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  • Writer's pictureCláudio Fernandes

Rammed Earth Church


The site is located on the outskirts of the city of Faro, in an urban area with little consolidation and a lack of green public spaces. After some meetings with the Faro City Council, we managed to convince the councilors to extend our project, to intervene in the entire block, offering a new public garden that will serve the entire community that lives there.

This garden will offer several leisure areas, being “topped off” by the area of the block to the north where the new church will be located. This implantation is done in such a way as to generate a new urban fact, a new square that welcomes and gathers the inhabitants, and then prepares them for the entrance to the religious complex.

This square is marked by the church's tower as well. The use of this singular, almost sculptural element, which is distinguished from the surrounding construction, is associated with its reading as a new symbol for this area of the city. Something that will mark the memory of practitioners and inhabitants who pass by who will come to identify this square as a public place, open to all. What if two of the most beautiful squares in the world, like Piazza del Campo in Siena or Piazza San Marco in Venice, didn't have their towers?


The church program is divided into two distinct parts; a social area, to receive all the collective activities linked to conviviality, and a more private area, in order to receive the more individual activities, linked to the practice of worship.

Inspired by popular Algarve and Alentejo architecture, we proposed that each area be served by a patio, each with its own personality. Directly related to the streets of the neighbourhood, the patio in the social area aims to always be full of life. It is this courtyard that will host all the church's social activities. Unlike the first, the patio in the more private area is not intended to be practiced, but rather to serve as a background,that helps to protect and illuminate the worship space.


One of the main assumptions related to the church has to do with the creativity and dynamism with which practitioners will enjoy the space. The best way to respond to this statement was through the construction of a new spatiality where each space is designed in an additive way. The interiors are discovered subtly, little by little, as you enter and move from one space to another. That is, the spaces were designed in such a way that there are no corridors or "dead spaces" for circulation, allowing total appropriation of the church's spaces at the same time. Each space can function autonomously or have the capacity to transform itself, absorbing the neighboring space, thus allowing the spatial versatility of the rooms, which can stretch or shrink as desired.


In Algarve, there is a big difference in population from winter to summer, so there is an exponential growth of practitioners during the summer. Once again, it is through the possibility of spatial growth by “addition”, that the worship space can “extend” or “shrink”, in order to better respond to the number of people who may use this space.

In this space, the patio in the background appears as a limit to the field of vision, bringing serenity to the environment through its materiality and vegetation. As the type of construction did not allow for a high ceiling, it was decided to use a structure in wooden beams, covered in white cloth at intervals, in order to filter a soft zenith light, creating the idea of there being no ceiling, generating an atmosphere more connected to the divine.


The windows are not used to admire the exterior or provide views, but rather to allow the entry of filtered light, only where necessary, in a concern for interior comfort and privacy. Spatially, it is an architecture that is born from the inside to the outside.

The windows are not used to admire the exterior or provide views, but rather to allow the entry of filtered light, only where necessary, in a concern for interior comfort and privacy. Spatially, it is an architecture that is born from the inside to the outside.

Thus, the effects of light and its different intensities create different types of environments, becoming defining spaces. Light can enter through small openings in private rooms, through large openings in social spaces or through skylights in the worship space. This light control helps to create the desired atmosphere for each specific space.


First, for historical reasons. A large part of the buildings, both in the Alentejo or Algarve area, are built with rammed earth. There is an architectural culture developed around rammed earth.

Second, for geological reasons. People built with what the soil gave them, and in these areas, the soil, rich in clay, served very well for the construction of various buildings.

Third, on the issue of sustainability. The use of the material from the soil, to return to the soil. Replacing it with less sustainable and contemporary materials, such as concrete or steel. This issue of sustainability is linked to thermal and acoustics, as this type of construction allows to retain more energy inside buildings, functioning better thermally and responding better to the ideas of comfort and habitability.

Rammed earth is a very dense material that can be worked in the “cave” special sense ,a mass that controls the light, thus creating more intimate and reserved environments. Therefore, from the beginning, it seemed to us that this material had a very pertinent relationship with the program requested by the Church.


However, when using this material, we could not forget its practical issues. It is a material that has different characteristics from steel and concrete, and therefore leads to very different structural solutions.

With this, after having the architectural intentions well defined, we started by working on a model, to control the “mass”, always knowing that when opening spans, these would have to be done with very controlled dimensions. However, we did not want to give them up, “opening” in a more contemporary way, as happens, for example, in the large opens that give access to the patios.

After this research model, we concluded that we should let the interior skeleton grow, and covering the building with the rammed earth wall, opening the patios, letting the light in and taking advantage of the material itself to help create a more serene environment.

We used the wooden structure to shape this interior skeleton, thus allowing the opening of large spans to the interior patios, thus reinforcing the visual contact with this material, allowing this wall to be part of the interior spatial experience as well.

We made full-scale models to study the relationship between rammed earth and other materials. We didn't want to mix rammed earth with other materials that weren't compatible, hence the creation of this skeleton, as an autonomous system that relates, side by side, with the rammed earth wall. The project was thus born from the contradiction between the two constructive systems, the light wooden structure, with the heavy rammed earth wall.


img.01 - Site plan;

img.02 - Sketches made during the Design Phase;

img.03 - Church plan;

img.04 - 3d image, Worship Room atmosphere;

fig.05 - Worship Room section;

img.06 - 3d image, Social patio atmosphere ;

img.07 - Rammed Earth models;

img.08 - Church model.

- transcript of the conference in Odemira, Jornadas Técnicas OET - Construção em Taipa, October 2022, about the project - Rammed Earth Church in Faro, performed by "Atemporal Partners"

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