The Place – A Cistercian Monastery in Rakai, Southern Uganda, a stones throw from the shores of Lake Victoria.
The Brief – We asked by Studio FH Architects to help design four main courtyards within the extended Monastery, These needed to include the Cloister, the Church courtyard, the Noviciate Courtyard, and the Visitors courtyard.
The Design – The Architectural response (Studio FH Architects, Uganda) is bold, simple and dramatic and the lines of the landscape design seek to be humble and gentle in response.
Its a fascinating project which draws on the traditions of Cistercian Monastery Architecture of which simple exterior spaces and a particular skill in dealing with water are key.
As is apt to historical cistercian monasteries this site has a very high water table with it sitting only 1200mm below the surface. Our landscape design is driven by our response to water, either in designing large reflective pools, to mirror the facade of the Church or in purposefully designed stone drainage channels.
Our design of the main Cloister sees a simple open space with descending stairs which widen with each step, slowing down the mediative journey and which lead into the central green space. The key focal point to the design are simple walls which frame the central well.
The courtyard space in front of the impressive, 30 metre long, 12 metre high and 7 metre wide church is a large reflective pool which seeks to reflect the impressive facade, whilst also providing a calling to the large bodies of water which make up so much of Uganda’s iconic landscape. This water body also acts as a protective barrier between the very private lives of the monks and the public who occasionally come into the monastery.
The Noviciate and Visitor courtyards are much smaller but draw on interesting concepts.
The Noviciate is a largely hardscape space with fingers of flowers weaving into the local light grey granite paving. Traditionally a cloister courtyard was supposed to be viewed from the periphery, leaving nature alone to work her wonders within the central space. The light stone used in the cloister will discourage the monks using the space in the middle of the day when it will be too bright but very early and in the evening, when the light is more mediative, the space will cool and allow the monks to enjoy the space.
The Visitor’s courtyard draws directly from the quadrant traditional design of cloisters with simple drains dividing the space, between a simple grid of fruit trees.