Francesco Dal Co
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture
San Giorgio Maggiore
The Holy See participates for the first time to the Architecture Biennale in Venice. The pavilion is based in the picturesque wood on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. It consists of 10 chapels and an exhibit on Gunnar Asplund’s 1920 Woodland Chapel.
Well-known architects from all over the world have been asked to design a chapel in line with Asplund’s definition as ‘a place of orientation, encounter and meditation, seemingly formed by chance or natural forces inside a vast forest’. In designing and constructing the chapels, particular attention is given to the possibility of reusing them after the exhibition, as well as to protecting and respecting the surrounding natural space. Each chapel contains two fundamental liturgical elements: the ambo (pulpit or lectern) and the altar. These are the expression of the Holy Word that is proclaimed and the Eucharistic Supper that is celebrated by the assembly of believers.
The selection of architects with different backgrounds stimulates a dialogue with the plurality of cultures and of society. The chapels have been designed by Andrew D. Berman (USA), Francesco Cellini (Italy), Javier Corvalán Espínola (Paraguay, a Ph.D. candidate at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia IUAV), Flores & Prats (Spain), Norman Foster (UK), Terunobu Fujimori (Japan), Sean Godsell (Australia), Carla Juaçaba (Brasil), Francesco Magnani and Traudy Pelzel (MAP Studio in Venice), Smiljan Radic Clarke (Chile, studied the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia IUAV) and Eduardo Souto de Moura (Portugal). Each architect cooperated with Italian construction companies to build the chapel.
The number of chapels is also symbolic as it expresses a sort of decalogue of presences fitted within the space. A visit to the ten Vatican Chapels is hence a pilgrimage that is not only religious but also secular. It is a path for all who wish to rediscover beauty, silence, the interior and transcendent voice, the human fraternity of being together in the assembly of people, and the loneliness of the woodland where one can experience the rustle of nature.
This first entrance of the Catholic Church to the Biennale Architettura occurs during the pontificate of Pope Francis. In the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – a sort of programmatic manifesto he authored at the beginning of his Petrine ministry (24 November 2013) – he wanted to renew a classic trajectory of Christianity, the so-called via pulchritudinis, that is, beauty as a religious path, aware of St. Augustine’s assertion that ‘we do not love, except what is beautiful’ (De Musica VI, 13, 38). Concretely, the pope exalted ‘the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new language of parables’.
“We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings, including those unconventional modes of beauty which may mean little to the evangelizers, yet prove particularly attractive for others”.
Francesco Dal Co is an Italian historian of architecture. He graduated in 1970 at the University Iuav of Venice, where he has been director of the Department of History of Architecture from 1994 until 2003. He has been Professor of History of Architecture at the Yale School of Architecture from 1982 to 1991 and professor of History of Architecture at the Accademia di Architettura of the Università della Svizzera Italiana from 1996 to 2005. From 1988 to 1991, he has been director of the Architectural Section at the Biennale di Venezia and curator of the architectural section in 1998. Since 1978, he has been curator of the architectural publications for publishing House Electa, and since 1996 editor of the architectural magazine Casabella. He is currently Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies of the National Gallery of Art, scholar at the Getty Center and member of the National Academy of San Luca.
Review by The Venice Insider
The pavilion of the Holy See is my favourite pavilion of this year’s Biennale, as you can read in ‘7 pavilions you cannot miss at the Architecture Biennale 2018’. I had very high expectations before visiting it, and these have certainly been met. I highly recommend to add it to your trip to Venice, even if you’re not visiting the Architecture Biennale. The access is free, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t visit it.
Coming from the vaporetto, the park is located on the other side of San Giorgio Maggiore. As soon as you reach the part with the chapels, you don’t know where to start. Everywhere you look, you notice a chapel popping up from between the trees. They all look very appealing so you have to discover them more closely. The 10 chapels vary from open metal constructions over half-open wooden chapels to totally closed pavilions. They are all totally different, so it’s hard to compare them. If I would have to choose, the wooden sanctuary of Norman Foster (in cooperation with Maeg and Tecno) would be my favourite. The sleek design seems to disappear in the forest and creates a magical atmosphere. The chapel with the exhibit on Gunnar Asplund’s Woodland Chapel (designed by MAP Studio and built by Alpi) is also stunning, especially the reflection of the light on the inside. Finally, the pure design of the open chapel of Carla Juaçaba (built by Secco) with steel beams which create a bench and a cross tempts to sit down and pray, meditate or just relax.
The Pavilion of the Holy See is a great promotion for the catholic church and their values of human fraternity of being together in a free space. I look forward to discover their participation to the next editions of the Biennale.
If you want to know more about the Architecture Biennale 2018 and the other national participations, you can read my post ‘What to expect from the Architecture Biennale 2018‘ or have a look at this overview page which links to all the articles related to the Biennale. If you want to be informed about new previews of national pavilions being added to the site, you can subscribe to The Venice Insider biweekly newsletter.
If you want to discover San Giorgio Maggiore after your visit to the Vatican Chapels, you can find some inspiration in my post ‘Why San Giorgio Maggiore is worth your visit’.
(Picture in banner: The chapel of Javier Corvalán Espínola)
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