Toronto-based firm Hariri Pontarini Architects has designed a Bahá’í Temple inspired by whirling Sufi dancers and Japanese bamboo baskets.
The temple is located just outside of Santiago, Chile, in the Andes Mountains.
The project has been in the making since the last fourteen years and was commissioned by the Bahá’í Community- a monotheistic religion that emphasises the spiritual unity of all humankind.
The Bahá’í Temple of South America is the last of the eight continental temples, with all temples briefed to embody “technological innovation and architectural excellence”.
“Nestled in the rolling topography of the mountains and surrounded by reflecting pools and a landscape of native grasses, this complex-curved temple of light acts as an invitation for spiritual contemplation and architectural pilgrimage,” said Hariri Pontarini Architects.
The brief requires the structure to be identifiable as a place of worship without featuring any specific religious iconography. The architects said this was a major challenge.
“The Bahá’í faith is built on the tenet of universality; therefore, the architectural challenge is to create a design that would be welcoming to people of all faiths and cultures,” they said.
The design team used various sources of inspiration, including whirling Sufi dancers- a branch of Islamic where worshipers spin as a form of meditation- as well as Japanese bamboo baskets and fragments of shattered glass.
The architects also named the “magic of dappled sunshine beneath a canopy of trees” as part of their inspiration as well.
The building is made up of nine identical, torqued wings with a light-filled interior space made for prayer and meditation, topped with a central oculus.
The wings are built using hundreds of steel members and nodal connections.
“Each of the wings rest on concrete rings and columns on elastomeric seismic isolators, so that in the event of an earthquake, the concrete pads slide horizontally to absorb the shock,” they architects said.
For the cladding, the team had conducted an “intensive investigation” of material qualities that capture and express light.
Cast-glass panels make up the exterior of the building that was developed exclusively for the project, with the team working for almost four years with Toronto-based artisans Jeff Goodman Studio.
“A remarkable 1,129 unique pieces of both flat and curved cast-glass pieces were produced and assembled with meticulous care to create each of the nine wings,” the team described.
Translucent marble is used for the interiors of the temple, while the building itself is filled with a variety of colours throughout the day, while giving off a golden glow in the evening time.
“Between dawn and dusk, the temple’s glass and marble become infused with the wide range of seasonal colours that dance across Santiago’s sky,” the team said. “The light that is filtered to the inside of the building shifts from white to silver to ochre, then blue to purple.”
“The aim was to achieve an interplay of seeming contradictions: stillness and movement, simplicity and complexity, intimacy and monumentality – a solid structure capable of dissolving in light,” the architects said.