REVIVAL SUNSET : Private Chapel in Libreville

Revival Sunset is the motto of this private chapel built to accommodate the tomb of Madame Chambrier, wife of the Prime Minister of Gabon. The building was designed around the theme of Rebirth and Redemption from Death and and is full of symbolic meaning intended to emphasise these concepts.

The particularity of the place, accentuated by an enveloping forest on three sides, is an essential characteristic of the chapel design.  U-glass walls provide an ongoing relationship with nature, allowing contemplation during services and visits to the chapel.

The building was designed by Italian architects FATmaison , fabricated in Italy and transported in containers to Gabon, where it was erected in less than a month.

The design process began when the former minister of Gabon commissioned FATmaison to design a chapel to receive the remains of his wife. The chapel was to be built with Italian materials and manpower.

Once the project was defined, we decided to assemble the building (built entirely in dry system) in the Italian manufacturer's warehouse. The chapel was then disassembled and shipped packed in containers to Libreville, where it was unpacked and rebuilt on site.

The chapel is situated in the center of Libreville, the land owned by the former Prime Minister of Gabon, close to his home.

The place is characterised by a dense forest that covers the building on three sides, creating a suggestive frame.

The cultural and territorial context of Libreville is highly controversial. In the city, alongside extensive forests and poor looking buildings, one finds buildings of high architectural value. These are mainly retail outlets, hotels, institutional and religious buildings.

In this way the chapel becomes part of an extremely rich and varied architectural landscape.

Local custom forbids the disinterment and relocation of graves. The existing grave was located nearby the client's house, behind a forest.

To honour this custom the chapel was built around and over the grave.

Once the chapel was erected the existing grave was covered with black marble to match the tiled flooring.

Since this is a private chapel, during the design stage we tried to express through architecture the direct link that binds death, the grave and the altar to God.

This choice is evident in the use of materials and the study of space, proportion and visuals. The building is in fact replete with solutions of symbolic value intended to emphasise these concepts.

The chapel is a metaphor of life after death. The floor and walls of the tomb and altar in black and white Carrara marble, the shape of the altar, the cor-ten used for the mausoleum and the apse, the cross from which light enters at sunset, water that is discharged in the vicinity of the tomb when it rains, the narrow entrance, the visual relationships; these are all elements that have strong symbolic value and which refer to the Christian afterlife belief system.

Above Left: View from the altar to the tomb. Sunset light coming through the slit shaped cross behind the altar projects the cross on the nave and the grave.

The light at sunset becomes a symbol of rebirth after death. This light  illuminates the grave giving the deceased a new life after death.

But this happens through a process of purification, symbolised by marble flooring which is black at the tomb and gradually becomes white as it reaches the altar, which is also faced in white Carrara marble.

Above right: View from the nave to the altar at sunset. God reveals himself through nature, its light passes through the cross cut in the cor-ten façade and reaches the tomb. Note how the altar is completely white and directly connected to the grave.

The need to send the material necessary for the construction of the chapel without making mistakes, and to avoid problems on site later, led to the decision to build the chapel first in Italy. In this way it was possible to solve problems related to the construction and design directly in Italy.

The building is a mix of traditional and contemporary design. The materials used are key to understanding the complexity of the message. Cor ten, U-glass, Carrara marble, black marble, stainless steel, aluminium, pine wood, all play a role in the symbolism of the chapel.

The chapel was built in less than a month. This was possible due to pre-construction in Italy, the planning of the site, the collaboration with local workers (who set up the site and laid the foundation slab) and the dry assembly of all components.

Phase A : Foundation Slab - 5 days
Phase B : Erection of Structure - 4 days
Phase C : Roof Assembly - 3 days
Phase D : Cor Ten Panels - 3 days
Phase E : U-Glass - 5 days
Phase F : Flooring - 2 days
Phase G : External Works - 2 days
Phase H : Furniture - 2 days

Total : 26 working days

A Holy Mass and a buffet party were organised for the inauguration of the chapel.

Leading dignetaries and authorities from Libreville and Gabon were invited to attend. Catering tents for 700 guests were set up for the event which lasted an entire day.

Project Information:

Architects : FATmaison

Contractor: Sea Montaggi

Client: Dr Marcel Eloi Rahandi

Location: Libreville, Gabon

Building Area: 156 sq.m.

Construction Period: 14 January 2013 to 14 February 2013

Cost: Euro 245,000