

In preparation for next year’s celebration, UAP-CLASS is conducting the “2nd Liturgical Architecture Conference 2020: Celebrating 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines,” a Conference on Liturgical Architecture scheduled for Oct. 23 to 24, 2020.

The conference is in collaboration with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ Commission on Liturgy, Pontificia Universitá della Santa Croce, Rome, University of Santo Tomas College of Architecture Alumni Association, the UST College of Architecture, and other affiliated institutions, both academic and professional. There will be an expected audience of about 300 participants, consisting of seasoned practitioners in the field of liturgical design: priests, seminarians, liturgical architects, engineers, interior designers, artists, specialty contractors, professionals involved in designing and building sacred spaces.

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