The twenty five thousand square foot cathedral located in Strasbourg, France is a stellar mix of concrete arches that are bent over themselves to envelop the rituals and liturgy of the catholic mass. A digitally abstracted bas-relief of a Gothic cathedral etched onto the primary face of the cathedral heralds the entrance into Axis Mundi’s creation. The carved entrance is positioned so that as the sun rises, the relief becomes even more visible due to its own shadows.
The floor plan is an abstracted Latin cross, sunken into the ground, which further exalts the massive volume of the interior space that is minimally clad in oak and bronze. The plan of the cathedral is immaculate, but the user does not view the design from the top. The simplicity of the monochrome model and section is appropriate because of the buildings functionality. The journey inside the space is moderated by the shape of the nave and position of the pews, keeping with traditional layout of a Gothic cathedral.
The scale and geometry of Axis Mundi’s design is grand and dramatic as one would assume with sacred architecture, as much as how the lighting quality achieved is magnificent. In saying so, sacred spaces are quite straightforward in their design requirements, but one has to wonder why the envelope, rather than the space itself becomes a spectacle. Religious buildings are easy to become monumental due to the way they are conceived, but for their programme, they are far too grandiose. In the medieval period, religious architecture was about the interior space and its response to the program. The technology of the time allowed for appearance that can be rewarded as grand but then it was a structural matter.
The Cathedral Fold looks like another ode to the current religion of aesthetic, being stereotomic but appearing light and delicate, which can be argued against the technological aspect of my own argument, but ultimately makes the cathedral more-so uninviting and exclusive. As a pedestrian, I wouldn’t like to be confronted by a massive stone structure which spills out huge volumes of light onto the already vast square I’m trying to cross on foot.
by Thelma Ndebele