Felix Candela Church - Concrete Structure

© Lola Alvarez Bravo, 1954

Completed in 1955, the “Iglesia de la Medalla Milagrosa,” or Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church, was designed by Felix Candela in a neighborhood of Mexico City surrounded primarily by low residential buildings. The monks who had commissioned the project favored a Gothic building and reportedly did not realize the design’s modern style until after construction had started.

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church Technical Information

Religious architecture is generally about buildings of only one floor and great height, whose function, very simply, is perfectly defined beforehand, and the structure is the predominant element of its composition.

– Felix Candela1

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church Photographs
Felix Candela Chapel - Street View

Street View

Felix Candela Church - Construction Photograph

Construction Photograph from the street

Interior of the church

Interior of the Church

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church - Columns detail

Columns detail

The construction of Milagrosa was completed in ten months. The Structure of the church is a combination of warped surfaces, all of them paraboloids with the usual thickness of 1 1/2 inches or less except for the small side chapel.  The church committee wanted a traditional design (Gothic style) and did not suspect they might be getting something else until the forms were up.

The plan is very unpretentious, and the only innovation made by the architect was the Structure. Candela was especially struck by the opportunity to design a church, because its single floor, great height, and particular function provided him with the chance to create “something transcendent.” The architect wanted to push the boundaries of reinforced concrete to its limits. In this respect, the church is genuinely Gothic.

The interior of Milagrosa is the most beautiful part of the church because Candela insisted that while the exterior of a church is primarily for inviting people in, the interior is the crucial expressive feature of the building.

It’s about attaining an expressive interior space, a surrounding sculpture that one admires from the inside. But this sculpture cannot be capricious and arbitrary, since one has to respond to the external laws of structural equilibrium.

– Felix Candela2

Candela used a similar construction procedure to his other structures for Milagrosa, including the use of inverted umbrellas as the foundation for his forms. However, the formwork for Milagrosa differs somewhat from that of Candela’s other shells. When hyperbolic paraboloids are designed with small warping, the form boards can provide adequate curvature so that straight boards can be used.

The peculiar quality of the church resided in the fact that it was a highly individualistic architectural statement, but one such as could never have been conceived or at least executed, by a contemporary architect, for it was first of all an engineering play of great sophistication. I never witnessed an indifferent reaction to it; its effect was such that almost overnight, as it seemed, Candela became known as the leading practitioner of shell design in the world.

– Colin Faber3

Felix Candela Church Plans
Axonometric View

Axonometric View | © Felix Candela

Floor Plan and Section

Floor Plan & Section | © Felix Candela

Transverse Section - Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church / Felix Candela

Transverse Section | © Felix Candela

Construction detail

Details | © Felix Candela


Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church Image Gallery
About Felix Candela

Felix Candela Outeriño (1910 – 1997) was a Spanish and Mexican architect who was born in Madrid. At the age of 26, he emigrated to Mexico, acquiring double nationality. He is known for his significant role in the development of Mexican architecture and structural engineering. Candela’s significant contribution to architecture was the development of thin shells made out of reinforced concrete, popularly known as cascarones.
Other works from Felix Candela  

  1. Candela, “Iglesia de la Virgen Milagrosa.”
  2. Candela, “Iglesia de la Virgen Milagrosa.”
  3. Candela / The Shell Builder by Colin Faber, 1963.