Capela do Monte

Contemporary building programs have been set up to include necessary commodities—from waterways and ventilation to electricity among other basics. To strip off extraneous elements is one way to reduce irrelevant factors and focus on the building itself, often along with its functions. However, Capela do Monte by architect Álvaro Siza Vieira gives a new meaning to reduction, where the architecture is simply its own body without the interference of inner building systems.

Capela do Monte is a part of the Monte da Charente complex—a retreat invested by a couple who has lived in the area for over three decades. Situated on a hillside in the Algarve, Portugal, the chapel is a humble cubic entity made of perforated bricks coated in limestone render. The imperfect coloration gives its façade a texture that reflects the surrounding soil, contrasting with its monolithic form. Thick walls shelter the interior, creating a passive heating and cooling layer. Large openings bring in natural light that casts onto the minimal tile murals that figuratively depict the story of Jesus at the entrance. Bringing the tiles’ gridded language inside, the minimalist interior is white on all sides only to be accented by wooden furnishes and a cross’s reinterpretation that are also designed by the architect himself. Organic timber patterns find their ways to intertwine with geometric lines to soften the space, mimicking the undulating pattern of the exterior.

The poetry of Capela do Monte lies in its autonomy. The building is a singular vessel that houses inhabitants for a very specific function that caters to the clients’ belief system. And that system is all it needs to become an architecture that is minimal, focused, and purposeful.