Holy See This

Foster + Partners reveals their Vatican Chapel for the Venice Architecture Biennale

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Foster + Partners reveals their Vatican Chapel for the Venice Architecture Biennale. The Foster + Partners-designed pavilion is supported through structural tension. (Courtesy Foster + Partners)

Following the reveal of the Asplund Pavilion, a precursor to the ten chapels that the Vatican will be presenting at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Foster + Partners has released renderings for the United Kingdom’s contribution. First announced in January, the Holy See’s pavilion, Vatican Chapels, will be built on San Giorgio Maggiore, a forested island across from St. Mark’s Square, and consist of ten temporary chapels meant to embrace the reverence of nature.

The designs released by Foster + Partners show a serpentine timber pavilion that curves through the Venetian woods, with three distinct sections supported by cross-shaped structural elements. A series of perforated vertical slats will drape the exterior of the chapel, letting visitors glimpse the surrounding woodland while also dappling the interior with light and shadow.

The chapel’s cross-shaped structural elements and interplay between light and shadow takes center stage. (Courtesy Foster + Partners)

In a statement sent to AN, the final idea for the chapel arose from the concept of three symbolic crosses draped with a “tent-like membrane”; ultimately the crosses became anchoring masts and the membrane transformed into the lattice shown in the renderings. The chapel will be supported largely in part through tensioning between the different components.

“Our project started with the selection of the site,” said Norman Foster in a statement. “On a visit to San Giorgio Maggiore, close to Palladio’s magnificent church and the Teatro Verde, 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, focused instead on the water and sky beyond.”

The site plan for the chapel. (Courtesy Foster + Partners)

The 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale is the first time that the Vatican will be represented at the festival. In describing their design approach, the Church emphasized that the chapels–each built by a team from a different country–are meant to express Catholicism through that country’s unique history with the religion. After the conclusion of the Biennale, the chapels will be sent all over the world to serve in areas lacking dedicated houses of worship.

Foster + Partners’ chapel is being constructed in partnership with Italian furniture manufacturer Tecno. The pavilion’s opening ceremony will be held on May 25, and will remain on display through November 18, 2018.

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