Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Photo Essay: Positive Tension - Jubilee Church by Richard Meier

The soaring concrete sails of Richard Meier's church in the Tor Tre Teste suburb of Rome: both monolithic and full of light ~ it seems to embody creative energy and cathartic power. 
Traversing the city of Rome, through poor neighbourhoods far from the splendour of the historic centre, Andreas Romagnoli shoot’s Richard Meier’s Dives in Misericordia (Mercy of God) church. Like an image from a neorealist film, the church appears floating on a field of travertine marble ringed by a tangle of hive-like apartment buildings and a green park, write Andreas Romagnoli & Jeanne-Marie Cilento

THIS urban Roman scene in Tor Tre Teste balances the formal purity of the church’s architecture with the chaos of the tenements that surround it. The building is both monolithic and full of light ~ it seems to embody creative energy and cathartic power. Meier has said from an early age, he was inspired by the light and form of the great Baroque Roman churches designed by Bernini and Borromini.

''The central ideas for creating a sacred space have to do with truth and authenticity,'' Meier said about designing the church, ''a search for clarity, peace, transparency, a yearning for tranquillity, a place to evoke other worldliness in a way that is uplifting. And to express spirituality, the architect has to think of the original material of architecture ~ space and light.'' Modernist in design, the church also harks back to the simplicity and strength of the Bauhaus with the tension between line, curve and surface.

Today, Richard Meier is famed for his white buildings bathed in light, and the interior of this church has soaring ceilings and skylights made of glass that run the entire length of the building, inspiring a meditative atmosphere conducive to prayer and thought. Standing between one of the building’s soaring sails with the blue sky above, there is a sense of continuation that creates a virtual bridge between the earth and the heavens. The central body of the church is made up of three large white concrete sails that swell as if blown by the wind and discreetly refer to the Trinity. According to the seasons, the play of light on the inner sails changes, creating a volatile texture of shadows across the different surfaces of the building.

Richard Meier is an unusual choice to build a parish church in an outer suburb of Rome. Famous for his Getty Centre in Los Angeles and later the 2006 Ara Pacis Museum in Rome, the architect was initially chosen by international competition in 1996. The Vatican wanted a new, modern and iconic building to serve as a symbol of renewal in a degraded urban context: to be called the Jubilee Church in celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity.

In 1995, the Archdiocese of Rome invited six leading architects to submit designs: Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Santiago Calatrava, Tadao Ando and Günter Behnisch, as well as Richard Meier. When Meier's design was chosen, he showed the model to the bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II. At the time of the consecration of the church in 2003 Meier said: ''When I think of a place of worship, I think of a place where one can sit and be reminded of all the things that are important outside our individual lives.''

The building's three sails sweep over a side chapel and half of the nave while a glass roof connects to a community building, a four-story atrium, living space for the parish priest, a community meeting room, classrooms and a tower with five vertically placed bells. The interior of the church combines sophistication and simplicity with the largest sail rising to nearly 27 metres above the nave. The materials are a subtle mix of golden wood walls and the pale travertine marble of the church's floor, altar and baptismal font.

Construction of the church was delayed for years by a shortage of funds and financial pressures led the archdiocese to seek donations of materials from builders and suppliers. Meier's design combines curvilinear and rectilinear shapes and also posed technical challenges. For engineers, the main hurdle was building the freestanding sails, which are designed to withstand heat, wind and earthquakes. Made of enormous blocks of precast white concrete, the sails were lifted into place by a massive steel machine that moved on rails. ''It took enormous effort to create what today looks so simple,'' Meier said.

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The central body of the church is made up of three large white concrete sails that swell as if blown by the wind and discreetly refer to the Trinity. Meier's design combines curvilinear and rectilinear shapes and posed many construction challenges. 

''When I think of a place of worship, I think of a place where one can sit and be reminded of all the things that are important outside our individual lives,'' Meier said. 

Like an image from a neorealist film, the church appears floating on a field of travertine marble ringed by a tangle of hive-like apartment buildings and a green park.


Made of enormous blocks of precast white concrete, the sails were lifted into place by a massive steel machine that moved on rails. ''It took enormous effort to create what today looks so simple,'' Mr. Meier said.







Modernist in design, the church also harks back to the simplicity and strength of the Bauhaus with the tension between line, curve and surface. 

According to the seasons, the play of light changes, creating a volatile texture of shadows across the different surfaces of the building. 



For engineers, the main hurdle was building the freestanding sails, which are designed to withstand heat, wind and earthquakes. 
Standing between one of the building’s soaring sails with the blue sky above, there is a sense of continuation that creates a virtual bridge between the earth and the heavens.

Today, the pure whiteness and perfection of the building is showing signs of wear and tear. Construction of the church was delayed for years by a shortage of funds and financial pressures led the archdiocese to seek donations of materials from builders and suppliers. 

The three sails sweep over a side chapel and half of the nave while a glass roof connects to a community building, a four-story atrium, living space for the parish priest, a community meeting room, classrooms and a tower with five vertically placed bells.  

The interior of the church combines sophistication and simplicity with the largest sail rising to 27 metres above the nave. The materials are a subtle mix of golden wood walls and the pale travertine marble of the church's floor, altar and baptismal font. Photograph courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects

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