Friday, October 8, 2010



"First God made heaven and earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness"

Gen. 1, 1-4. Gen. 1, 1-4.

And with this first material, the most eternal and universal of all materials, so important to Christianity and to other religions, is that Tadao Ando gives shape to his Church of Light (1989).

Located in a hidden corner, in a quiet residential suburb in Ibaraki, Osaka, this small complex comprises two modest buildings, arranged at an angle, oriented according to the urban pattern of the neighborhood.

See location on Google Maps.

3D image by Carlos Zeballos

The access to the compound was made intentionally indirect, unlike many churches in the West. Visitors are forced to enter the complex at the northeast corner through a side street via a forecourt that leads to a corner of the church near the minister's house, arriving to an area located in the back of the church. From there one enters to a tiny little square, which houses a circular bench. Through This space organizes the accesses to the main church and adjacent chapel.

As noted by Philip Drew, in Zen art "beauty is to highlight the epiphany of the shapeless, absolute void that is God." Thus, the void is equivalent to infinity and vice versa. Therefore, Ando's architecture represents this void as a kind of divine fullness, and the imperfect finishes reflect the spirit of the Japanese wabi sabi .

Based on very simple elements like rectangular boxes and intersecting planes, Ando modelled the churches using light and space. The main church, is a 6 x 6 x 18 m box, laterally crossed by a wall rotated 15 degrees from the main axis of the nave.
Section and plan of the original chapel. 3D image by Carlos Zeballos

Ando's merit lies not only in introducing this element obliquely, that brings dynamism to the serene orthogonal space of the nave, but to separate it a few inches from the roof, allowing light to filter horizontally and giving the impression that the roof is floating in the air.

This diagonal wall also contains a 1.60 x 5.35 m glass sliding screen and the gateway to the room, as in a traditional Japanese shoji.

Behind the altar there is a cross-shaped opening, bathing the interior space with the power and energy of light.

Light is the only natural element that enters the environment as reinforcing its divine character and invading the profane darkness.

The building, constructed in concrete, has given up any ornament in favor of the spirituality that gives light, enhancing its sacredness. Due to the reduced budget at the short time of construction, the main church had no special elements aside of the concrete walls and the calculated openings, and probably because of that, is that the church transmits such strong spirituality.

Planks and other parts of the scaffolding used during building construction were re-utilized as the floor and benches inside the church, finished with a black oil stain, harmonizing with the austere and minimal character of the place. The furniture and the severity of the grim ambient that houses it, combined with the lively and ever-changing performance of light and shadow, manage to provide stress and intensity along with purity and tranquility, which is in itself the essence of the spirituality that this space conveys.

In the small chapel adjacent to the main church (1997), Ando repeats the theme of the box crossed by an oblique plane, slightly detached from the roof.

Section and plan of the chapel annex. 3D image by Carlos Zeballos

Pero esta vez no incluye una abertura en cruz, sino que practica una hendidura en el techo a traves de la cual baña con luz rasante la desnuda pared del altar. But this time the chapel does not include an opening in the shape a cross, but practices a slit in the roof through which light bathes the bare wall of the altar.

Despite its simplicity, the oblique plane, the wall and the skylight are assembled in a spectacular choreography of forms, surfaces and tones.

Nature is always a reference in traditional Japanese architecture. Thus the fluidity of the relationship between interior and exterior. Upon entering the chapel and looking to the right, a long window reveals a simple allegory to the cross, resting on greenery and water.

The presence of nature, reduced to the element of light, takes a highly abstract character, and responding to this abstraction, pure architecture grows with the daily passage of time. The few but precise openings placed in this space, enhance the bright of light against a background of darkness.

The humbleness of the materials (rough concrete, metal and glass) and furniture, the poetry of the geometry enhanced by the dramatic use of light offers a special experience of beauty and spirituality. Tadao Ando once again demonstrates his mastery in this simple building, achieving a perfect unity of matter and spirit, reflecting the very essence of Christianity, but expressing it through the simplicity of Zen Buddhism.

“Mystery and its manifestations arise from the same source. This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness. Light is the gateway to all understanding."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010



"Light is used as a metaphor of the Good, in all its perfection in the significance attributed by philosophers, poets, painters, musicians, politicians and popes. In architecture as in any other creative expression, light has always been a source of ecstasy and of inspiration..."

Richard Meier.

As part of the "50 Churches for Rome 2000 Program", during the celebration of the Jubilee 2000, the Catholic Church culminated in the October 25, 2003, the Jubilee Church, also known as church of the Dives in Misericordia (Dio Padre Misericordioso), in Tor Tre Teste, a suburb east of the Italian capital.

Jubilee Church in Tor Tre Teste.

Previously, the Church had called for a competition invinting internationally renowned architects such as Tadao Ando, Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Santiago Calatrava, Gunter Behnisch and Richard Meier, the winner (interestingly, no Italian architect was among the invited professionals. In addition, only Spanish Calatrava professes the Catholic faith, so Meier became the first Jewish architect to have designed a Catholic church in Rome).

Richard Meier is an American architect, Pritzker Prize winner in 1984, and also honored with 29 National AIA (American Institute of Architecture) Awards and 53 Regional AIA Awards. His work is characterized by a rational use of geometry, the clarity of its spaces, the superb handling of light and the use of white as a symbol of purity because it is a color that contains all others.

Richard Meier and the model of the church. Photo courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects.

Meier's proposal for this competition was noted for its distinctive shape and elegant use of materials related to innovative construction technologies, the presence of light as an element that determines the character of the work and the strong connotation of the building as a place for people, "not only as a Christian place, but for the entire world community." However, Meier’s project includes clear references to Christianity and to Catholic faith in particular.

Preliminary sketches of the church. Image courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners.

The complex formally differenciates itself from the surrounding buildings, becoming a white landmark in front of square, an area that receives the congregation. The project consists of two elements: the church itself and the parish center, consisting of offices, an auditorium and a multipurpose room. Both buildings are separated by a concave wall and linked by a glass screen on the facade of the building.

Plants, main facade and section of the church. Images courtesy of Richard Meier & Partners Architects.

The church has three curved walls resembling of a ship's sails, as it symbolizes "the ship in which the people of God sails." Three circles of equal radius are layered, and together with the opposite wall are the body of the ship. "These three walls discreetly refer to the Trinity," says Meier. The church has large glass surfaces that guarantee a generous flow of natural light, located both at the top and at the main and back facades.

Photo courtesy Axes02

The architectural concept is unique and innovative in traditional Meier's vocabulary, but raised an engineering and constructive challenge. Meier’s technical team’s proposal was to create a metal structure covered with concrete blocks and then cover it with plaster, but that would have given the building a maximum life of 50 years. Therefore, following a Antonio Michetti’s suggestion (the Vicariate’s technical consultant), the chosen alternative was the assembly of precast concrete blocks of dual curvature, fit together by means of a specially worked out joint and held by a post-tensioned reinforcing, consisting of horizontal and vertical cables and of vertical rebars. The outer sail is composed of 78 segments, the intermediate of 104 and the inner, which reaches 26 meters, of 176 segments. In order to preserve the whiteness of the building, the company Italcementi developed a new cement containing titanium dioxide, called TX Millennium, which ensures the whiteness of the concrete, despite the pollution, rain and weather effects.

Construction process of the "sails." El constructor tuvo que literalmente inventar un mecanismo para manipular las piezas y colocarlas en su sitio. The builder had to invent a mechanism to manipulate the pieces and put them in place.
Photos courtesy of Associazione Italiana Tecnico Economica del Cemento

Church completed. Photos courtesy of Andrea Jemolo.

On the main facade, there is a belfry with five bells, corresponding to the five continents.

Back view of the complex, the parish center, parking lot and basketball court. 3D Image courtesy of Alessandro Cecchelli

Top view showing the glass skylights. 3D Image courtesy of Alessandro Cecchelli

The interior of the church is impressively lighted, giving different types of light from the glazing surfaces above and the facade of the building, as well of the light that plays with the convex surfaces of the sails. A prism located in the altar area uses beveled windows to achieve indirect lighting, recalling the effect of the church of Notre Dame du Haut, Le Corbusier , of which Meier is a declared admirer.

In the opposite extreme, near the entrance, lies the pipe organ, mounted on another prism which surfaces and edges are broken by the architect to create a transparent virtual target volume, which seemed to float on the marble wall.

Interior detail showing the pipe organ. Photo C. Zeballos

The wall opposite the sails is covered with wooden slats, which provides warmth to the space.

The furniture, according to the minimalistic aesthetics of the church, has a very pure and simple style. The altar, made of travertine marble, again resembles the shape of a boat.

This building not only is a beautiful monument added to the rich religious heritage in Rome, but also became a landmark that revitalized the Tor Tre Teste neighborhood, attracting more than 35,000 visitors a year.

Nocturnal Back view. Photo courtesy of Enrico Cano

Click here to see a beautiful 3D animation for the Jubilee Church, by Roberto de Angelis

"Transparency and light cascade down from the skylit roof, literally invading the interior of the church also penetrating from below through a narrow slot opened at floor level. People in the atrium are enveloped with mystical light."


The most striking aspect of the church is the contrast of white forms with blue sky and the superb concept of natural light... What a bad luck to arrive here on a rainy day!