Houses of the Holy: Foster + Partners Reveals Chapel Design for Vatican’s First-Ever Venice Biennale Pavilion

The timber pavilion will be one of ten mini chapels designed on San Giorgio Maggiore on display at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Foster Partners Vatican Chapel Venice
Rendering of Foster + Partner’s Venice Chapel. Courtesy Foster + Partners

For the first time ever, Vatican City will be represented at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. The concept, put forth by the Holy See (the Catholic church’s jurisdiction in Rome), will consist of 10 temporary chapels, each designed by a different, international architecture firm. Today, Foster + Partners unveiled its contribution, to be constructed on the Venetian Island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

“Our project started with the selection of the site,” said Norman Foster in a press release. “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.”

The architects took inspiration from the most fundamental symbol in Christianity: a cross. Over time, the chapel evolved into a structure of wooden masts and cables, locked in tension and compression. This tensegrity structure supports an ethereal, faceted timber lattice structure which gently meanders through the landscape like a boardwalk

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The effort marks broader efforts by the Vatican to bridge the divides between art and faith, including two earlier contributions to the art edition of the Biennale. According to a statement from the Vatican, the pavilions will be “true and proper temples in Christian worship, even if in a minor form compared with cathedrals, basilicas, and churches.”

Indeed, Foster’s goals are decidedly more earthly: “Our aim is to create a small sanctuary space diffused with dappled shade and removed from the normality of passersby, focused instead on the water and sky beyond.”

Amen to that.

All ten Holy See chapels will be on display at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale from May 25 to November 25, 2018.

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