Canadian Architect

Feature

RAIC Awards of Excellence: Innovation in Architecture Award

The Bahá’í Temple of South America is a domed structure set in the foothills of the Andes Mountains outside Santiago, Chile.

May 12, 2017
by Canadian Architect

The Temple’s translucent envelope emits a soft glow at night. Photo: Vanessa Guillen

The Temple’s translucent envelope emits a soft glow at night. Photo: Vanessa Guillen

Bahá’í Temple of South America
by Hariri Pontarini Architects

The Bahá’í Temple of South America, by Hariri Pontarini Architects of Toronto, is a domed structure set in the foothills of the Andes Mountains outside Santiago, Chile. Nine monumental veils frame an open worship space that expresses a faith of inclusion and accommodates up to 600 visitors. Surrounded by reflecting pools and a landscape of native grasses, the temple acts as an invitation for spiritual contemplation.

The realization of the architecture depended heavily on innovations in three primary areas: materials, technology and structure. The vision for the Temple began with the concept of light—to design a building that would allow light to move through its surface and structure. An intensive investigation into materials that capture, express, and embody light resulted in the development of two cladding materials: an interior layer of exceptionally translucent marble from the Portuguese Estremoz quarries, and an exterior layer of cast-glass panels developed exclusively for this project.

An intricate steel structure supports the outer skin of custom cast glass panels and interior skin of Portuguese marble slabs. Photo: Office of External Affairs - Templo Bahá’í

An intricate steel structure supports the outer skin of custom cast glass panels and interior skin of Portuguese marble slabs. Photo: Office of External Affairs – Templo Bahá’í

The research for the cast-glass exterior cladding took nearly four years, working in collaboration with artisans at Jeff Goodman Studio in Toron-to. By firing layered fragments of borosilicate glass rods in custom kilns, the designers obtained glass sheets imbued with subtle variations of trans-lucency, movement and colour. Flat pieces were CNC water-jet cut to the exact shapes defined in the computer model. For curved pieces, the cut shapes were reheated and slumped over digitally fabricated con-crete moulds to produce the exact curvatures required. 1,129 unique glass pieces were produced and assembled with meticulous care to create each of the nine wings.

On the inside, flat pieces of marble were water-jet cut while the curved pieces were extracted from blocks. Each wing of the nine-sided Temple contains over 870 unique pieces of marble. Final assembly for both cast glass and marble elements—including the installation of anchors, gas-kets, and aluminum frames—took place in Germany before the complet-ed pieces were shipped to Santiago.

A view looking up to the mezzanine level and central oculus. Photo: Guy Wenborne

A view looking up to the mezzanine level and central oculus. Photo: Guy Wenborne

Realizing the complex curves of the conceptual design required the studio to look beyond the traditional three-dimensional visualization software used by the architecture industry, towards modeling platforms geared to fabrication and manufacturing. Dassault’s parametric CATIA software, used at the time primarily by the automotive, aviation, and aerospace sectors, was selected for its ability to gracefully manage large amounts of geometric and informational data, and to transfer this information directly to fabrication machines. The CATIA model became the robust central data repository for the project as it progressed, combining information on its structural, mechanical, and electrical components, and all other constituent elements of the completed building.

The site, at the foothills of the Andes, is exposed to diverse weather conditions and located in a highly seismic zone. Consequently, the structural design of the Temple had to support the complex building shape and also be able to withstand extreme earthquakes, wind and weather. The superstructures of the wings comprise hundreds of unique, individually engineered slim-profile steel members and nodal connections. This superstructure forms a system of interior and exterior frames, stabilized by diagonal bracing members and shaped in accordance with the geometry of the cladding that they support. Each of the wings rests on concrete rings and columns on elastomeric seismic isolators, so that in the event of an earthquake, the concrete pads slide horizontally to absorb the shock.

An aerial view of the foundation, with rebar in process for the ground slab beams. Photo: Office of External Affairs - Templo Bahá’í

An aerial view of the foundation, with rebar in process for the ground slab beams. Photo: Office of External Affairs – Templo Bahá’í

Around the world, each of the Bahá’í continental temples serve as centres of worship as well as expressions of technological innovation and architectural excellence. The Temple is more than just a story of complex design, innovation, and construction: it is the embodiment of a community’s aspirations to create a place for gathering, contemplation, meditation, and prayer for future generations.


:: Jury ::

The project illustrates a complete complement of innovations in science, practice, and art to support a highly resolved architectural form. It demonstrates multiple zones of exploration and aspiration that transcend materials to sculpt a spiritual presence.

The assembly of an international and local team of suppliers, consult-ants and fabricators demonstrates how the profession is increasingly working in complex, globalized environments that demand a sophisticated use of evolving software, communication and fabrication software tools. The choice of the irregular spaceframe for the nine wings was developed using fabrication software that in turn informed the segmentation philosophy for the cladding systems. The delicate nature of the fine structural grid thoughtfully answers the risk of shadowing from the structure that could have competed with the project’s aspirations of translucency and lightness.

The successful resolution of a project of such extraordinary ambition establishes a legacy for future projects for the profession.