Bahá'ís of Ottawa come from a variety of backgrounds, brought together
by a common belief in the oneness of humanity and the unity of
religion. We work alongside others to become a force of positive
change, applying insights from the Bahá'í teachings to bring about a
more just, peaceful and unified community.
Hariri and the architecture of “Embodied Light”
The Bahá'í Temple in Santiago, Chile.
Ottawa, November 16, 2015
Canadian architect Siamak Hariri spoke to a packed lecture theatre at
the National Gallery of Canada about the creative process behind the
nearly completed Bahá'í Temple of South America. After a brief
introduction to the evolving philosophy of his Toronto firm, Hariri Pontarini Architects, he
shared some of the fascinating design challenges of this project.
Hariri's accessible presentation style captured the imagination of both
the professional architectural community and the members of the general
public who were present that night.
Bahá'í community has constructed a House of Worship or
mašriqul'aḏkār on every
continent except South America. The
Santiago temple will be the eighth
and final continental “mother temple.” The competitive process included
some unusual building specifications, such as a four hundred year
building mandate. The temple also needed to withstand considerable
seismic activity, since it sits on a major fault line running down the
Andes. Hariri's winning bid boldly proposed a temple of glass.
the beginning, their guiding vision for the project was a “temple
of light.” Hariri narrated the winding journey to the final design. A
recurring theme in his talk was Bahá’u’llah’s parable of the mystic
seeker and his troubled quest for his beloved Layli. Hariri described
many design deadends and failed experiments with materials. As with
the story of Layli, intractable problems gave way to
Consistently, they maintained their focus on a vision of
a sacred building of “embodied light."
translucent nature, the other characteristic of the temple is its
dynamic motion. It appears to be twisting around a central
the centre of the ceiling. Hariri spoke of their desire to create a
sense of "movement and stillness coexisting."
design team asked questions like “what would this building feel
like?” They imagined the irregular passage of light that one
experiences sitting under a canopy of trees. They strove to create a
sensation resembling the organic warmth of illuminated alabaster.
Discussing the textures and forms that inspired their design, Hariri
rarely mentioned other buildings. He referred to organic natural shapes
such as eggs, shells and wings. He studied non-architectural cultural
objects: Japanese baskets, billowing sails, canvas tents and the
whirling robes of Sufi dancers.
innovative building techniques required traditional physical models
and cuttingedge 3D rendering software. Their ideal building materials
had to be invented and factories were constructed to produce them for
construction. A steel lattice system of connector rods and irregular
nodes frame the nine wings. These rest on concrete seismic isolation
pads equipped with pendulums that permit each wing to move two feet
during an earthquake. The steel skeleton is clad with a translucent
skin made of three thousand square feet of custom shaped castglass
panels. Portuguese marble provided a warmer texture on the interior,
"like a jacket liner." The interior tracery, made of nickelplated
stainless steel and oak, was inspired by the abstract expressionist “white writing” paintings of Mark Tobey.
explained some fixed design elements found in all Bahá'í Houses
of Worship. They should be welcoming to all, even those with no faith.
Thus, Bahá'í temples have nine doors rather than one. They
are circular and don't resemble churches, mosques or other
forms of religious architecture.
This critically appraised design has
been under construction for several years and is scheduled to open in
2016. For more information and links to the official photo and video
logs of the construction process, click here.
Bahá'í Community Celebrates the Life of Bahá’u’lláh
On November 13,
over 700 Ottawa Bahá'ís and their friends gathered at the Hellenic
Centre on Prince of Wales Road to celebrate the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh.
Bahá'í Holy Days are special occasions for the community to join
together with music, food, prayers and friends.
“I love the atmosphere at Bahá'í events – creativity, joy, laughter,”
said Tamara Wong. “Everyone is welcome. Everyone is a new friend.”
The evening began with a musical meditation on cello and piano. A
program of prayers, readings and music, including a songs led by the
community choir, all helped those gathered to reflect on the
significance of the life of Bahá’u’lláh.
“It happens once a year, and you meet new people and old friends.
That’s the beautiful thing,” explained Noel Hollandais. “And it’s the
first time these anniversaries have been celebrated together,”
referring to the commemoration of the “twin holy birthdays” of
Bahá’u’lláh and the Bab. As the Ottawa community and their friends
gathered together, it was with the knowledge that communities all
around the globe were celebrating this special event with
“The most important thing for everyone is to feel part of a community,
” emphasized Amin Rashidi. Looking around the room, he noted both a
diversity and commonality that bound everyone together like a “glue,”
in his words. “We often lack this, not only a physical but a spiritual
community.” It was always nice to get together with friends, he said,
“but at these holy days there is such an immense amount of unity and
Of course, the peaceful unification of all the peoples of the world is
a central Bahá'í teaching. Perhaps translating this ideal into reality
is the most fitting way for the community to commemorate the life of
75th anniversary of the Ottawa Bahá'í Community
In June of 1940,
twenty-nine year old Winnifred Harvey arrived at the old Ottawa train
station after a long journey from Winnipeg, excited to join the
Canadian public service, which was growing quickly in response to the
needs of the Second World War. She carried with her a B.A. degree from
Brandon College, where she had graduated first in her class, and a
resume which included several years of teaching in rural schools and at
Winnipeg’s Dominion Business College. More importantly, she carried a
small book of writings of the Bahá'í Faith, which had been given to her
by Winnipeg’s first Bahá'í, Rowland Estall.
had belonged to an adult education group called the “Phoenix
Club,” which included Rowland Estall, one of the earliest Canadian
Bahá'ís. As a voracious reader, Winnifred was soon discussing Bahá'í
ideas with Rowland, and reading her way through his Bahá'í library. She
was very attracted to the Bahá'í Faith which to her was a beacon of
hope in the dark days of the Depression that ravaged the
Prairies. It also seemed to her to be absolutely
sensible. After reading all of Rowland’s books on the topic,
she then went to the library and tried to find evidence to refute
it. She could not. But before she could investigate
much further, she was hired by the federal public service, and left
Winnipeg for Ottawa with Rowland’s book and the contact information for
a group of Bahá'ís in Montreal.
summer Sunday, not long after her arrival in Ottawa, she took the
train to Montreal and had tea with a group of ladies she had never met
before. At first she saw them as just a group of older middle class
women, but then she realized they had something more and that their
belief was genuine. Winnifred felt that she had stumbled upon a
jewel. Impelled to act, she returned to Ottawa and wrote a
letter to the Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, at its
world headquarters in Haifa, Israel. In the years that followed, she
would always claim that she had been the hundredth Bahá'í in
She may have been
the first and only Bahá'í in Ottawa, but she did not
keep this jewel to herself. Within a year, she would be holding regular
discussion groups, called “firesides,” in her Ottawa home to tell
others of the Bahá'í Faith. Through her love for the Bahá'í Faith, she
attracted others to join her, and from those initial efforts today’s
Ottawa Bahá'í Community emerged. For the rest of her life, WInnifred
worked to support the development of the Bahá'í community at the local,
national and international levels. In 1970, she left the
Ottawa area to serve at the Bahá'í world headquarters in Haifa, Israel.
She died there In September 1990 was buried in the Bahá'í Cemetery in
five years after Winnifred Harvey brought the Bahá'í Faith to
Ottawa, there are now about 1200 Bahá'ís in Ottawa who further the
principles of their Faith by promoting the social and spiritual
advancement of their neighbourhoods and communities. “Back in 1940,
when she first arrived in Ottawa, Winnifred knew that she was at the
beginning of a great adventure, and wanted to make a difference in a
world that had been devastated war and economic depression “ said her
niece Heather Harvey, a member of the Ottawa Bahá'í Community.
“Winnifred never married and had no children, but everywhere I go, I
meet people that she inspired and encouraged. She never
doubted that the Bahá'í Faith was the answer to the ills of the world,
and therefore worked tirelessly to ensure its growth. She
loved young people and would be so happy to see the work of Bahá'í
youth to transform their neighbourhoods into beacons of unity and