Several years ago, Mackey Mitchell became involved with Community of Hope School, a Guatemalan Catholic school, through a local St. Louis missionary program. It was then that we were introduced to Father Sergio, the visionary behind the Community of Hope School. His mission began after encountering local families living at the Cobán City trash dump. Knowing he “could not just do nothing”, Fr. Sergio, along with others, built and operated a small school on the grounds of the dump promising a safe environment and nutritious meals. It now serves a K-12 population, mostly of indigenous Mayans; all students are accepted tuition-free. During a visit, Father Sergio mentioned that while donations and volunteer-work from their American sister church are invaluable, they lacked space for prayer and celebration; therefore, the idea for having a chapel was born.
Father Sergio was in search of an architect to design the chapel, emphasizing that money is tight as teachers sometimes go without pay so students eat. With a site available, but few funds, MMA volunteered to design a chapel that incorporates local economic materials and vernacular techniques, including utilizing prevailing winds and available light. A site for the chapel was selected on an elevated wedge-shaped plot nestled within the campus. The new chapel will include seating for one hundred people, a sacristy for Mass supplies and vestments, a small multi-purpose room to be used for reconciliation, restrooms, an entrance porch to provide shelter from the sun and rain, and an outdoor garden.
Our design builds on the drama of the site and reinforces the chapel as a beacon of hope, while utilizing economic materials and vernacular techniques. In this area, construction is primarily load-bearing CMU walls with steel-framed roofs clad in corrugated metal. Because of the elevation, temperatures are mild and few buildings are air-conditioned or enclosed. Wanting to extend the local dialect, the design playfully uses CMU block to capture prevailing winds. Light, instead of ornament, is used to beautify. When complete, the chapel will function as a peaceful place of worship as well as a lively gathering space for the community.
Knowing that this chapel is going to be a symbol of joy and hope for a community has made the whole design team approach this project with deep enthusiasm and energy.
- Christina Henning
Architect, Mackey Mitchell Architects