The conception of the Bahá'í Temple of South America began in 1953, when it was decided by the Bahá'í international community that Santiago, Chile, would serve as the seat of the last continental temple. It remained as an idea until 2001, when it was time for the House of Worship to become a reality. Then in 2002, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Chile made an international call for submission of designs, for a domed structure with nine entrances that symbolically welcome peoples from all directions of the world to praise and glorify God.
A total of 185 entries were received from more than 80 countries. From them, a shortlist of four proposals was drawn up. The final design was awarded to the Canadian architectural office Hariri Pontarini Architects. The building consists of an arrangement of nine translucent wings, rising directly from the ground, and giving the impression of floating over a large reflecting water pool. The wings will allow sunlight to filter through them during the day, while at night the temple will exude a soft glow from is interior lighting.
Each wing is arranged as a leaf, from which the main stem and the secondary veins of steel will support the coating of cast glass. Three also translucent perimeter bands bind the leaves, thus forming an integral set. Inside, two areas for praying and meditation are arranged: the central area directly under the dome, with seating arrangements for 600 people on wooden flooring, and nine alcoves, full of light, nestled on a wooden mezzanine encircling the interior of the wings in the inner perimeter of the building.
Despite the building seeming light to the eye, the structure is strong enough to resist its being placed in a seismic zone, for it is designed to absorb ground movements and bending due to lateral loads. Moreover, the structure lies over elastomeric seismic isolators.
The temple will be gracefully placed into the natural environment of its location through a landscape designed by renowned Chilean landscaper Juan Grimm. A harmonious balance is being sought between the building's white structure and the natural environment in respecting the existing surroundings, recovering areas previously worked on and fostering native and wild species.
The design of the temple and the use of advanced technology in its development are internationally recognized aspects of the project. The structure was created through a combination of handmade sketches, scale models, CAD drawings and digital simulation with innovative technology, including two software packages: Maya - a 3D digital modelling tool commonly used for animation in the movie industry and for developing computer games; and CATIA - a programme initially developed for airplane and automobile manufacturing that allows reduction of the sketching phase to feed directly the fabrication systems.
Along with the use of up-to-date technology in the architecture, the temple employs a combination of traditional materials and techniques that evoke the idea of a place of worship erected for all time. This way, the cladding of cast glass - developed for the project with a glass artisan from Canada -, the steel structure, the stone flooring and the wooden mezzanine, underline the emphasis placed on craftsmanship.
This architectural and landscape project, though in its early stages of development has granted Hariri Pontarini Architects the international recognition of specialists for both its innovative design techniques and its materials' manufacturing. Since it was first unveiled, the design for the House of Worship has been praised in more than 40 international journals, and received numerous awards. Canadian Architect magazine featured the building as one of its 2004 Awards of Excellence. Most recently, in August 2010, a global panel of almost 100 judges named the House of Worship joint winner in the World Architecture News "Civic Building - Unbuilt" award category.
Aiming to ensure that the Bahá'í Temple of South America fulfils safety criteria and is a real gift to Santiago and its inhabitants, support from a team of expert professionals in Chile has been sought. For the architecture and management of the various activities a construction of this rank demands, the architecture office BL Arquitectos, of Pablo Larraín and Klaus Benkel, has been hired. For the structural advisory, professional services of Sirve S.A., the engineering branch of DICTUC, from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and Patricio Bertholet M. Structural Engineering, were enlisted. The lighting design was developed by Limarí Lighting Design, and finally the addition of renowned architect and landscaper Juan Grimm to the team guarantees the development of high quality gardens, recovering a previously developed area and providing a suitable environment for its indigenous fauna and flora.
The temple and its gardens will be located at the foothills of the Andes, some 980 metres above sea-level, in the commune of Peñalolén, a place with privileged view to the Andes and to the city of Santiago. It will be open free of charge to all peoples wishing to enter its premises in a spirit of prayer and contemplation.
The project site encompasses the ideal conditions for the establishment of a tranquil place with great potential to foster a natural surrounding favourable to concentration and meditation. For this reason, the appropriate conduct required to keep the peace and quiet in a place of devotion to God will be fostered in the immediate surroundings as well as in the inner building. Therefore, activities that may cause uncomfortable noise will not be allowed.
Currently, a large portion of the area where the temple and its gardens will be located has been modified for sports by its previous landowners. The project will recover this location as a green area for the enjoyment of those interested in meditating in close contact with nature. Moreover, it will allow the flourishing of the indigenous fauna and flora's natural habitat, incorporating lawns, shrubs and flowers, paths, steps and spaces for gathering.
Both the design and the construction of the temple, as well as the building's and its gardens' maintenance, will be under the auspices of the Bahá'í Community, as happens with the other Bahá'í temples and projects around the world.
Original animation made in 2003 by Hariri Pontarini Architects
Technical Background Sheet
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Chile
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Canada
Siamak Hariri - Hariri Pontarini Architects
Landscape concept and master plan
Hariri Pontarini Architects
TROW/Carruthers & Wallace
University of Toronto
Patricio Bertholet M. Structural Engineering
VMB Ingeniería Estructural
Mechanical / Electrical
The OPS Group
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Limarí Lighting Design
Local architecture management
Project Management and General Contractor
Desarrollo y Construcción del Templo Bahá'í para Sudamérica Ltda.
Concrete foundations and structure
Fernández Wood Constructora S.A.
Superstructure and cladding
Gartner Steel and Glass GmbH
Peñalolén, Santiago, Chile
83 hectares (205 acres) total property
11 hectares (27 acres) temple site
Total constructed area
Temple: 1,200 m² (12,900 square feet)
6 hectares (15 acres)
Glass, steel, stone, wood and reinforced concrete.
Native and reforested species.
Images © Hariri Pontarini Architects
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