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Igreja+Sto+Antonio+da+Polana_1965In the bairro of Sommerschield is the Church of Santo António, also known as the Igreja de Polana (even though it is really in Sommerschield). The streets of this part of town are unlike those elsewhere in that they are not the wide tree-covered walkways known as the avenidas. The wealthy residents of this community who most likely had graduated to motor vehicles at the time enjoyed much larger plots of land. The homes built here from the 1950s onward are modern with a wide footprint leaving little space on the street for pedestrians.

It may be for that reason that one would not easily notice the Church of Santo António which is flanked by generous multi-storey homes with their tall perimeter walls. One has to drive to the very end of the block to behold all its glory. It was Nuno Craveiro Lopes, the son of a former president of the Portuguese republic, who designed the church. The project is a reflection of the modernist tendencies in architecture that were gaining momentum around the world in the middle of the 20th century. It is said to be associated in its likeness with modern Brazilian architecture of the era developed by Oscar Niemeyer.

It is a bold, heavy and marvelous structure of reinforced concrete in the shape of an inverted flower with light flowing from the top and sides through stained glass. It has a capacity for 600 people seated, 7 altars and 16 spaces which allow for light to enter. Some of the glass panels have been designed to open allowing for ventilation.

Craveiro Lopes appears to have had a falling out with the members of the congregation when they requested certain changes to both the interior and exterior. Initially, the alter had been conceived to be at the center of the building, illuminated by the stained windows on the spire, with congregation seated around it.

The congregation decided later that it be fixed adjacent to one of the walls. There was also some disagreement with regards to the interior paving. Craveiro Lopes had planned the paving to be made from white marble but the congregation decided on a brown-coloured tile.

Due to the conflicts, the architect broke his relations with the religious community after construction which he felt was a serious and negative adulteration of his work.

A close-up view of the exterior shows the sharp, angular characteristics of the pyramidal concrete structure. The stained windows extending from the top of the spire produce a red-orange glow on a sunny day, highly in contrast with the cold and sombre interior.

Aerial images of the church and the surrounding blocks provide some guidance of its scale. It was said that the project was initially to be built some 500 metres to the south near Parque Jose Cabral, ultimately being located in bairro of Sommerscheld. At the time of construction, the area was sparsely populated, with the bairro having begun its life only a decade earlier.

The church is some distance away from the road and not immediately noticeable due to the overgrowth of vegetation, not yet visible in this early image. Driving from the south you would follow either Av. Dr Egas Moniz or Rua de Nevala (Av. Nkruma).

From the neighbouring bairro of Polana, the church is seen in the distance. The vantage point appears to the be the sprawling campus of the Hospital Miguel Bombarda and the Faculty of Medicine of the Universidade de Lourenço Marques. Even further into the distance one can see the Bucellato building, likely owned by Bucellato & Sons, a wealthy immigrant family from Italy.

Sadly, Craveiro Lopes (left in photo) died in 1972 at the relatively young age of 51 of an undisclosed illness. He did not live to see the independence of Mozambique from Portugal although he would have followed the Liberation War in the 1960s.

o-marechal-craveiro-lopes-em-1961-em-visita-a-seu-filho-nuno-em-lourenc3a7o-marquesWhile his work in Mozambique was limited to only a handful of projects, he was quite visionary in his approach and rejected the powerful directives of the Salazar regime in Portugal which tried to control the colonies such as Mozambique and Angola in more ways than it needed to.

Prometheus Building Balcony

The Prometheus Building is an apartment block conceived by Pancho Guedes sitting on the boundary of the Polana and Sommerschield bairros of the city of Lourenço Marques. Construction began in 1951 and was completed by 1953. Although it bears many characteristics of Guedes’ particular style it is one of the lesser popular of his works as compared with Leão Que Ri or Dragon House.

It is a six storey building with the top-most floor reserved as a residence for domestic workers. In those years and as it is today, the African population would travel to the city for work and return to their homes on the outskirts at the end of the day. Guedes’ design allowed domestic workers to live in the same building and thus be closer to the homes to which they provided their services.

The bottom floor had been designed as a garage but after a few years of the building’s completion the owners decided to convert the spaces into shops much to Guedes’ dismay. During that process, additional walls were built which had the effect of obscuring the perceived floating effect of the building.

Guedes’ had relied heavily on the use of pilotis to raise the building above street level allowing for a cavernous and airy space below. Although he was not the first to do this, he was certainly a pioneer in Mozambique. Elsewhere around the world at the time, pilotis were being used by Le Corbusier for his Unite d’Habitation.

The building sits on the corner of Av. Antonio Enes (Nyerere) and Av. Massano de Amorim (Tung) and is placed further back on its own plot giving it a fairly open space in the front. Views from the compartments in the rear provide an unobstructed view of the other side of the bay known as Catembe in the south-east. Closer and on the east is the relatively large block of the Hotel Polana.

8571608118_5bedb6ab5b_oThe protruding structures on the sides of the buildings also referred to as “combs” serve only a decorative function. Guedes’ was known to have included strange animal-like features into his designs and was also inspired by Antoni Gaudi’s work as young man travelling through Barcelona.

8535069794_4d72845ef8_oA report by a South African architecture publication described the design elements of the building

This is an early use by Pancho of his signature “comb” feature. In this instance the fingers of the comb are square. In fact, no curves are employed in this design. The end faces are completely flat with the structural frame expressed. The front face is highly articulated. Strong shadows are formed by long horizontal deep recessed windows. The outer tips of the cantilever beams extend beyond the point of structural necessity and become façade elaborations.

The articulation of the facade becomes more obvious when the sun’s angle changes throughout the day. For instance, during the afternoon the sun’s rays project a strong light from a westerly direction causing shadow which highlight the three-dimensional mass of the building.

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There appears to have been a dramatic change in the building’s facade after Mozambique’s independence. This refers not only to the commercialization of the former garage level but also changes to the plastering and windows.

One cannot help but notice that a structure built in the mid-fifties had to have been inspired by the craze of the jet-engine era. In fact, Guedes did conceive of another private dwelling known as the “Aeroplane House” during this time not far from the Prometheus.

Returning to the Prometheus, Guedes had incorporated windows on the lateral facades of each of the apartments in an interesting wing-like shape. These are seen in the image below and serve to visually distinguish one floor from another. In images from later years, the windows have all been removed and sealed with blocks. The only plausible conclusion for such a change is that the windows, while certainly a novelty did not fair well against the elements. Water may have leaked through or the wood rotten from an accumulation of water on the sill.

8571646958_c66a7bbca5_oOnly time will tell how the building will look in the next few years. While Guedes passed away some years ago after living on a farm in South Africa, appreciation for his work continues to grow daily such as the Casa de Pancho Guedes co-work office as well as projects inspired by his work such as “Looking for Guedes”