Nowadays hundreds of stones are still hidden in that remote location of Monte El Pardo in Madrid. There, we can find dozens of abandoned column capitals, bases, cornices, architraves and friezes. They are the ruins of the Buen Suceso church, a temple built in 1868 on Calle Princesa by Agustín Ortiz de Villajos. In 1975 was demolished and finally forgotten.
Fascinated by this fact, I started to make a research of each piece of stone, taking into account dimensions and weight variables to begin a rigorous reconstruction of the lost church. Since Temples are the most exciting architecture spaces in history, my aim was to design the last one. From then on, I understood the 620 ornamental stone blocks as 190 tons of weight instead of as a romantic ruin.
The chosen place to build the project was the only unprotected mountain that borders the Monte El Pardo, a place where the “Camino de Santiago” has left a deep mark. From up there we can see the whole city of Madrid. We can reach the top through a landscape path that contains the 14 Via Crucis sculptures. I wanted to repeat, one more time, the most fascinating access that a Church had ever had: the cathedral inserted over the mosque of Córdoba. One thousand three hundred trees would reinterpret the hypostyle hall, hiding the temple inside.
This is how it began the delirium of designing a Temple held up in the air. A pearlescent cover rises above a powerful and massive concrete base which is a crypt. With its own weight, the cover gets balanced with the moment produced by the stones that are hanging from structures in equilibrium, which compose the façade.
If the Gothic churches were looking for the slenderness and the verticality of the space trough compression force lines, this space is defined by tension force lines, where the buttresses no longer push but pull.
The ornament is no longer a crime. It is equilibrium. And geometry is the way to achieve it, eight shapes draw the whole project:
The hexagon paves, since it covers a horizontal plane.
The spiral encloses, since it is able to organize a floor plan.
The angle gathers, since all the efforts are distributed in 45 points.
The helix holds, since the building skin is solved with iron strings.
The sphere protects, since it hangs from 154 metallic beams.
The catenary supports, since only one is enough.
And finally, the weight falls down. If there is one thing we can be sure of it, is that gravity is unavoidable.
This project is not necessary, is not pertinent, is not appropriate. It is an exercise of theory and design on a blank paper. It is nothing more than the result of an optimistic, brave and unprejudiced research about geometry, equilibrium and monumentality in architecture. It is the result of a series of experiments carried out from the reason, the imagination and, above all, the intuition.
Adolf Loos said that architecture brings emotional feelings to our society, and it is the objective of the architects, to make those feelings more precise.
What prompted the project?
This graduation project was developed at the Technical University of Madrid (UPM). Under the title of ‘Monumental Madrid’, the students were asked for a theoretical reflection about the role that monumentality plays in architecture and the city today. The project begins with the discovery of a set of stones which are the ruins of the Buen Suceso Church. A building with an unfortunate and very curious past: it was demolished and rebuilt at least three times in different locations of Madrid. Its history dates back to the 15th century, with the construction of the first version of the church in the city center. Six centuries later, its ruins ended up lost and forgotten in El Pardo forest, the biggest green area of Madrid region. My project tries to offer a worthy final to this mysterious story.
What questions does the project raise and which does it address?
The project consists of a personal reflection about monumentality, understanding and modifying the function of ornament in an architecture project. On the one hand, there is a purpose of carrying out a project based on universal values: balance, gravity and geometry. Drawing a type of architecture that does not necessarily belong to an specific place or time. On the other hand, there is also a big challenge to be accomplished, which consists on designing an empty space with no external conditions: no program, no areas, no function, no furniture, no streets and no plot. However, in my opinion, the most fundamental issue of this work is to understand a graduation project as a narrative itself, which does not solve a problem but tells a story. It constitutes a compilation of some personal obsessions collected during my student years.
You talk about the temple as the most exciting architecture spaces in history, could you expand on this notion further?
Almost until the 20th century, before the Modern Movement, the history of Architecture can be narrated through the temples and their styles: Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic, etc. The reason why temples have become special architectures is because they do not belong to the human scale. In fact, their scale represents the relationship between human being and God. This is something that aroused great interest in the most important architects in history, from classics such as Palladio, Borromini, Brunelleschi or Sinan, to contemporary ones like Gaudí, Le Corbusier, Niemeyer, Siza or Tadao Ando. Of course, ours is not the century of religions and cathedrals, so the project results in an unnecessary, impertinent and inopportune work. Definetely, a provocative piece.
How do you define exciting in terms of feeling and sense one would experience within your space?
In my opinion, there is a sequence of 3 important experiences in the project. The first one is about the approach to the temple, which is hidden on the top of a hill. It seems to be some kind of refuge, a place with a difficult access, but which is well worth visiting. A long path along the skirt of the mountain takes you into a reticular forest, a hypostyle anteroom. Through the mist and the sunlight filtered by the trees, you can see the basement of the project. There begins a second experience, the access to the temple takes place from below. A rough, heavy and powerful concrete basement which is also a crypt, leads us through patios and ponds to the stairs, that allow us to ascend to the upper space. The last experience consists of a diaphanous space where light encloses this weightless, empty and magical atmosphere. Actually, it is all about the horizontal plane in architecture, which divides the project in two opposite realities.
What is for you the contemporary relevance of the temple?
I think there is no contemporary relevance in the Temple. It is actually a trap, an excuse. Alfred Hitchcock used to employ a narrative technique called ‘MacGuffin’, something which is necessary for the plot and the motivation of the characters but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself. This is precisely the role of the temple in this project. So, more than innovation, I think that there is respect for the classic typological elements, which are studied when designing the temple: cruciform ground plan, central and lateral naves, domes, vaults, altar, etc. However, there is innovation in terms of structure: while Gothic churches were looking for the slenderness and the verticality of the space through compression force lines, this space is defined by tension force lines, where the buttresses no longer push but pull.
How do you approach the very notions of preservation and conservation?
I think that the way to deal with this historical material is from a perspective of irony and lack of prejudice. The ruin is clearly the protagonist of the project, therefore it is the element that deserves more attention. During the first months of work, the project was approached from an archaeological and historicist perspective. Everything changes when I decide to design the temple considering the ruins as ‘weight pieces’ instead of ornamental ones. That is, when I understand all these ruins as an active, not passive, material. They are a key element within the structure of the project: the counterweight and its balance.
How did you research and documentation of the ruins? What tools did you use?
I realised the ruins existed because of a picture published by a group of people that were riding their mountain bikes around El Pardo forest. After contacting them, they provided me with geographical coordinates of the site. I moved there and began to take pictures of the stones one by one, until I found two of them which seemed to be special. The first one had a name carved on it (Villajos), while the other one had a date (1868). After a quick research, I found out that Agustin Ortiz de Villajos built the 2nd version of the Buen Suceso Church in 1868. When it was demolished in 1975, its ruins were hidden and forgotten in that place. Analyzing all the material I could gather, I began a volumetric recomposition of the stones using 3D modeling. Once the volume of the pieces (m3) and the density of the granite (kg/m3) was obtained, we could quantify their weight (kg). The result of the analysis concluded that there were 190 tons of stone, enough material to start working.
From research to 'design' what tools were pivotal in the development and articulation of the project?
In the first steps of the project, photogrammetry and 3D modeling tools were crucial to analyze the ruins rigorously. If I hadn’t pay them so much attention at first, they would probably have lost importance later. In the next stage, model tests allowed me to analyze the balance between the structure and the counterweight, as well as the materiality and shape of the basement. Finally, it was necessary to cross the previous abstract research with one more variable, the geometry. Nine geometric elements give form to a project that, until that moment, lacked it.
What informed the various images through which you choose to reveal the speculation?
A very specific type of drawing is chosen to show what is the most interesting thing for me: geometry. Nine drawings represent nine elements, which represent the nine geometries that resolve the project: the hexagon, the spiral, the angle, the helix, the sphere, the catenary, the parable, the wave and the fractal. These geometries were enunciated by Jorge Wagensberg in the book ‘The rebellion of forms’ in 2004. Wagensberg tries to explain why living beings, that inhabit nature, adopt the forms that they have. So, the aim of these drawings is to focus the attention on those elements that I want to give value to, in order to explain the raison d’être of each of these geometries. Drawing is a communication and expression tool, and in this case, it serves to explain other spatial qualities, going further than conventional plans.
What is for you the power of the image within paper architecture?
The chilean architect Smiljan Radic says ‘The image always represents a moment of conviction’. I think that the image in this project presents a statement of intent, a kind of provocation. Utopia is fiction, and therefore it needs to be represented to become desirable. It is the only way we have, as architects, to validate our hypotheses, to verify if we are right.
What is for you the architects most important tool?
Intuition and lack of prejudice.
The first one, is an unjustifiable process that allows us to notice new directions during the development of a project. The second one, is the impulse that encourages us to take them.
Manuel Bouzas (Pontevedra, Spain. 1993), is a Madrid-based Master Architect, graduated With Honors at the Technical University of Madrid (ETSAM-UPM) in 2018.
He received six awards for his final thesis project ‘Un Buen Suceso’ at different Graduation Project Competitions. He won First Prize at the following: ASEMAS 2018 Awards, VETECO-ASEFAVE Light Façade 2018 Awards, ASCER Ceramic Architecture 2018 Awards, COAG 2018 Awards (Official Architecture Association of Galicia). He was also awarded Second Prize at COAM 2018 Awards (Official Architecture Association of Madrid) and Honourable Mention in the European Awards for Sacred Architecture, by the Frate Sole Foundation in Pavia (Italy). He has completed research projects at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Japan) as a visiting researcher, and has worked with renowned architecture offices such as Aires Mateus and Atelier Bow-Wow.
His projects have been recognized and exhibited in the Spanish pavilion of the XVI Venice Biennale 2018, The Official Architecture Association of Madrid (COAM), Galicia (COAG), Balearic Islands (COAIB) and La Rioja (COAR). He has lectured at the Technical University of Madrid and Technical University of A Coruña. His work has been published in various specialized media such as Pasajes de Arquitectura, TC Cuadernos, Fisuras, Trä, as well as in digital media like Plataforma Arquitectura, Archdaily, Arquitectura viva, Afasia, Design Boom, Detail, Metalocus and Domus.