Quoting Jesus/Church Degree Zero, proposes the redesign of the three most necessary objects for a church to function properly; the seat, the altar and the cup.
The Eucharist is considered the centre of the Christian life, keeping alive the tradition that Jesus himself instituted during the Last Supper. According to the texts of Jesus’ students, nothing is mentioned about the need of a certain space for the believers to gather and participate in the Holy Communion. After a long research on the Greek orthodox church and the objects one can find in them, the necessity of re-launching the church’s design path by setting a new point 0 today, came naturally. While space is more flexible, in order for the Eucharist to take place, it is necessary to have and design the most necessary objects for this purpose, namely the seat, the altar and the cup.
For the design of the seat, in clear reference to Matthew’s phrase “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”,I developed a connector with two parts, one male and one female, from one seat to the other, so that one end of the bench needs at least one more to be able to stand and function. At the same time, there is the possibility of more additions between the two extremes, in order to host countless believers in a row. Pine wood was used as a material that is worn down in time.
For the design of the altar, in order to produce this monolithic black box, I used expanded polystyrene to make it easy to carve. The material was chosen because of its interesting construction process, as each polystyrenebead issteamed and it expands to almost 100 times their original volume. After that, the combination of steam and pressure causes the beads to naturally stick together, thus making a one-piece polystyrene block, a single body. In the end, I applied epoxy resin on the polystyrene block to give it an almost bulletproof resistance and then I painted it with black epoxy colour which is ideal for sanitary use.
Finally, for the chalice, I produced a white-red marble cup full of triangular surfaces. Keeping certain forms in mind and feelings that I wanted to cause with that particular object, I ended up in this form with the flame-like finishes. The movement changes as the priest with his two hands, places the cup in the hands of the believer, who then receives the “body and blood” of Jesus Christ, while choosing from where to drink and how much. The cup is placed on a triangular hole on the surface of the altar.
What prompted the project?
The project, began as a search of a problem in the field of design and architecture and a goal of solving it, always from a designer’s point of view and role.
Inside a typical Christian Orthodox church, I realized that what was once conceived as art, is now the epitome of kitsch. One could find tens of golden ornaments and details that prove this point, which I tried to write down and analyze. That is how I decided to redesign, at the first place, these ornaments and space in the notion of refurbishing this conservative institution itself.
Could you clarify the notion of defining a new point 0 today?
This project sets a new point 0 in the history of the church, providing at the same time a chance for the institution to be reborn. This comes in accordance with certain orthodox cycles which support that this change in design is more necessary than ever, in an attempt of the orthodox church to be more open to the world of today. This new beginning keeps in its centre the most important liturgy of the Christian churches, the Eucharist, something that remains the same since the first church. The new design will commence on the basis of the space and the ornaments.
After reading many texts by Jesus’ students, I concluded that space can be more flexible than it is today. In an attempt to interpret the texts, we can imagine the church – the worshipers in total – gathering in every kind of closed or open space.
On the contrary, the necessity of the most important objects for the Eucharist to take place, is more than obvious. These are the seat, the altar and the cup.
How and to what extent did your personal experience influence and inform the project?
Since my early childhood, growing up in a Christian family, I count numerous visits to many churches in my home city, as well as to chapels in the provinces of Crete. What always stroke me and still shocks me today, is the tremendous difference of the architectural design between a typical urban orthodox church and a chapel, and the vast antithesis of the quantity and quality of the ecclesiastical ornaments/objects one could find in each one of these.
That is the reason why I visited my 5 favorite chapels in my home town Rethymno, in order to find what makes them being so unique in my mind and heart, and then tried to transfer these meanings on my own design.
How important was the element of research? What tools were used throughout this phase of the project?
Research was an essential part of the project. Thanks to that analysis, the project took the turning point which determined the final result. One can notice that, when comparing the beginning and the end. I began by wanting to change all these ornaments that I am talking about, but I ended up designing the most essential ones and almost rejecting the space of the church as we know it today. That is how I reached point 0.
This point was reached through a process of long analysis on existing churches which proved the point that I made at the beginning, through an admiration of the Cretan chapels which determined my appreciation on the originality and uniqueness of one’s design and finally, the texts through which I received information both on the importance of Holy Communion as well as the materials and objects necessary for that purpose.
What informed the scale of the elements at which you chose to operate rather than the enclosure itself?
Setting the new point 0 today, did not only mean reimagining the space in which one could receive the Holy Communion but also constructing the very necessary objects for that purpose.
This was a result of the research that took place in advance which in turn, was in accordance with certain orthodox cycles as I mentioned earlier.
Starting from these elements – the seat, the altar and the cup – shows and underlines their necessity for the Eucharist to take place and it also embodies principles and ideas, important for a prayer. On the contrary, the place comes to a second place as walls do not play an important role in this process.
What were the most important parameters when thinking about constructing and producing these objects?
The most important things I kept in mind when designing these objects were always the feelings that they would cause to the believers and the respect to a certain symbolism along with my point of view.
Exactly these elements are the ones I kept in mind when constructing and producing them.
The seat was handmade by me and my instructor, in the spirit of the originality and authenticity found in the objects of provincial chapels which were made and funded by locals.
The altar was made by expanded polystyrene. I was thrilled when I read about the process of making a single piece of it and that very process was the reason I chose it. It also provided an ease at carving for the result I wanted to have.
The cup was made by a single marble piece. The way it is carved reminds us once more of that originality lost in today’s kitsch and expensive products.
What defined aspects as materiality? How important are these in relation to the sense of touch or sight?
When designing these objects, materiality was a very essential part as it could transfer the qualities and feelings I had in mind. The three objects do not have many design details in common and that is because each one was designed in its own way bearing its own messages and symbolism.
When thinking about the seat and its use since the Last Supper, I kept thinking that it always served the believer, the human and that is why I chose wood, a raw material which is worn down in time with a start (birth) date and an end (death) date.
The altar is a product symbolising faith itself. The Christian faith was founded on the deaths of the martyrs, and these deaths are now embodied in this black box and each of the polystyrene granules, which come through their construction process, to form one single body.
As for the cup, this particular white marble with the red formation, was chosen for 3 reasons. On the one hand, it is a natural material that lives forever without altering its shape while allowing the light to pass. On the other hand, the production of each cup creates unique pieces due to the red marble formations and finally, these formations are perfectly bound to the natural deterioration of the color of the marble when it comes in contact with the red wine, thus taking a reddish color.
When it comes to touch and sight, I tried to keep two main elements in mind; the way one would approach the objects and the way one would use them.
When one sees the cup on the altar, immediately, he or she notices the black/white contradiction and it becomes a crown on a black box, an object of unique importance which expresses different feelings to each one of us. However, at the same time, it is an object which, in contrast to the past, comes in the hands of the believer. The movement changes and with his two hands, the priest gives the glass, with all the symbolism it carries on the hands of the believer, who in return brings it on his lips while making the decision from which part should he drink from and how much.
The altar symbolizes the graves of the martyrs and the table of the Last Supper. The roughness of the material of the black box, produces many feelings which could relate to these aspects and produce mixed feelings, even a question whether I will be hurt when touching it or not.
The seat comes to life when it is used, at the exact moment when one person connects one seat with the other. I think it sends a clear message of unity and strength.
Have you thought about producing these elements at a large scale?
The whole project approaches realistically a very sensitive issue for many in this conservative institution. It proposes something beneficial, a kind of a revolution and a chance for the institution to be reborn. In that way, producing these products in a large scale could only make this attitude more intense towards a more contemporary and more human-scaled church.
However, my design is only a proposal, so in the spirit of creating new and original objects, new proposals should be made every now and then and from many different people. That is the only way we can see the church getting more diverse and open to new design and ideas in general.
Are you interested in exploring this theme further?
There is a lot of excitement when working in this field. It is very interesting to read all these symbolisms and messages and it is very challenging to design products or buildings which bear these meanings according the designer’s point of view. And trust me, these fields are a never-ending inspiration for creation and creativity.
What is for you the architects most important tool?
I don’t know if it counts as a tool, but an architect must never lose its contact with the user. Before and after each design, an architect must keep in mind the comments and critic made by the very people who come to experience one’s design. At the same time, you must also maintain the strength and courage to support your ideas and vision of changing something through design.
Change is after all, a designer’s legacy.