Hariri Pontarini Architects’ Bahá’í Temple of South America is utterly worthy of the praise it has received since it was completed last year, and the accolades continue to roll in — the project recently won the Popular Vote in the Cultural-Religious Buildings & Memorials category of the 2017 Architizer A+Awards!
The Toronto-based studio behind the design, led by Siamak Hariri and David Pontarini, created a radiating religious building set in the foothills of the Andes Mountains overlooking the city of Santiago, Chile.
This week, Siamak Hariri’s TED Talk on the award-winning Bahá’í Temple of South America was published online. His poignant lecture, titled “How do you build a sacred space?,” gives design enthusiasts a glimpse into how this ethereal piece of architecture was conceived.
According to the architect, the design draws inspiration from a multitude of unique sources: the organic shape of woven Japanese bamboo baskets, the fragmentation of shattered glass and the dappled sunshine that filters through a canopy of trees. Aiming to build a temple that emanated light and spirituality to the world, the architects envisioned a dome-like structure with two layers of translucent marble and cast-glass panels that twist upward toward a single, circular skylight. Slender slits between each panel filter in daylight and form a nine-pointed star that tracks the sun.
The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion that is established on the unity of God, of religion and of humanity. Based on Bahá’í teachings, God is known by the spiritual virtues of kindness, love, truthfulness, unity and justice. It was founded by Bahá’u’lláh in 19th century Persia and has since spread in over 200 countries around the world with an estimated 5 million followers.
To accommodate their large following, the Bahá’í community has constructed nine continental temples, with the South American temple by Hariri Pontarini the last of these major houses of worship to be completed. Their design was chosen out of 180 submissions after an open call in 2003.
Bahá’í temples are classically constructed without room for a pulpit, as there are no clergy in the faith. Strictly centers for worship — one of the most famous being the Lotus Temple in New Dehli — they attract both locals, visitors and tourists alike. With such a large call-to-action, Hariri said they sought to uncover how to design sacred space in today’s secular world while simultaneously defining what is sacred in modern society.
The Bahá’í Temple of South America is uniquely different from its counterparts. Constructed in two cladding materials — the interior layer a diaphanous marble from the Portuguese Estremoz quarries and the exterior featuring cast-glass panels — the design revolves around 9 torqued wings that embody light. The symmetrical shape also creates nine sides and entrances into the temple. Its exterior colors evolve in response to the changing light of the day.
At the beginning of this talk, Hariri quotes a passage from the Bahá’í writings that notes the importance of prayer in the faith. The words, “… all the pillars of the dwelling are ashine with His light,” moved the architects to create a space as an answer to that prayer.
“Here it is,” he said, showing a glowing image of the temple at dusk, "open in all directions, capturing the blue light of dawn, tent-like white light of day, the gold light of the afternoon, and of course, at night, the reversal: sensuous, catching the light in all kinds of mysterious ways.”
An opening ceremony for the site last summer attracted over 5,000 people from over 80 countries. To cater to the Bahá'í's growing population, it was announced in 2012 that the community would begin constructing national and local temples starting in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Papua New Guinea.
Images via Hariri Pontarini Architects