Church of St. Benedict

Church of St. Benedict (Interior Design)
Ayala Westgrove Heights, Silang, Cavite
Completed 2010

The arched main entrance doorway frames the generating image of the whole project, Jesus on the cross against the backdrop of a golden concavity.

The east side aisle leads to the image of Mary, Nuestra Señora del Pilar, patroness of the Dioces of Imus.

Nuestra Señora del Pilar and St. Benedict flank the central image of Jesus on the cross.  All have backdrops of golden concavities, of varying diameters.

Stepped arches frame the view from the west side aisle.  The stepped articulation of the columns and arches helps to enrich the acoustic quality of the space.

The nave arches seem to emanate concentrically from the cross, from the point where the horizontal and vertical lines of the cross intersect.

The wooden cross is planted on a wooden tabernacle, all against the glowing background of the golden concavity.

There is an intentional contrast of materiality between the humility of the wood of the cross and of the tabernacle it sits on, and the gold leaf of the concavity that serves as halo behind the cross.

The golden halo looms behind the cross and over the altar and lectern below.

The tabernacle on which the cross rests is a simple wood box.

The wooden door of the tabernacle open to reveal its gold-leafed interior.

The gold-leafed interior of the tabrnacle is articulated in steps to suggest the roots of the Tree of Life that is the cross.

The statue of St. Benedict stands on a pedestal that has the same plan dimensions as the standard columns of the church interior.  

At the other end of the axis from the statue of St. Benedict are the three arches of the confessional, a tall middle arch for the confessor flanked by lower arches for the confessees.  A red Kraut stained glass window above the confessor’s chair contains an abstraction of a rose, which is an ancient Christina symbol of confession.

At the other end of the axis from the statue of Nuestra Señora del Pilar is the baptistry.

A stepped arch frames the view of the baptistry from the nave.

Both the baptismal font and the glass window above it are inspired by the shell, which is an ancient Christian symbol for baptism.  The stepped articulation of the baptismal font reflects the stepped articulation elsewhere in the church interior.

The three arches of the baptistry echo the three arches of the confessional at the other side of the central aisle.  The tallest of the three arches frames the baptismal font and the Kraut glass window behind it.

The large Kraut circular window above the main door is an abstraction of the St. Benedict Medal, inscribed with the abbreviations of the famous Benedictine prayer.

Listen to the light

Design Statement for the Church of St. Benedict

The concept of the Church of St. Benedict in Westgrove Heights is centered on the first word of the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict.
The act of listening - of the congregation listening to the priest or to the choir or to the silence, and of Christ listening to our prayers, and of Mary and Benedict listening to our supplications – is the primary instigator of the architectonic form.

The central image is of a circle with a cross in it. The wood cross carries a life-size image of Christ. The cross extends below the circle to rest on its visual base, which is the tabernacle. 
The diameter of the circle is six meters. It is the perimeter of a perfect concavity; the radius of the circle is the depth of the concavity. The intersection of the cross - the location of Christ’s ears - is at the center of the circle. The auditory phenomenon that results – that the sound that reflects from any point on a perfectly concave surface will head straight for the geometric center of that surface – will symbolize the omniscient and all-encompassing nature of Christ’s response to our prayers; he listens to all of them.

The concavity of the circle will also result in an optical phenomenon – that the concave appears as convex. The circle will have the three-dimensional impact of a globe. This will remind us of one of the most significant events in Benedict’s life – his vision of the whole world gathered in a single ray of light.

The inner surface of the concavity will be lined with gold leaf, a material used in the decoration of Christian iconography.

Concavity will also be an exploration of the nature of sanctity. Extending left and right from the intersection of the cross and the circle, about three meters from the church floor, is a line that connects to the centers of two adjacent concavities. On the left, acting as the visual termination of the left-side aisle, is a two-meter-diameter concavity that will be centered on the head of a life-size statue of Mary. On the right, acting as the terminus of the right-side aisle, is a one-meter-diameter concavity that will be centered on the head of a life-size statue of Benedict.

These concavities will also be lined with gold leaf and will appear as the halos that predominate in Christian iconography. There is a flip side, however, to the glory of haloes, and that is the responsibility that comes with sanctity. Again, using the auditory qualities of a concave surface, the halos act as parabolic reflectors that will direct our supplications to the patient ears of Mary and Benedict.

The over-all plan of the Church is based on the basilica prototype that originated with the roots of Christianity in the Mediterranean. Our examination of Benedictine structures takes us not only to the beginnings of Benedictine architecture at the Monastery of Monte Cassino, but to the roots of early Christian basilica architecture that guided Monte Cassino.

The term “Mediterranean”, therefore, becomes our guide not purely for stylistic reasons, but for deeper historical reasons that will link each member of the congregation to the beginnings of Christianity.

The surfaces of the interior will be treated so as to maximize the qualities of light and sound. We picture a highly articulated space that is all in white. We will be guided by the fact that light and sound often act in similar ways, and so the variations of stepped, rhythmic and concave surfaces that we are currently exploring will be not only visually compelling, but also acoustically rich.

Proposed view of Main Altar

Proposed view of Right Side Aisle

Proposed view of Main Door from Main Altar

Proposed view of Baptistery, adjacent to Main Door

Proposed view of Confessionals, adjacent to Main Door

Concept for the Indoor Statuary at the Church of St. Benedict

The statuary will be the apotheosis of the literal, as part of the oscillation between the literal and the abstract that animates the journey towards grace. A visitor travels through layers of architectural experience that alternate from literal, to abstract, to literal, and so on.

The street outside is literal, prosaic, and brings you to the garden, which can be considered abstract (as paradise can be considered abstract), which in turn brings you to the church facade, which is literal. The visitor walks through the door, and enters an abstract world, or at least that is what we aim for with the natural light traveling over the white plaster surfaces of the nave walls.

The nave is all abstract, but not yet the apotheosis of the abstract. The concavities are.

Between the nave and the concavities is the apotheosis of the literal: life-sized carved figures of Jesus, Mary and Benedict. They are to be painted in the traditional manner, without being maudlin, the only objects in the entire interior that will be painted. Sculpted with surpassing dexterity, their quality elevates them to the level of the abstract.

Glass Fibre Reinforced Concrete

Mock-up of glass-fiber reinforced concrete column cladding at factory (2009 July 1)

Work on the glass-fiber reinforced concrete arches at the House of Precast factory (2009 July 1)

Glass-Fiber Reinforced Concrete, or GFRC, responds to the project's need for a low-maintenance material that addresses the abstract goals of the interior space, where natural light meets archetype and ritual. The material alludes to the Eucharistic, and the arches and ribs suggest the hierarchy of angels, listening to the light.

UPDATE: Photos from Thursday, March 11, 2010 site visit

Main Door

Central Nave

Main Altar



BluPrint Magazine

Volume 3 2010

Click here to read "The Sound Within the Silence," BluPrint Magazine, Volume 3 2010