ARQBR Arquitetura e Urbanismo has designed the Church of the Holy Family as part of an urban extension of the city of Brasilia. The project’s architectural concept centers on the relationship between spirituality, nature, and community.
In 1957, Brazilian architect and urban planner Lúcio Costa’s entry for the urban design of Brazil’s new federal capital was chosen in a national competition. Costa’s “Pilot Plan” (Plano Piloto) for the city of Brasilia, located in the country’s hinterland, was in the shape of an irregular cross, analogous to an airplane or dragonfly. A remarkable utopian undertaking, Costa was in charge of Brasilia’s layout, while Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer designed the city’s main public buildings. ARQBR’s design for the Church of the Holy Family can be viewed as a physical and spiritual embodiment of Costa’s original plan.
Costa described his Pilot Plan for Brasilia in terms of four configurations: monumental, social, residential, and bucolic. From its conception, Brasilia’s park roads were inspired by the parkways designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for the city of Buffalo, New York. It is on a plot on the edge of a radial road created to support Costa’s plan — the Estrada Parque Indústria e Abastecimento (EPIA) — that the Church of the Holy Family is located. However, the EPIA was recently extended and transformed into an expressway. Trees that were felled to accommodate extra lanes resulted in “a loss of the surrounding area's bucolic character [and the emergence of] a generic landscape under constant change,” says ARQBR.
ARQBR’s design for the Church of the Holy Family relates to Costa’s four stated configurations for Brasilia. “Spirituality communicates itself in the Catholic religion through its rites, celebrations, and sacred symbols,” says the studio. “Architecture has been the privileged space of manifestation of the sacred by the person who occupies it, where light penetrates delicately, or where the silence of the stone manifests itself in the murmur of prayers.”
Set across an area of 3,915 square meters, the Church of the Holy Family comprises: a circular nave, an annex, a parish house, an existing building used to accommodate parish activities, and a campanile, a free-standing Italian-style bell tower that guides visitors. The monolithic concrete nave recalls the modern architecture of Oscar Niemeyer. Natural light passes through a circular ring in the building’s roof, brightening the partly submerged interior. “This allows the overflow of the landscape through a small opening aligned to the ground floor, [while preserving] the intimacy of the internal space,” says ARQBR. “Such a feature is only possible due to the elevation of the circular concrete volume, suspended by six pillars that belong to the structural foundation implanted in the topography.” The nave’s minimal interior is ringed by a series of wooden slats and glass panels, adding warmth and airiness to the space.
Designating Brasilia as a World Heritage Site in 1987, UNESCO stated: “The authenticity of Brasilia is guaranteed through maintenance of its architecture, urban design, and landscapes, all of which represent a new approach to urban living, reaffirmed by Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer on the basis of the Modernist Movement’s principles for 20th century architecture and urbanism.” In ARQBR’s design for the Church of the Holy Family, the studio considers “the inseparability between the urban and its architecture, between public and private space, . . . [and] the consideration of the landscape as a structuring and fundamental element of the architectural configuration,” to be in line with UNESO’s inclusion of Brasilia as a World Heritage Site.