Experiments in Sacral Structures: Chapels for the Vatican in Venice
The Vatican celebrates its premiere at the Architecture Biennale in Venice with an impressive small-scale building exhibition. Curator Francsesco dal Co invited ten architects from around the world to reinterpret Gunnar Asplund's chapel built in 1920 at the Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm. The site of the display is the park on the monastery island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which has been owned by Fondazione Cini since the 1950s.
Apart from a few recurring elements such as altar, cross and benches, the architects were given free rein with the chapels — and their designs vary accordingly. The two extreme positions are occupied by Terunobu Fujimori from Japan and Carla Juaçaba from Brazil. Fujimori's gabled roof house, with scorched wood cladding and a narthex made of roughly hewn pine trunks, makes relatively direct references to Asplund. The wooden altar cross is an integral part of its supporting structure.
Meanwhile, Juaçaba's chapel is made from just two large stainless steel crosses – one standing, one lying on the ground and intended as a bench. Heavy, introverted and outwardly inconspicuous, Eduardo Souto de Moura's prayer room roof is made of massive slabls of Veronese limestone. Norman Foster's building, on the other hand, radiates lightness and openness with its steel supports and »rigging« made of wooden laths. Chilean architect Smiljan Radic combined anthracite-coloured precast concrete elements and a roof made from a frameless glass plate into a round, light-filled building. The concrete walls received their unique surface from blister foil that was pressed into the concrete formwork.
Sean Godsell from Australia contributed the most unconventional and perhaps most contemporary design, with a steel tower whose four sides can be folded up at the bottom like up-and-over doors. The chapel is designed for frequent changes of location – reflecting the long-time apostolic mission of the Jesuits, who ran the school that Godsell visited as a child.