Monday, January 16, 2012

A "Conference Room Tomb" outside Turin

Our readers may be interested to see an article I wrote for the most recent Sacred Architecture analyzing Mario Botta's church of the Santo Volto outside Turin:

That churches are still being built in Italy, a nation where regular mass-goers make up less than 30 percent of the population and that possesses a birthrate that would make your Sicilian grandmother weep, is news not unlike Dr. Johnson’s comment about a dog walking on its hind legs: one is surprised it is being done at all, never mind questions about quality. Yet Mario Botta’s 2006 Chiesa del Santo Volto, dedicated to the Holy Face of Christ, is, at first glance, at least interesting, if austerely modernistic.

Built at a cost of 5 million euro in a former industrial neighborhood of Turin with the Frank Herbert-ish name of Spina 3 (literally, “Thorn 3”), it adjoins an office complex for the archdiocesan curia. It is the centerpiece of a larger town center complex repurposing the buildings of an abandoned set of steel mills―a heartening and humane urban gesture―and the church uses a number of recycled elements as well. As a consequence, a disconcertingly industrial feeling pervades the design. ...

In an English description of the church, the translation speaks of “a conference room tomb” under the main level―presumably a crypt-level parish hall, but the Freudian slip nonetheless accurately describes the entire project. The industrial aesthetic that pervades the project is partially justified by the site’s history.

Such tropes, if they are insisted upon, can be worked into sacred buildings without traumatizing the faithful too much. Edward Schulte’s mid-century modern-traditional cathedral at Salina, Kansas, draws on the Hollywood Midwest cliché of grain elevators in its design. It helps that the interior is embellished with genuine iconography and built on an authentic liturgical plan. The result is, nonetheless, not without problems. While something like this can be done, it ought not to be done often. The Great Plains are more than grain elevators, and presumably the good Christians of Thorn 3 are more than their Bogaro steel mills. Do people who live in an industrial park need to be so thoroughly reminded of the fact? ... [Read More]

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