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La Cathédrale Engloutie 
Route towards the Church 

Jiayun Xu, Sixing Huang, Haoyang Guo

Set up in the Netherlands, nnm+ architects is a group of young architects who pursue reason and nuance. We are engaged in architecture, landscape, interior and renovation, trying to explore the relationship between site, space and material details through the observation of surrounding and everyday practice. Opening the "door" you see the outside world, and/or explore the space inside. We hope to use design as a way to open the door of life, discover more interesting things, and create some beautiful details.


instagram: @nnmplus



Winner Sau


Considering the current environmental crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic that we are experiencing globally, it is important that we use our expertise as designers to create considerate and thoughtful sustainable architecture that feeds and nourishes both the earth and us as people. With this in mind, we are asking for applicants to design a piece of vernacular architecture that will be environmentally conscious with a minimal carbon footprint. It should set an example for how architecture can work with the surrounding landscape and benefit areas such as this protected natural park.


The idea is to provide an architectural beacon for the area that will attract short stay visitors and act as a gathering point. The building should also provide a space for meditation and reflection for visitors and the local community to come and step out of their everyday troubles, with a close connection to the surrounding nature and scenery.


El Pantà de Sau is one of the most prominent features of its kind across the whole of Spain and home to the oldest underwater church in the world.


The valley in which it lies was home to the small village of Sant Romà de Sau which is now submerged beneath the reservoir, apart from the Church steeple, which is still visible when the water level is low. The reservoir is one of many that provides water for Catalonia’s Capital city, Barcelona and is therefore of huge importance to the area.


The reservoir sits within Les Guilleries national park, a protected area spread across 8,300 hectares of the pre-Pyrenees within central Catalonia. Its mountainous landscape is made up of tree topped undulating mountains and dramatic sheer cliff edges. Steeped in nature, activities and rich history, the area has become a haven for the people of Catalonia and visitors to the region.


La Cathédrale Engloutie 
Route towards the Church 

We can only imagine the possible improper satisfaction of the authority when the little sacrifice of the Sant Romà de Sau, a remote historical town sitting among the mountains, whose remains now underneath the water, nowadays gradually turns into a tourist spot. It is chosen to be flooded for an infrastructure project to supply water for the cities of the grandiose Barcelona. The contemporary heavily social-media dependent tourism asks for great angles for photo taking, and who would say that the tower of a well-aged church above the water surface would not make a great scene. 

Despite the stunning view, our attitude remains that this is a beautiful scar. People do understand in the great course of development, sacrifices are sometimes necessary.  But the negligence and justification with the tool of entertainment can be more tragic than the sacrifice itself. We want the scar to remain a scar, to retrieve the historical meaning of the site with the colour of repentance and reflection. The retrieval is made possible by creating a narrative with a few elements. 

Viewing from above, we see two straight lines. One extending from the woods on the existing path from the parking lot, the other points directly to the tower of the old church. As the reservoir has become increasingly more fun based, our purpose is to construct a direct and undisturbed route from the parking lot to the scene of the church, creating a series of scenes on the way. 

Scene 1: the wall 
The journey begins at the parking lot. After parking, visitors walk through a small woods to see a long wall beside the path. Carved on it would be the whole history of Sant Romà de Sau, a thousand years of it. Visitors follow the history on the wall and eventually find themselves in front of a door where the whole story ends: right before the decision of building the dam. 

Scene 2: the path 
Behind the door is a straight path. Visitors carry on their journey by going past the door toward the “tomb stone”: a thirty meters tall rectangle that stands at the end of the path. The road is carved into the ground, leading the visitors directly to the entrance. 

Scene 3: the entrance 
At the end of the path is the stairs leading to the door. As the ground floor of the watch tower is beneath the water, it is designed that visitors will stare at the scene beneath the water while entering. We want to create an image of suffocation by leading people under the water. 

Scene 4: the stairs

After entering the door, the visitors will be surprised to find out that the “tomb stone” is actually a triangular building with an opening pointing at the old church. They will start climbing up while this connection becomes increasingly clear. This journey from the bottom of the water to the skylight above is a repentant journey for them to experience what’s been buried underneath.

Scene 5: the deck 
Guilty is not the feeling we are looking for. Reflection is far more subtle and sincere. After climbing to the top, visitors will have a view over the reservoir, the tip of the tower and the other buildings on the other side of the water. Right above them is a pyramid symbolising the reversed roof of the church tower. People are welcomed to stay here for a little while to rest and to think. 
The trouble of constructing such a building is that it usually requires more solemn materials like concrete. But as is known, concrete can unleash tons of greenhouse gas during construction. The challenge is to use a material that is both environmental friendly and solemn. Our solution is to use the carbonised surface wood. The wood boards are smoked by fire, creating a deep dark surface that would suit the atmosphere we are looking for. It is also a rot-resisting and water-proof material.

Architectural Competitions Winner
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Lakeside Walk
A vernacular beacon in Panta de Sau

by Selin Loss, Seungdo Choi & Mathilde Seiller

"We are three students currently in our master’s degree in ENSAAMA, a Parisian university where we are studying space design and architecture. Each of us has a unique background and culture that enabled us to work together and gather as many ideas as possible in our projects. We enjoy working on subjects that matter to us and that we think are important for the future, such as vernacular and sustainable architecture, as well as rehabilitations and protecting our historical and natural heritage. 

You can find our other projects as well as information on our Masters projects at @dsaa_espace_ensaama"


instagram: @dsaa_espace_ensaama




The 5 schemes below have been selected by the judges as the runners-up in this competition.

They demonstrate a clearly considered, exceptional design in line with the requirements of the brief while embracing this extraordinary site and the iconic church steeple of Sant Romà de Sau