The Granite

ArcXSite Sanctuary Competition | Monsanto, Spain

In collaboration with: Andrea T.F Ng

Decision in Progress

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Overview

The hill of Monsanto is peppered with giant boulders, which have been integrated into the enclosure of local medieval structures. Over time, the man-made structure seems to have fully blended with the existing boulders, only perceivable with their subtle fine grains from stacking.

With the introduction of gabion baskets, the metal wire frame creates a rectangular form that relies on tensile forces, while the crushed granite infill employs compression forces, much like the elemental duty of the existing boulders.

The project consists of several pavilions carefully and intentionally dispersed in specific places across the site. The selection of sizes and grains of the granite in the gabion baskets allow for varying degrees of transparency.

All pavilions have receded roofs to give an impression of a hollow enclosure, much like the existing ruins on site. These pavillions, distributed across the East side of the sacred mountain, strikes an invisible datum with their consistent altitude, measuring the geological formation of the granite mountain. Corresponding to their locations, the pavillions are each given relationships to their immediate surrounding, facilitated through different typologies and appropriate programs.

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Boulders, rocks, stones and mountains – these remarkable geological phenomenons have always been seen as sites of meditation and worship. By creating a place of great poetic power, visitors are exposed to the stories of the stone and introduced to a new perception of Monsanto – the granite mountain.

Based on geological and mineral research of central Portugal, the type of magmatic rock deposit present on site has been identified as Porphyritic Monzonite Granite. Looking into the make up and the process of occurrence of this type of granite, it is understood as a chaotic clash and accidental mixture of 15 different minerals. This information allows visitors to comprehend that granite does not merely exist in the boulders populating the site – Monsanto itself is a much larger plate of granite.

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  1. Investigation: coming into Memory Chamber (1.), a pavilion located on a sudden drop in slope, visitors walk onto a flat and even mesh floor suspended by a robust concrete core. The core transforms into a display case of the 15 minerals that make up the Monsanto granite. Other exhibition materials include manuals, research catalogues and studies of the geological and mineral deposits of the site. The mesh floor is void of stone fillings, allowing visitors to look down on the granite slope beneath and contemplating on its formation. As visitors exit the exhibition, they have a choice to visit the low gabion wall (2.), where its datum measures the flat granite stone and provides a moment of look out.
  2. Compression: after obtaining knowledge regarding the granite from the exhibition, visitors are confronted by the twin boulders (3.). The two large granite boulders lean towards each other, creating a threshold for a tight space to walk between. This reveals a glimpse of a sudden cut in the hillside. Piqued by this visual, visitors are encouraged to experience this moment of compression before they proceed to the rest of the site.
  3. Stripping Granite: the construction of the changeroom (4.) is an act of extraction from the mountain. The interior surfaces are kept raw and left unpolished, while the unlit space is rendered by a mysterious darkness. The changing space is located in the deepest part of the cave, where visitors prepare their bodies for the hot soaking bath (5.). Both the patrons and the granite are stripped naked, creating an intimate dialogue between the bare skin and the raw granite surface.
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  1. Hot Soak: the interior of the church ruin (5.) is excavated to reveal the granite beneath. Above the water surface, the ashlars of the existing church ruin are kept, while the ones fallen at the inside of its perimeter are relocated to its exterior. The excavated surfaces are polished to suit the needs of a functioning bath. The polished granite is kept concealed underwater and masked by the hot steam, so as to not impose presence on the site. The experience of touching the smooth stone in the water is a stark contrast from the raw granite surface previously encountered in the cave.
  2. Guidance and Balance: walking on the rugged surface of the site requires a constant attention on the rocky ground as to not trip. The guiding wall (6.) is low enough to be walked on, allowing one to keep his/her gaze leveled with the surrounding as one balances and makes way towards the tower. Located on a lower altitude of the site, the meditation tower (7.) is made up of empty gabion baskets stacked to reach the absolute datum height. The magnitude of the tower can only be perceived as one approaches it. The thinness of the frame gives the tower an ephemeral quality, gradually disappearing without intruding the site with an overwhelming presence.
  3. Memory Trigger: the high space of the tower allows one to obtain a direct relationship with the sky above and the granite below. The hollow structure acts as a trigger of memory. With only a generic frame of the tower archetype and without any real physical presence, it instigates its patrons to imagine the basket as filled with whatever their individual perspective and understanding recalls. Through the ritual of meditation, each individual authors a different tower from within.

Software: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Rhino 5 + Vray