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Church and Parish Centre of Nuestra Señora de la Coronación

Date: 1958
Address: C. Eulogio Serdan, s.n. Vitoria 01012 View on Maps
Condition: Complete
Other: tel. 945 141495

The friendship between a young priest, Francisco Peralta Ballabriga, and Javier Carvajal, a student with a grant in Rome, who by chance lived in the same Colegio de España, meant –shortly after the ordination of the priest as bishop of Vitoria in 1955- a commission for this architect to built five churches. Carvajal’s generosity, on the advice of the Dominican José Manuel Aguilar, resulted in a distribution of work between five teams. In the end it was three teams: Javier Carvajal with José María García de Paredes; José Antonio Corrales with Ramón Vázquez Molezún; and Alejandro de la Sota with Miguel Fisac. The bishop’s intention was to modernize the churches that should be built in the new neighbourhoods of Vitoria but not only in an architectonic sense but also in a liturgical one, giving more importance and the main role to the assembly of the congregation. Of those initial proposals only two were built: the church of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles by Javier Carvajal, and Nuestra Señora de la Coronación by Miguel Fisac. This church was chosen after an interesting competition between the projects of Fisac and de la Sota. The notable differences in the approach of such distinct personalities, so settled in their own personal ways, led them to present two proposals with opposing conceptions to the bishop for him to choose, and this without detriment in the intense friendship that existed at the time between the two architects. It was done through an agreement that was kept even on the drawn plans of Fisac’s winning idea, which were submitted in 1957 and on which we can see both signatures, although later Fisac developed the proposal on his own. The project by Alejandro de la Sota was an abstract cubic space partly closed with stone walls and glass on the surfaces around the altar and the roof, whereas Miguel Fisac’s project was the culmination of a path pursued step by step since 1953, when he designed the church for the institute in El Ejido (Málaga), a convergent space towards the altar that was achieved by dividing a rectangular space through a diagonal, to obtain a church and an auditorium. They both had trapezoidal plan, with the characteristic that the right wall of the church was curved towards the left at the front and was separate from the left wall leaving a vertical gap from which the light passed through towards the altar. In 1956 he used the same idea again in the contest for the church of Saint Florian in Vienna, although the church clearly predominates in size over the reduced trapezium of the auditorium. Later on, in 1957, and almost simultaneously with the church in Vitoria, he continued developing similar proposals in the church at Ayamonte (Huelva), and in Madrid in the church for the neighbourhood of Zofío. In 1958 he even synthesized the model further in a small church he designed for the country estate of Mr and Mrs Raventós, in Huesca.

Originally, the programme of the parish buildings was more extensive and it was developed around a porticoed courtyard that had the church at one of its extremes and the auditorium at the other. This was how it was submitted on the documents signed by both architects, but in 1958, when Fisac was already working on his own, he changed the plan making modifications on the parallelepipeds which became rounded or were cut in some of their vertices until they ended up tracing curves that were explicitly organic. He worked on the section at the same time, and retouched and modified the geometry of the roofs several times, always envisaging a sense of ascending towards the altar, at first letting the zenithal light come in above the altar, but finally deciding to let the light in through the right lateral. Fisac’s eagerness to bestow a space he considered ‘a piece of sacred air’ with a strong spiritual content, took him to an idea of dynamic space that suggested turning and elevating movements towards a light with a powerful symbolic meaning, as a way of transcending the material limits of the world. He found a way of doing it with a great scenographic sense in the opposition of the two walls that enclose the nave: the right wall, which he referred to as the static wall, is straight, dense and ‘materic’, composed of rough limestone ashlar and only perforated by vertical incisions in herringbone through which the light enters; the left wall, -the dynamic wall, became an enclosing wall that gathers within its curvature the choir, the nave and also the altar, extending beyond the end of the other wall to leave open a vertical gap giving light towards the altar. In addition, the interior surface is rendered with white paint and without windows or other features that could distract from the main objective. The ceiling follows an ascending winding curved directrix that reaches its highest point above the altar and then descends slightly. The floor also has a slope towards the stands on which the altar rises, which reinforces all the directional effects. Fisac arrived at this solution after innumerable sketches in which we can appreciate significant changes to the left wall as well as the general plan, which did away with the cloister and the auditorium and expanded the nave to hold 700 people, and the way he included the baptistry at the right side of the entrance, with the sacramental chapel located immediately behind, or the discretion with which the spaces of the sacristy and the room with sculptures and for services on the right hand side are attached, almost without significance to the whole. The construction was eventually done with 40 cm thick walls in stone and concrete, and the roof was done with metal trusses covered on the exterior with aluminium sheets that are visible and in the interior there is a hanging curved false ceiling made of ash wood. As a counterpoint to the rotund and horizontal stone volume of the nave there is a tower formed by four concrete pillars that are only connected at the top by a sculptural form of curved steel tubes which at the same time support the cross. This work is considered by the experts to mark the end of his first period, in which he built mainly with brick and stone, and in which he developed his concepts of organic architecture and dynamic spaces. Although it was viewed with a critical sense by the architects of that time, it is now valued as one of his most important creations and one of the first that gave him international recognition along with the church for the Dominican Fathers in Alcobendas. The dramatic energy of this space is still intact although in the exterior they did not follow the recommendations given by the architect not to construct buildings higher then three storeys in the vicinity and nowadays the church is hemmed in by buildings of excessive height. As in other works of this period, Fisac incorporated in his architecture the work of other artists, in this case the stained glass windows by Francisco Farreras, and an abstract Via-Crucis by Pablo Serrano, also author of the walnut wood crucifix which skilfully projects its slender silhouette over the apse, vibrant with indirect light. It hangs from metal tubes that go from floor to ceiling, identical to the cross in Alcobendas, but the image here stands out from the background and acquires a special mystical quality which is reinforced by the marble block of the altar and the cylindrical candlesticks directly fixed to the floor.


© Noemí Gª Millán, Mike Lumber

© Fundación Fisac

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