Introduction to the Project

The Church of St Mary of the Angels is a Roman Catholic church completed in 2004, located in the Western suburban region of Singapore. The compound houses a few different functions: the Church, the St Anthony Friary, the Poor Clare Monastery and an underground columbarium; these functions have their own compounds which are all connected by walkways to a central axis of outdoor community space as shown in the sketch below.

Although it is located in the heartlands of Singapore, the awareness of being surrounded by high rise residential flats is abated by experience of the psychological spaces in the Church. As not much architectural information could be found online, the crafting of this entry is based on researching blog posts depicting the experience of being in this Church; that, combined with my own journey through the space, makes up for the description of the experiential journey depicted in this post.

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Church of St Mary of the Angels
Image credited to: https://www.designsingapore.org/pda_public/gallery.aspx?sid=109

 

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Sketch & configuration of space on plan
Image credited to: https://www.designsingapore.org/pda_public/gallery.aspx?sid=109

 

Psychogeography

Psychogeography, as termed by Guy Debord in 1955, concerns itself with the unconscious influences of urban atmospheres on pedestrians, and how the psychological quality of spaces would have that effect on emotions and behaviour of individuals.

In a study of the public realms of St Mary of the Angels, mainly the cathedral, the central axis and the columbarium, one finds that they evoke different emotions through the controlled use of light and landscape.

 

Cathedral

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Image credited to: http://www.millionlighting.com.sg/institution-churchstmary.html

The cathedral is the main pull of the church, with regular services running through weekdays and weekends. The high ceiling and the design of the skylight draws the eye upwards, and with different electrical lighting conditions combining with detailing of how natural lighting comes into the central space, the illumination of the space is designed to be controlled. This scale of this cathedral, with the architecture elements (and of course the nature of the biblical context) maximizes this effect and creates a sense of awe in the audience.

Central Axis

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Central Axis
Image credited to: http://www.urbanarchnow.com/2012/02/church-of-st-mary_21.html

 

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Use of central axis as community space
Image credited to: http://www.benalagnam.com/2011/02/catholic-church-in-singapore.html

 

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Use of central axis as community space
Image credited to: http://www.benalagnam.com/2011/02/catholic-church-in-singapore.html

The evocation of openness is central in this open space; the plaza creates a positive space for gathering, such as the christmas event shown above. It avoids the panoptic surveillance of the neighbouring HDB estates by skillful use of landscaping elements.

In the evening, the skylights to the columbarium, as shown in the first photo, becomes a beacon of light along the central path. This reversal of role of the skylight creates a heightened awareness of the underground space below this path.

 

The Columbarium

Directly below the central axis of the outdoor community space is the columbarium.

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Columbarium
Image credited to: http://stmary.sg/about-us/art-architecture/

 

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Columbarium hallways
Image credited to: http://stmary.sg/about-us/art-architecture/

 

The experience of going into this space is at first benign; it feels like a path towards the underground carpark. However, only when the entrance is reached would one realize that this is sacred grounds, and the experience of transversing the underground columbarium through the hallways (as shown in the second photo above) crafts a different experience. The serenity of the columbarium is evoked by the lighting conditions mainly controlled by the skylights both in the central hallways (directly below the path), and in individual cells where the columbariums are.

 

“The Church of St Mary of the Angels demonstrates the depth and richness embedded in architecture and urban design, regardless of the physical size. Central to the project is the idea of building a community in relation to its surroundings, which infuses the experience of space, light and nature with spiritual and social significance.” -Jury of President’s Design Award 2006

 

 

References:

 

Church of St Mary of the Angels “Arts & Architecture” Accessed 2nd March 2014. <http://stmary.sg/about-us/art-architecture/>

President’s Design Award 2006. “Design of the year”Accessed 2nd March 2014. <https://www.designsingapore.org/pda_public/gallery.aspx?sid=109