Baha’i Temple of South America
Hariri Pontarini Architects
Benkal y Larrain Arquitectos (Local Architect) Gartner Steel and Glass GmbH (Superstructure and Cladding)
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Chile
Hariri Pontarini Architects
The Bahá’í Temple of South America uses light for its spiritual and design inspiration. Set within the foothills of the Andes bordering the metropolis of Santiago, Chile, it represents the last of eight continental temples commissioned by the Bahá’í Community. The architectural challenge was to create a design that would be welcoming to people of all faiths and cultures. Inspiration was drawn from a myriad of sources; the magic of dappled sunshine beneath a canopy of trees, the interwoven strands of Japanese bamboo baskets, and the fragmentation of shattered glass. The design was developed through hand sketches, physical models and digital technology. The aim was to achieve an interplay of contradictions: stillness and movement, simplicity and complexity, intimacy and monumentality; a solid structure capable of dissolving in light. An investigation into material qualities that embody light resulted in the development of two cladding materials: translucent marble from the Portuguese Estremoz quarries for the interior layer, and cast-glass panels for the exterior. A remarkable 1129 unique pieces of both flat and curved cast-glass pieces were developed, produced and assembled to create each of the nine identical, gracefully torqued wings. The super structure is comprised of hundreds of individually engineered steel members and nodal connections. Between dawn and dusk the Temple becomes infused with the wide range of seasonal colours that dance across Santiago’s sky. At night, the materials allow for an inversion of light, whereby the Temple, lit from within, casts a soft glow against the Andean mountains.
In 2003 the Bahá’í international community embarked on a journey to realize the eighth and final continental Temple in Santiago, Chile. The design brief was deceptively simple: a nine-sided, one-room structure welcoming people from all sides. The architectural challenge was considerably more complex: to create a sacred structure for prayer, designed to serve the needs of humanity, bringing together science and religion, worship and service, and antiquity and timelessness with modernity. The Temple needed to express the fundamental Bahá’í concept of the oneness of spiritual truth, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of humanity. Absent of clergy, pulpits, and iconography, the space would invite worship without intermediaries or idols. A new expression of worship looking for a new expression in form. To achieve this aspiration, the team was inspired by experiential phenomena: the magic of dappled sunshine beneath a canopy of trees; the swirling skirt of a Sufi dancer; and the abstract, yet powerfully structured paintings of Mark Tobey. The interplay of seeming contradictions—stillness and movement, simplicity and complexity, intimacy and monumentality—culminated in a solid structure capable of dissolving in light. Hand sketches and physical model making were paired with burgeoning digital design techniques and technologies, including 3-D printing and Maya modelling software, to explore and articulate new forms and complexities, allowing the team to illustrate their intentions.
The Bahá’í Temple of South America was presented to the public in October of 2016. It was a journey spanning 14 years, resulting from countless hours of dedication from a global team which included hundreds of Bahá’í volunteers. This achievement was celebrated with a series of events and a three-day dedication ceremony in Santiago, Chile, attended by people from around the world and the international Bahá’í community. Visited by tens of thousands in the first month after opening its doors to the public, and welcoming as many as 36,000 visitors each weekend, it is as much for those of the Bahá’í Faith, as those of any other Faith, or no Faith at all. Without ritual, clergy, icons, or images, the Temple reflects an ideal of universal worship, for all to worship in their own way. Some sit and meditate, others are lost in quiet contemplation, some stare upwards in awe, and still others sing out in praise. The Temple comes alive with prayer. Built to last 400 years, there is a hope that the Temple will continue to draw humanity closer to the quest for personal and collective perfection, betterment, refinement, reliance, and a longing for togetherness and unity. Stone, glass, wood, and steel become spiritual, and the measurable becomes immeasurable.