Building of House of Worship in Chile reaches important milestone

February 24, 2012

SANTIAGO, Chile — A significant milestone has been reached in the building of the Baha'i House of Worship here with the signing of contracts essential to the construction.

The innovative design for the Temple consists of nine translucent elements that rise from the ground – giving the impression of floating over a reflecting pool – and meet at a central oculus, 30 meters above.

The building's skeletal framework will support 500 tons of exterior and interior cladding. The outer surface will consist of 3000 square meters of panels made with an entirely new method of casting glass. 2000 square meters of robotically cut and carved translucent marble will create a luminous interior ceiling.

After 10 months of tendering and negotiation, the contract for the superstructure and cladding was awarded on 16 February to Gartner Steel and Glass GmbH. Based in Germany, it is well-known for developing and constructing complex three-dimensional structures.

"We have reached a wonderful moment," said Siamak Hariri of the Canadian firm Hariri Pontarini Architects, "the fulfillment of eight years of research, design development, engineering, the preparation of complete tender documents in both Spanish and English, inventing and casting the glass – all of this alongside finding and purchasing a marvelous site and preparing the necessary permits."

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The beautiful location of the site of the Baha'i House of Worship for Chile, in the hills of Peñalolén, Santiago, at the foot of the Andes. In the foreground can be seen the excavation and grading work for the House of Worship's foundation and plaza which has been completed ahead of schedule.

"We had to prove to ourselves and the fabricators that constructing this building was not only achievable, but that it was achievable under very complex design constraints, budgetary limitations and severe seismic conditions," said Mr. Hariri.

State-of-the-art computational modeling and analysis had to be used to enhance the resistance of the temple to severe earthquakes.

"The geometry and the curvature make this building very complex, each element acting together with the others," he said. "Glass and stone are so brittle and the tolerances are so tight. All the joints are recessed which means the system has to be very stiff and completely water-tight. But the foundation has to deal with any rapid movements in the earth."

Along with the contract for the superstructure and cladding, other important contracts have also recently been signed. The construction of the foundation of the building and all concrete work was awarded on 30 January to Chilean contractor, Fernández Wood Constructora S.A. On 17 February, Paris-based EDM-Projets was signed to provide the interior cladding.

"This is really a significant milestone," said project manager, Saeid Samadi. "It means we now have schedules from the contractors by which we can measure the progress of work and the estimated completion dates."

Excavation and grading work for the House of Worship's foundation and plaza began in November 2010. Following early completion of that stage, work began on 9 February this year on the basement, service tunnel, main floor and mezzanine structure.

"Two things are very delicate about this next stage," said Mr. Samadi. "Firstly, when we finish the columns of the basement, we are installing ten base isolators made in the San Francisco Bay Area, which will isolate the building itself from the foundation in case of seismic activity."

"Secondly, when we carry out the concrete work, steel parts made by the fabricators of the superstructure will be embedded in the concrete. This requires ultimate precision because the entire superstructure will sit on them."

One stage that is already completed is the building of all the essential facilities on the site for the construction team and workers. Other projects soon to commence include the creation of the temple's infrastructure and the landscaping of the site – including reflective pools, pathways, steps, fences and gates. Plans for a 1.1 kilometer alternative access road, an entry plaza and gate are also under way.

Siamak Hariri attributes the progress made so far to "an excellent team dynamic at play on the project."

"It's a wonderful process between our engineers, architects, managers, legal experts – all working together," he said.

Saeid Samadi agrees. "The one thing that makes this project stand out is the loving dedication of the many individuals working on it. We try to extend this spirit to everyone who works on this extraordinary structure."