Don Bosco Church – We chose a contemporary model of church space that follows contemporary theological guidelines. Our inspiration is archetypical sacral spaces ranging from the antique Pantheon to the 20th century sacral buildings. The oval shape of the church is an interpretation of the sacral space of Rudolf Schwarz. He describes it as an “open circle”. A church shaped as an oval is a vessel, a tent, a cupola. The nave is the place for introverted contemplation therefore the only view out is towards the sky. Architecture always triggers an emotional response. Moreover, orchestrating that response is even more important in religious buildings. Instead of making a cryptic, abstract space, our goal was to create a space of direct physical experience.
Architizer chatted with Vlatka Ljubanovic from dans arhitekti to learn more about this project.
Architizer: What inspired the initial concept for your design?
Vlatka Ljubanovic: Light has always been a symbol of transcendence. The Pantheon, as the temple of all the Roman gods, has a circular opening that guides light into a space in which there is both light and darkness, light and shadow. Thus, in our design, we wanted to create a play of light as a light composition in time with a combination of diffused light in the nave and the living light of the round skylight. We added a gentle light in the niche behind the presbytery and behind the back choir. This concept builds on the flow of light that becomes visible when the sun’s rays coincide with the opening of the skylight. The tension between diffused and live light in the nave is the result of the natural movement of the sun. Thus, with a simple, but at the same time complex and precise design of light guidance, the church nave becomes a container of light, a container of transcendence.
What do you believe is the most unique or ‘standout’ component of the project?
The Salesians have been present in the city since the 1980’s and they wanted to build their parish centre ever since. The Salesian’s mission is to educate young people, especially children at risk and impoverished youth. In 2007 they organized an architectural competition where they invited several architectural offices. We won the competition and started to design their new parish centre immediately. The Don Bosco centre in Maribor is the most important public architectural building in the vicinity. It is located in a densely populated urban area, intersected by an arterial roads. The site is surrounded by noise and chaotic design, neither of which are particularity suitable for a sanctuary. We managed to design a separate world of contemplation amidst chaotic urban life.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?
When designing a religious space, the dimensions, the rules of what works and what does not, are different than one used in designing any other public space.
No matter if we are designing urban public spaces or facilities with focus on engineering and technology, large spaces with heavy flow of people or intimate ambiances we try to create different moods through use of nuances and careful details.
Depending on what kind of space you are creating, you have to design the right atmosphere. In order to achieve that, you always have to choose the right proportions, manipulate the space in the right way and introduce the right light.
How did the context of your project — environmental, social or cultural — influence your design?
The main social role of architecture should be responsibility. i.e. responsibility towards people, users, society. We create spaces and culture in which we live, work, feel and socialize with each other. We consciously explore the relationship between man and the built environment, we think about innovative ways of using space and at the same time start from archaic building principles, we take advantage of the opportunities that sustainable construction opens up and the possibilities of creating pleasant living spaces.
What drove the selection of materials used in the project?
The exposed construction of the roof is visible in the interior: the ceiling is an intertwined structure of laminated timber beams, and boards. The skylight has a different character: it is a perfect circle looking directly into the sky. Pristine non-decorated expression of the structure of the nave is accentuated by plasticity of softly shaped concrete. The church seats 300 people on wooden benches. The floor below is covered massive oak wood floor while 100 handmade clay lamps form the horizon above. Warm materials such as oak wood fittings and clay lamps create a feeling of safe haven for the church community. We also designed all the liturgical equipment, such as the altar, the ambo, the tabernacle, sedilia, benches and layout of the artworks. We worked with contrasts: the heaviness of the concrete, timber and terazzo against the mysticism of light and the clouds.
What is your favorite detail in the project and why?
The piece of furnishing, we are most proud of is tabernacle. The tabernacle is made of wood and treated with gold leaves in different textures. The tabernacle, which is transparent in parts, is attached to the concrete wall as floating in space. Upon opening the two side wings, the interior with the mysterious light source – the eternal light – is revealed.
On the wall of the presbytery, there is composition of statues consisting of Resurrected Christ, the angel with lyre and St. John Bosco with St. Dominic Savio. The statues are a gift from Switzerland, from the chapel of Don Bosco’s centre in Beromünster. To set them closer to the big scale of the nave, the sculptures are placed in three wooden boards as an optical correction. This intervention is homage to Carlo Scarpa, a venetian architect whom we appreciate very much.
Dans arhitekti: Rok Bogataj, Miha Dešman, Eva Fišer Berlot, Vlatka Ljubanović, Katarina Pirkmajer DešmanPhoto: Miran Kambič
For more on Don Bosco Church, please visit the in-depth project page on Architizer.