June 1, 2011
Modeled after a venue where people exchange nuptials, the Sunset Chapel offers respite in a celebratory setting.
A grim economy leads plucky people to find opportunity where they can. A struggling exporter of widgets, for instance, might try his hand at importing cat food instead, while a maker of Panama hats might move to bowlers. One real estate developer in Acapulco, Mexico, recently underwent a similar shift. When the market soured, he found that building condos for the living wasn’t profitable anymore, so he turned his attention to the dead. He bought a plot of land overlooking the Bay of Acapulco, in the city’s south, planned a garden of crypts, and commissioned an angular concrete mausoleum at the property’s crown. And to complete the topsy-turviness, he modeled the structure after a wedding chapel.
The architect of both the new site and its predecessor is Esteban Suarez, who spent a few months working in Fernando Romero’s office before founding his own firm, Bunker Arquitectura, in 2005 at the age of 26. He designed the first chapel, called La Estancia, two years later for a wedding garden in Cuernavaca, a popular destination for young couples, and he and his wife inaugurated it for their wedding. (The developer, who prefers to stay anonymous, discovered La Estancia when he attended a ceremony there soon after it opened.) It shares a certain family resemblance with the newer building in Acapulco, which is called Sunset Chapel. “They’re both 120 square meters,” Suarez says. “And they’re both open chapels. They both have lattice walls.”
There the similarities end. “We thought they were complete opposites, like life and death, so all the design decisions were taken through this game of contrasts,” Suarez says. “If La Estancia celebrated life, this one mourned death. La Estancia was made out of glass, so the opposite would be concrete.
If La Estancia was light, ethereal, this one had to be solid and heavy. If one had classical proportions, this one had to be completely irregular, geometrically speaking.” Whereas La Estancia’s rectilinear glass box melts into the lush grounds, the Sunset Chapel is an insistent interloper, angling ominously out of the ground like a giant knight’s helmet. The facade’s steep cant makes way for a nearby boulder, which was left alone out of sensitivity to the surroundings. “Obviously, blowing up this rock was completely out of the question because it was beautiful,” Suarez says, “and, I mean, also it would be very expensive.”
Perhaps these are morbid times, because since opening in February, the chapel has struck a chord with Acapulcans, and not just those in the market for a funeral. “Curiously enough,” Suarez says, “now it’s also being rented for other kinds of ceremonies, not only death masses. It’s being used for weddings and baptisms. Finally, it’s a chapel.”