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.
From 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 unexpected breakthroughs. Consistently, they maintained their focus on a vision of
a sacred building of “embodied light." Beyond its
translucent nature, the other characteristic of the temple is its
dynamic motion. It appears to be twisting around a central oculus in
the centre of the ceiling. Hariri spoke of their desire to create a
sense of "movement and stillness coexisting."
The 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.
The 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.
Hariri 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.