Church of the Assumption Maraval, Port of Spain, Trinidad | Photograph: Courtesy Geoffrey MacLean October 2009
In 1948 Anthony C. Lewis was asked by the Catholic Archbishop to design a church for Maraval, Port of Spain.
Lewis wanted to design something really groundbreaking. The churches in Trinidad were all based on the cruciform plan, popular in Europe and America. These designs were not conducive to the West Indian climate and uncomfortable for the congregation. But he also wanted a design a building that would make his work stand out. Given complete control of the design, a rare priveledge for an architect, he refused to make any compromises. He felt that he had the freedom to create in a way that he had never experienced before.
He had visited the site prior to making his offer and already had several ideas in mind. The land was bordered by trees, with a pink poui tree dominating. It was an opportunity for Lewis to incorporate the theories and philosophies he had learnt from the work of Mies Van de Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright.
He used natural pink, blue and yellow sandstone from quarries in Trinidad to reflect the colours of the Poui. He designed with natural materials in mind, indigenous limestone and greenheart timber and with natural lighting. The Church of Assumption did not follow the traditional cruciform designs. During the construction, Father Connolly, the parish priest overseeing the project on behalf of the church, was heavily criticised for allowing a design that appeared more like an aeroplane hangar than a church. The criticisms were unfounded, however, as the resulting church is one of the finest examples of modern architecture in Trinidad.
Oscar Niemeyer, a famous Brazilian architect, came all the way to Trinidad to see the church. The sight of the revolutionary design brought tears to his eyes.
The Church of the Assumption is an essntial part of Trinidad and Tobago’s contemporary Architectural Heritage.