LA PLAYOSA, Argentina––Christianity is a big religion, which everyone worships differently. The cross on my home church is the same symbol seen by millions worldwide, but I’m not in any position to know what feelings the old lady in the pew behind me might have for it—let alone the pilgrim on Argentina’s Pampas plains.
This fact sometimes makes me despair there is no possibility for human fellowship. If one religion can hardly unify the way we relate to its central symbol, then what hope is there across religions? Yet architect Nicolás Campodonico rejects this despair. Instead, he has built a chapel, Capilla San Bernardo (2015), that frames the symbol as a process—in which the whole universe participates.
This is how the process works:
The chapel’s volume opens up towards the sun, capturing the natural light of the sunset in the interior. Outside, a vertical and a horizontal poles are placed separately and projected towards the interior. As a result, every day all year round, the shadow of these slides along the curved interior, finishing its tour overlapping with each other.
Every day this is happening, and though I may never wander into the Cordoba province to witness it for myself, I am part of it. My role here is not shrugging subservience to a monolithic symbol, nor a cynical concession to the Christian hegemony that’s otherwise lost its traction within fine art.
My role with Saint Bernard’s Chapel is that of fellowship, because I live on the same earth as its instrumental process. With the pilgrim on the Pampas plains, I share something of their worship. Campodonico’s artistry may have framed the pilgrim’s lens with an austere copse, a courtyard made of (this is where your CFile interest lies) 100-year-old bricks repurposed from the prior structure, and the chapel itself with its novel arrangement of perpendicular poles—but the experience doesn’t exclude those who do not have this lens.
Ultimately it is “nature,” the architect states, that “imposes its conditions” on the experience. A hundred years ago, the chapel’s bricks went through a passion that made them glass—durable enough for the frame. The symbol itself, however, is the timeless passion of the sun.
Here, as I write this in New Mexico, it is sunset. It’s night already in Argentina. Taking a break from the page, I go outside and shiver amidst the flaming light. Is there anyone on the Pampas plains right now, shivering a vigil for another day?
Capilla San Bernardo from nicolas campodonico, arquitecto on Vimeo.
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