Client: Asamblea Espiritual Nacional de los Bahá'ís de Chile

Architecture: HPA - Hariri Pontarini Architects Toronto – Siamak Hariri, Doron Meinhard, Justin Ford

Landscape architecture: Juan Grimm

Lighting design: Limarí Lighting Design – Pascal Chautard, Francisca Nicoletti, Carolina Roese, Raúl Osses, Magdalena Roa, Cristina Fahrenkrog

24. May 2018

Newly built Bahá’í House of Worship in Santiago de Chile/CL.

Text: Jo-Eike Vormittag
Photos: Aryeh Kornfeld, Justin Ford

The Bahá’í Faith is a religion that teaches and preaches the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all peoples. One key principle of the faith is that so-called Houses of Worship should be built to be as perfect as possible. The founders of the religion stipulated that the buildings should be made as quintessential as the world in which we exist allows. When realising new places of worship today, modern-day Bahá’ís set their goals correspondingly high. There are actually only eight such buildings in the whole world. The latest one is located in South America outside the City of Santiago de Chile.

The question is: how do the Bahá’ís ensure the above religious principle is implemented in this day and age, and what role does lighting design play in the process?

In his entitled “Book of Certitude”, Bahá’u’lláh explains in more detail: “…and decorate them (the places of workshop, editor’s note) with what they are due, but not with paintings and sculptures. And celebrate within them (…) and praise the Lord, (…), His memory (…) fills our hearts with light”.

Not the only reference to light in the context of this particular religion. Followers of the Bahá’í Faith believe in the unity of all peoples, and that light paves the way to achieving this sense of unity. Perhaps, when it comes to architecture, this doctrine is also the ideal basis for good lighting design for their sacred buildings.

Let us take a closer look at the impressive new building in Chile. It is the most modern of its kind by far, and yet radiates a certain traditional quality. In general, Houses of Worship have a circular ground plan, nine entrances designed to symbolically serve the followers of the world religions as a means of access, and feature a dome of light as a link to the heavens. In accordance with the faith, irrespective of the presence of a priest, members of the clergy, or a divine service, these are places where people come to meditate and pray. They are basically accessible to all people. This served the architects as a basic design principle, given that the new building, unlike a mosque, a church or a synagogue, was to demonstrate tolerance, be open on all sides, and communicate the message of being all-inclusive and transparent.

At first sight the structure looks like a flower about to blossom. This does not mean to say that it features the colourful splendour that is typical of flowers – the form of the building per se and the fascinating lighting effects it radiates are sufficient. The facade comprises nine huge curved petals with tall clear glazed openings integrated between. The petal-shaped facade elements and the tall windows rise up from the broad, circular ground plan, converging at the top of the roof to form a small oculus. The temple building is located on the foothills of the Andes, like a blossom leaning towards the sun; as is the case with the original in nature, soft sunlight seeps through the petals, revealing new structures in the core. The structure has an earthquake-proof framework of steel and is covered in translucent white marble on the inside and cast glass cladding on the exterior. Both materials, given the way they are overlapped in layers, and thanks to their translucent qualities, reveal patterns of finely traced veins across their surfaces.

Viewed from the outside, the temple has an impressive and highly appealing aura, the light underscoring the transparent quality of the temple structure and the materials it is made of, turning it into a light-emitting architectural creation. This is further supported by the lighting effects inside the building. During the day the building receives dynamic daylighting via the central oculus and the nine vertical windows between the petals, as well as diffuse light through the translucent petals themselves. The artificial lighting is purposefully designed to generate a warm, monastic and intimate ambience that lends itself to meditation and prayer. The interior lighting received special attention. It was required to further enhance the architectural forms and the materials applied without adding new elements that might disturb the architects’ intention. The main interior lighting effect is realised through indirect light, using very compact spotlights featuring elliptical light distribution mounted behind the pews at mezzanine level. The light grazes the furnishings and the marble petals and highlights their complex shape and materiality. Wood, marble, bronze and glass are discreetly highlighted and help distribute light throughout the space.

There are only two “visible” luminaires that were custom designed for the temple project: slimline pendant luminaires suspended from the marble petals to illuminate the pews and the circulation space; and on the ground floor, free-standing luminaires positioned along the pews in candle-like fashion to complement the ambient lighting and restore human scale in the 30-metre high building. A lighting control system enables the artificial lighting to be adjusted and different atmospheres to be created, as required.

The design of the Bahá’í Temple in Chile gives rise to effects that are generated by both exterior and interior architectural and lighting design aspects. As a consequence, the atmosphere of the overall location can be seen and felt both inside and out, and this is ideal for spiritual, meditative and prayer activities. To those standing or sitting beneath the huge dome, it becomes an enlightened canopy that represents the heavens. At night the building glows softly in the dark.

The architecture is completely in line with the Bahá’ís endeavours to apply high-grade materials and state-of-the-art technologies to create unique and sustainable buildings. The estimated lifespan of the project in Santiago de Chile is 400 years. Fortunately, light played a key role in the project: the effect of daylight gained through the creative use of marble and glass will remain – similar to religious beliefs – forever, as long as the sun shines and lightens our days. Whereas artificial light is transitory.

In the same way as the structure itself literally and symbolically attracts people to come nearer and become involved, the design path the lighting designers followed also commenced on the outside and worked its way inside the building: lighting designer Pascal Chautard and his team were initially concerned with the landscape lighting in the immediate surroundings. After they had been working on the project for some time, the architect responsible commissioned them to also design the lighting for the temple per se. The concept was developed in close collaboration with the team of architects, because they had a basic idea of what they wanted the temple to look like after dark – it was to appear as a “body of light”.

On this basis, and with the aid of the architects’ renderings, the lighting designers set about generating the desired “glow effect”. After analysing the context and the architects’ wishes and intentions, they then designed the interior lighting, opting for a monastic lighting concept that would underscore the ambient quality of the space.


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