​Foster + Partners presents design for Vatican’s first foray into Venice Biennale

The UK firm is creating one of 10 temporary chapels on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

Photo source: fosterandpartners.com

There’s a new player at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale – Vatican City. The world’s smallest state will be represented by Pavilions of the Holy See, comprising 10 chapels designed by renowned architects. The temporary structures will be dotted around the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which lies east of the Guidecca and south of the main island group. Italian historian of architecture Francesco Dal Co is curating the submission.

British firm Foster + Partners – in collaboration with Tecno – will build one of the chapels and has recently unveiled blueprints for the design, which will be positioned in a quiet sylvan spot near the water at one end of the island. Made out of wood, the chapel will be an organic addition to the landscape offering shade to visitors.

“Our project started with the selection of the site,” founder and Executive Chairman Norman Foster said in a  press release. “We found a green space with two mature trees beautifully framing the view of the lagoon. It was like a small oasis in the big garden, perfect for contemplation. Our aim is to create a small sanctuary space diffused with dappled shade and removed from the normality of passers-by, focussed instead on the water and the sky beyond.”

Sketches show an elegant shell of latticed planks draped over three supporting crosses. Light floods in through the gaps creating a mesh of shadows inside the chapel, which hugs the curvature of the plot and meanders between the trees. The natural beauty of Venice is a key part of the project so the structure requires no destructive foundation – it fuses seamlessly with the surrounding area.

Photo source: fosterandpartners.com
Photo source: fosterandpartners.com
Photo source: fosterandpartners.com
Photo source: fosterandpartners.com

Each of the chapels will be collapsible so they can be deployed to parishes anywhere in the world. They are intended to symbolize the Ten Commandments and each contains two fundamental elements: a pulpit and an altar.

“A visit to the 10 Vatican Chapels, then, is a sort of 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 which is like a cosmic temple,” a Holy See  press release reads.

Before entering the chapels visitors will first set foot inside the Asplund Pavilion where there will be drawings of the late Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund’s Woodland Chapel. He built the space of worship inside Stockholm Cemetery in 1920. “With this small masterpiece he defined the chapel as a place of orientation, encounter and meditation, seemingly formed by chance or natural forces inside a vast forest,” the press release continues.

Each of the architects tasked with creating one of the buildings was encouraged to elaborate on the themes Asplund outlined in his chapel. The Pavilions of the Holy See will be on display from May 25 to November 25. 

Text: George Nelson