Translucent temple for Chile

June 13, 2003
Inside a model of the Temple of Light.

HAIFA, Israel — A temple of light is to grace the continent of South America.

The Universal House of Justice has appointed Siamak Hariri of Toronto, Canada, as architect of the Baha'i Temple (also known as a House of Worship) to be built near Santiago in Chile.

Mr. Hariri said he hopes to complete the project within the next three years.

The approved design has "nine gracefully torqued wings, which enfold the space of the Temple," Mr. Hariri said in his presentation to the Universal House of Justice.

"These vast wings are made of two delicate skins of translucent, subtly gridded alabaster, one on the outside and other on the inside," Mr. Hariri said.

"Between these two layers of glowing, translucent stone, lies a curved steel structure (the source of the faintly discernable gridding) enclosed in glass, its primary structural members intertwining with secondary support members, not unlike the structural veining discernable within a leaf.

"Light moving through and between each of the wings becomes light as structure, lines of radiance moving and arcing gently about The Greatest Name (calligraphy of Baha'u'llah's name at the center of the dome)."

In a night sky the dome of the Temple will form a glowing spiral. Slideshow
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In a night sky the dome of the Temple will form a glowing spiral.

Mr. Hariri said the wings, identical in form, are organically shaped and twisted slightly to produce a nest-like structure, a soft, undulating dome positioned around a raised base.

Mr. Hariri said the inner form of the Temple would be "defined by a finely articulated tracery of wood, which offers a delicately ornamental inner surface, rich in texture, warm by nature, acoustically practical and responsive to the cultural givens of the area."

During the day, the soft undulating alabaster and glass skin forms the outer expression, he said.

"At night, the image reverses itself, the entire volume then becoming a warmed totalized glow, with the inner form of the building visible through the glass."

The Temple, notable for its absence of straight lines, will rise amidst an extensive radiating garden comprising nine reflecting lily pools and nine prayer gardens.

The new Temple will seat approximately 500 people.

Mr. Hariri said it would take its place as a sister Temple to the other Mother Temples - and yet "find its way into its own gentle and compelling uniqueness."

Prominent Toronto-based architecture critic, Gary Michael Dault, said the Temple was a "hovering cloud, an architectural mist."

He said it "acknowledges blossom, fruit, vegetable and the human heart -- but rests somewhere between such readings, gathering them up and transforming them into an architectural scheme that is, simultaneously, both engagingly familiar and brilliantly original."

A Baha'i, Mr. Hariri, of Hariri Pontarini Architects was born in Bonn, West Germany and educated in Toronto, Ontario. He attended Yale University School of Architecture, New Haven, where he received his Master of Architecture in 1985.

Among his commissions have been the $70 million new Schulich School of Business at York University, and the award-winning, $15 million office building for McKinsey & Company in Toronto. He was the winner of the Toronto Urban Design Awards (2000). Internationally, he completed the Landegg Academy Master Plan in Switzerland.

In September last year, the national governing body of the Baha'i community in Chile called for submission of designs for the House of Worship.

The call came after an announcement in 2001 by the Universal House of Justice that efforts should begin to build what would be known as the "Mother Temple of South America". Submissions were open not only to Baha'is, but to all qualified designers.

After considering 185 submissions the Universal House of Justice selected four teams based on the creativity of their designs and asked for further developments or additional concepts. It then selected the design by Mr. Hariri.

The Temple will be built outside Santiago on the Pan-American Highway. Funding for the construction will be provided by voluntary donations from the Baha'is of Chile and from local and national Baha'i communities around the world.

There are now seven Baha'i Temples: in Australia, Germany, India, Panama, Uganda, United States, and Western Samoa. The House of Worship in the United States was the first one of these to be dedicated, in 1953. The most recently completed was the Indian Temple, in 1986.

The Temples themselves are created as beautiful structures that provide places to commune with God in silence and reverence. Their Arabic name, Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, means "dawning place of the mention of God."

Baha'i Houses of Worship are open to all. In the future, each Temple will be the central feature in a complex designed to provide social, humanitarian, educational and scientific pursuits.