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Apostolic School of the Dominican Fathers

Date: 1952
Address: Cra. de Arcas Reales, km. 2,200, Valladolid View on Maps
Condition: Complete
Other: tel. 983 223392 / 983 279908 /

Miguel Fisac started his trajectory as an architect with a church: the chapel of the Holy Spirit in Calle Serrano, Madrid. Somehow this beginning directed a great part of his work towards the construction of churches and religious centres, and in this field he achieved some of his best works. With his usual concern and despite the success he had with the previously mentioned church, Fisac pursued another way of working and a new spatiality for sacred uses having become aware of this possibility during the trips he made to Sweden in 1949, where he discovered the work of Gunnar Asplund, and Germany in 1951, where he was able to see the churches done by architects such as Dominikus Böhm or Rudolf Schwarz. In some way these European discoveries gave Fisac the impetus to get rid of the ties of his latest classicist incursion, which had been for the contest of the Hispano-American Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Merced in the prolongation of the Paseo de la Castellana in 1948, and which with a lineal solution that reminds us of the chapel in Calle Serrano, did not express great conviction although it gave an inkling of subsequent discoveries. The contest, won by Luis Laorga and Francisco Javier Sáez de Oíza with a very vertical basilica solution and in line with the simultaneous project of Aránzazu, made Fisac reconsider the conditions that the space of a contemporary church should have, so he excluded the orthogonal plans as well as oval or circular ones in search of a dynamic concept which would attract the attention of the congregation towards the altar, and which he called the ‘convergent’ solution, as he explained in great detail in the magazine “Arbor” in 1949 published by the C.S.I.C. This idea ran parallel to the project for a cathedral in Madrid by Francisco Asís Cabrero and Rafael Aburto, and it was also in the minds of other architects of the time, but Fisac was the first to formulate and construct it in the church of the compound of the Arcas Reales in Valladolid, erected in the heart of the countryside for the Provincia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario in the Philippines from the Order of Santo Domingo and almost simultaneously, –in 1953, in the small church of Asunción de Nuestra Señora in Escaldes (Andorra). But the first attempt to realize these ideas was in the Instituto Laboral in Daimiel, where, drawn on the initial project, appears a very similar plan to Valladolid, which was never built. The compound of the Dominicans is both a school and convent, and the church occupies a preeminent, central and symmetrical place between two blocks of dormitories that are finished in a symmetrical way at both ends with two lower buildings for classrooms and workshops, leaving some U-shaped courtyards which open towards the area where the small sports fields are located. This duality allows the complete separation of 10 to 13 year old students from those of 14 to 16 year olds so that they only share the church as common space. The front of the chapel, facing north, opens towards a courtyard-cloister with porticoes and garden, which is the access and reception area. This in turn separates the teaching compound from the lineal block of rooms for the teaching fathers, leaving the services building in the background, and in an isolated position is the pavilion for the assistant nuns. The compound is completed in the most southerly point by a detached building with the auditorium between two big sports fields. The whole construction is done in brick, -a traditional material in Valladolid, with concrete in the windows supports and the roof trusses, built with stretched concrete. This uniformity is only broken in the church’s apse made of limestone from Campaspero, a material often used in the monumental architecture of this city. The compositional language is very synthetic, direct and functional, and its design reminds us of the classroom pavilions in the Instituto Laboral de Daimiel, with the big windows sunk behind the projecting pillars, made of brick in this case, and the roofs with Arab tiles, like the rest of the buildings. The initial symmetry that orders the compound is managed with some freedom in the arrangement of the secondary pieces, but above all in the access by way of one side of the cloister. This eliminates any idea of axial and monumental perception which Fisac considered inadequate for this use, to the point of provoking on the frontal facade of the church a diagonal tension by placing the bell tower on the left side and a group of sculpted figures on the right, in consequence the entrance to the church is not placed in the centre but tangentially through a gallery which communicates with the two pavilions for students but not with the courtyard. The most singular and intentional piece of the complex is the church, where for the first time he built his idea of convergent space, not only on the floor plan but in the volume, as the roof rises as it approaches the altar at the same time as the nave narrows. Even the floor has a slight ascending slope to emphasize the unreachable and cosmic suggestion of the sacred. The light is also orientated in a similar way towards the altar as the curved and exaggeratedly tall apse rises up from the nave in the roof as well as in the laterals, surpassing its limits to hide golden glazed windows that bathe the impressive concave stone wall in light, making it appear to float. The nave, however, is in a discreet semi-darkness only illuminated by the blue reflection from the glazed windows that are fitted on the vertical surfaces of the roof and which also look towards the altar. This plain, essential church with its rotund and magnetic spatiality provided Fisac with his first international recognition when he won the Gold Medal at the Sacred Art Exhibition in Vienna in 1954 and it aroused great interest and, at the same time, some perplexity and lack of understanding in some architects of the time, as we can read in an historic critical session published by the Revista Nacional de Arquitectura in January 1955. Apart from the church, in this compound the light and undulating concrete porticoes that form the cloister galleries of the main courtyard stand out, he incorporated these in this work almost simultaneously with the building for the C.S.I.C in Santiago de Compostela, and only one year before he used them in the Centro de Formación de Profesorado at the Ciudad Universitaria in Madrid. Fisac anticipated here his great inventions in the use of concrete, –the bones and flexible formwork, which characterized the second half of his career. As in others of his works from this first period, Fisac was particularly interested in incorporating in his architecture the works of contemporary artists, and this school is proof of it with the extensive catalogue detailed here: José Capuz: sculpture group on the altar of the Virgen del Rosario, with Santo Domingo; Alvaro Delgado: paintings on the altarpiece in the oratory; Carlos Ferreira and others: images in the lateral chapels; José María de Labra: stained glass windows with the mysteries of the Rosario; Jorge Oteiza: figure on the back facade and figures next to the cross on the back facade; Susana Polack: stone figures in the entrance and mosaic next to the refectory; Antonio Rodríguez Valdivieso: glazed ceramic tiles in the student’s dining hall; Cristino Mallo: bronze reliefs of the Via-Crucis.


© Noemí Gª Millán, Mike Lumber

© Fundación Fisac

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