Thursday, October 15, 2015

Kiva Chapel of Light: A New Celebration of Life Space in Santa Fe @archaeoarchitec @ChavezConcrete @SantaFeTrend

Brought to you by Rivera Family Funeral Home
Constructed: 2015

When I asked my husband if we should buy the Sunday paper as we were driving from breakfast in Santa Fe towards the Ski Valley to see the gorgeous fall colors, I had no idea that inside I would find some fabulous architectural inspiration. That inspiration came in the form of an invitation to the public to come to the opening of the new Rivera Kiva Chapel of Light, at 417 Rodeo Road, which has its multi-denominational grand opening this coming Sunday, October 18 from 2-4PM. The photos of the space from the invite had me entirely engrossed… and curious.

Kiva Chapel oculus and lighting
I am going to be out of town presenting and attending the Natural Building Colloquium in Kingston, New Mexico starting Friday this week, and I decided to contact the funeral home to see if I could come get a sneak peek of the space before I leave. Tim, the owner of Rivera, answered my email personally, inviting me down to a preview of the space. He mentioned in passing that the architect Jon Dick of Archaeo Architects was going to be there when I popped by. That’s when I KNEW I wanted to see the space. When I moved to New Mexico eight years ago, Archaeo Architects was the firm I wanted to work for. I didn’t apply however, because it was right before the crash, things were already looking bleak, and I was ready to reinvent myself.

Flower of Light at Oculu
This afternoon, I found myself walking into the space with Tim. He isn’t what I expected. He has to be one of the most interesting and engaged project owners I have ever met. He is kind, present, and amazingly thoughtful. He described the building in an almost poetic way, effusing the love of every detail an owner feels when their dream is truly realized. So here’s a bit of what he had to share about the space...


The building is intended to feel very much like a kiva – built into the earth, with a bermed feel that is reinforced by the 7 foot thick walls and an arched opening reminiscent of old-time buttresses and horno ovens. The splayed or angled walls are bathed in colorful light that emulates sunrise and sunset , and naturally guide your eyes up to a point of natural light at the apex of the dome’s oculus that is encircled with the flower of life. The flower of life motif also repeats on the custom carpet which sits atop a gorgeous and “bulletproof” (ultra-durable) terrazzo floor.

Kiva Chapel

The sacred and very modern spiritual space is round, intentionally, so that is totally distinct from any sense of chapel feel. This seems to be a perfect answer for a funeral home and life center that has no cultural or religious affiliation, and is the first funeral home to be built in Santa Fe since the 1950’s. In fact, as Tim pointed out, the Rivera cemetery is the only place in Santa Fe where you can be buried if you are neither Catholic nor a veteran. As such, he was careful to design a space that worked for humanists and others who are not spiritually affiliated, as well as Buddhists, Jews, Christians, native spiritualists, and others.  Hence both the circular form, as well as the flower of life motif, both of which are shared by almost all of the world’s faith traditions. 

Family Room

Another room off to the side has a beautifully lit space with tall multi-colored glass windows and waterfall features so that those people whose faithpaths require that they remain with the body for three days can have privacy as the tend to their loved one’s spiritual needs, while also keeping the body in a safe and climate-controlled environment. Whatever a family needs, a family can have in this sensitively-designed space.

There are no windows, excepting three very special ones in the round space. That was because, as Tim put it, it’s supposed to be like a morada – the focus of the space is not on distractions, but on having those life-altering moments when time moves very slowly… and being fully present with the feelings. The only decorations in the Kiva Chapel are the natural and LED lighting… as well as a gorgeous eight foot tall arched window wall with beautiful glass pocket doors, and two small glazed openings and counter-openings much like those at Chaco Canyon’s great kiva, which mark the passing of time at the Winter and Summer Equinoxes. Eventually the ossuaries for ash storage, which were not completed today, will have beautifully detailed maps of the constellations on them. These amazing place-loving details are what made me want to work with Jon in the first place. For me, Jon “put a ring on it” with an 800 pound golden onyx water fountain in the center of the space. The entire place just oozes connection to the elements… and awe.

The inner and outer spaces are built on principles of sacred geometry (which I hope to sit down with Jon and talk about so I can add to this piece later), and have entrance doors which open into the four cardinal directions, in keeping with some faith paths. There are no pews, but a family can have the home bring in as many chairs as the space will hold, which looks to be at least a hundred. When I was standing in the space talking to Ashley Hartshorn, my pal from work, we both thought the space would be amazing for weddings. Tim told us that the space was for ANY life event, and said that there are already Buddhist ceremonies being planned for the space, as well as loss conferences, and even weddings.

As we were leaving, Tim mentioned that in the Hispanic tradition, they call cemeteries camposantos, or “sacred ground”. He said that he felt like it was his job to be the guardian of our loved ones, and of their memories. This project, eight years in the making, and lovingly designed by one of New Mexico's foremost designers, surely will help him to accomplish that. 

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