CHAPEL OF CHANGE
A major part of Rwandan history is related to the conflict of two ethnic groups - Tutsi and Hutu, and the tensions raised by the European countries in 1890s, which eventually resulted in subsequence violence that painted the dark memories of the beautiful nation. To some extent, the wounds still persist as a shameful reminder among the people. Although through time Rwanda has now stands back up as a stable and unified country, to move further on into the future confidently requires an even greater belief and trust among the people as well as collaboration in between. It is not only a reformation of body, but of mind. While still hurting, it is important for the people to embrace their past, to learn from it, and then move on into a brand-new chapter of hope and bright future. People have to witness the world differently: to see clear sightline of the future rather than to see blurred vision. People have to witness themselves differently, to say “We” rather than to say “I”. And faith, has to be re-implanted where else if not the sacred space that serves as the symbol of a community – a chapel that reflects upon the history of Rwanda; a place of meditation and divine contemplation; a space of facilitating this inner-self-revelation and enrichment, encouraging a new perspective of moving forward.
Here, history is never only about heroic moments, but to embrace the whole and coming out on top of it. The moment of faith rejuvenation is not created IN the chapel, but ALONG the chapel. It is not about the moment of contemplation, but the journey of replenishment. Located at the plain on top of a mountain, the chapel is presented with the enchanting views of Rwandan landscape. Oriented facing South-East, metaphorically, when one approaches the chapel by walking up the hill as part of the pilgrimage and arrives at the entrance, their back will be facing North-West pointing to the European countries as the resemblance of setting behind the past. Here, their face will then look into the chapel facing the direction of Indian Ocean as the sea of endless hope. The chapel is then expressed through 5 interlocking cuboids with different sizes, arranged in such a way that they form a transitioning sequence from vertical to horizontal spatial quality. At the entrance, a long, narrowing stair brings one up into the vertical volume of the first cuboid. Here, the space is being expressed in a rigid and oversized, individual scale that purposely designed to intimidate the presence of sole person. Upon arrival, visitors will be greeted by a strong entrance statement carved into the cold concrete form. The daunting scale in comparison to individual muted out the surrounding - it is the moment of contemplation left only between the person and the portal. Take the courage to move on, and the perspective will slowly change. The chapel seemingly floats and dissolves into the environment. The hefty presence of the structure disappears into the sky. The experience of changes does not occur at an instance but rather spread along the path, both in terms of spatial quality and tactility.
As the space changes from vertical expression to horizontality moving across the chapel, the finishes also go from the rough concrete, brickwork, timber, plaster, to the sleek metal and fine glass. Not only is this an expression of spatial transition from dark to bright and dense to light as a sense of enlightenment and revival, but also a display of ambition from traditional to modernity. In contrary, at the other end of nave and presbytery, the space is being expressed as a wide-open platform in horizontal proportion which exerts an unconstrained experience to the space in a more intimate and communal scale. One will find themselves surrounded by the beautiful panoramic view of Rwandan landscape. Washed with light and overseeing the expansiveness of horizon, the space becomes a magical experience as the vertical mullions and hanging horizontal lighting fixtures cast shadows on the floor that occasionally form cross symbols, appear and disappear with the changing Sun angle. At any time, the space will look differently and apparently alive, enhancing the sense of divinity.
The whole journey of reaching the heart of the chapel is thus being choreographed as pace of transitioning from a self-centric perspective and slowly expanding one’s world view to connect with the others, from corridor designed to cater for a single person to space that acknowledge the presence of others as well. It is a journey of realization on how small and powerless a single person is, and greater capability can be achieved collectively through cultivating community cohesiveness, a shift of individualistic mindset to collectivistic’s, seeing people around standing eye to eye as a nation.