Route & Destination - Design for a pilgrimage church

by Katharina Bachstein from Bauhaus University Weimar (BUW), Faculty of Architecture, Germany
Tutored by: Hon.-Prof. Dr. Fritz Barth, Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Jörg Springer, M.Sc. Dipl.-Ing. Max Wasserkampf

Author comments:

Pilgrimage is about movement, experiencing landscapes whilst approaching a destination – a relic, which is circumambulated in prayer for several times at the climax of the journey. The route and the destination structurally define the design.
Due to its position, the church of pilgrimage comes into view already from a distance. A forest trail leads him to the gatehouse, where the profane meets the sacred realm. The church yard can be accessed via a wide flight of stairs. The pilgrim gradually grasps the dimensions of the site as its architecture guides his way. The forecourt invigorates the spirit as it limits the gaze to the inside of its walls. The pilgrim rests after his exhausting journey and gathers strength for the rituals to come.
The church hall forgoes elements of minor liturgical activities beyond the Eucharistic service. It is only the individual, the community, the altar and the sublime that characterize the room. The groundplan has the shape of a classic directive church and thus visually highlights the altar. The lighting design, however, emphasizes the audience.
The cloister, which is adjacent to both sides of the hall, is a place for silent contemplation. The two 9m lateral doorways give access to the outside altar on a square that views the landscape. This is the climax of the voyage. The altars act as Janus heads since it is both possible to hold the weekly mass inside and to accommodate several thousand pilgrims outside during the Marian feast days.

Tutor comments:

Subject of the design project was a pilgrimage church on a steep hill in a somewhat difficult mountain setting. During the design process it turned out to be rather tricky – partly because of topographical demands, but more regarding the complex liturgical requirements, functional specifications hardly ever dealt with in contemporary architectural education.
The ideal solution would focus on the appropriateness of the building in respect of its religious function, expressed in the visual appearance both from the distance and the proximity (in terms of architectural sculpture, but no less as a signifier), combined with spatial quality, meticulous dealing with light, manifold organization of movement, precise handling of construction – all of which, of course, not to be distinguished, but consistent, perceived as an architectural whole.
The Student’s solution comes close to this ideal, creating an adequate atmosphere both from the outside and the inside, managing to deal with masses of pilgrims on festivals as well as an individual approach, her design achieving a high architectural standard.

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