Architecture photographer João Morgado has shared with us some photographs of Álvaro Siza’s recently inaugurated Church of Saint-Jacques de la Lande, which is the first church in France’s Brittany region in the 21st-century. Siza’s use of light and white concrete provide a unique ceremonial space that gently folds into the neighborhood south of Rennes, a residential area with five-story housing blocks.
Siza’s main concern when designing the project, was to be able to integrate the church into the urban fabric. One of the distinctive characteristics of the building is the circular shape on the second floor, which can host up to 120 people – liberating the first floor for the accommodation of social and administrative areas. The church is inserted as a free-standing volume that adapts to the existing plan and dimensions of the surrounding buildings and space. The programme is distributed across two levels by superimposing a cylinder of a 14.75 m outer diameter on a 16×16 m square plan. The Parish Centre and the church are on the first and second floors respectively, with a smaller 97.2 m2 basement for auxiliary and storage areas.
Two rectangular volumes break off to the West of this core, framing the entrance atrium. Another two identical volumes lie to the East, along with a cantilevered half cylinder that emerges from the top floor. Circulation between the two floors takes place via a lift and two stairways —one of them enclosed— with two flights of stairs.
The central part of the church has seating for 126 people, with access for the disabled as well. A side chapel to the South contains the baptismal font, a semicircular apse (Chapel A) with the image of the Virgin Mary and the tabernacle, and a lateral chapel on the northern side (Chapel B) which contains the crucifix. A raised platform extends above chapels A and B, the base of the altar and the pulpit. The diagonal axis of the congregation area, which runs from the stairs towards the crucifix, defines the position of the altar.
The restricted-access sacristy is on the upper floor containing the lift and the enclosed staircase. A square platform is suspended above the cylindrical space of the church to control the light entering through the clerestory and hold the lighting and ventilation equipment. The sides of this square panel are parallel to the axis of the congregation zone. This church is thus lit from above and indirectly, reflecting off the ceiling and the cylindrical walls. Another two small clerestories are set above the image of the Virgin and the baptismal font. Light enters Chapel B through a glazed west-facing shaft.
The church is built using white reintorced concrete bearer walls with internal thermal insulation. The marks of the formwork used in its construction will be visible on the facades. The interior of the church and the Parish Centre will be paved with marble. The walls will be painted after instaling a 110cm high marble panel, except for the kitchen and bathrooms, where it will rise to 220cm. The pavements in the basement will have an epoxy finish and 220cm high epoxy wall protection. The exterior frames will be in wood with an aluminium finish on the outer face.