_Church in Urubo_

Motivated by her faith and the wish to put her architectural training to the use of underprivileged communities, Jae Cha began her career with this modest church in Urubo, in the outskirts of the Bolivian city Santa Cruz. Modest in size and budget, but definitely not in spirit. It earned Cha the Architectural Review Emerging Talent Award (joint winner 2001).

Cha observes that: “Well planned public spaces that meet the needs of a community are often overlooked as potential means to fight poverty. Charitable contributions may reduce need, but ending poverty requires developing sustainable methods and encouraging a web of community interaction … We emphasize independence, rather than dependence, by seeking to create public spaces that offer direct paths to community empowerment and vitality.”


The small church, with an area of 113 square meters, is made with simple materials and techniques: local wood and translucent polycarbonate sheets which are inexpensive and readily available materials. The design took 8 months to be completed, and the church was built in only ten days by congregation members, local skilled workers, and volunteers from the United States. The structure can also function as daycare center, vaccination center, or public market.

The plan consists of no more than two concentrical circles, forming an outer circulation corridor and the inner congregation space with a capacity for 150 people. The circular plan is equally open to all sides, allowing anyone, “regardless of their background, lifestyle, or attitudes, to observe or participate freely in worship. The open plan allowed for people to sit on individual stools and move about as they wished, unlike the prescribed, fixed way dictated by pews in conventional church design.” Jae Cha in an interview for the ACA (Association for Christians in Architecture, of which Cha is a member).


The most striking feature of the design are the translucent panels. The positioning was partly decided on site in order to work with the natural light, creating light and shadow patterns which change throughout the day, and the seasons of the year.


Describing her goals and aspirations, Cha says that she is “interested in designs that are ‘simple’. But, simplicity does not mean it is necessarily simplistic. Simplicity often requires complex issues to be resolved efficiently, and this is not an easy task. I became interested in this area of design because of my work in developing countries. Limited resources in those countries, forces the architecture to become simple and basic in order to service functional needs. The question for my designs revolved around trying to design buildings that are simple, but not simplistic. How do I maximize the minimum resources that I have? ”

About Jae Cha: B. Arch., Wellesley College and M. Arch.,Yale University, established LIGHT in Washington, D.C., in 2000 and in 2001 was the winner of the AR+D Emerging International Architecture Award for her church in Urubo, Bolivia. She was a finalist for the Borromini Award for Young Architects in 2001 and winner of distinction for the AR+D of Emerging International Architecture Award for her Community Center in Marcovia, Honduras. In 2003 she received the Editor’s Choice Award from the Architectural Review for her church in Filadelfia, Costa Rica. Jae Cha has lectured around the world and her community projects have been published internationally. She is Assistant Professor at Judson University in the USA.

All photographs: Daniel Lama