The project for the Pavilion of the Holy See at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is based on a precise model, the “woodland chapel” built in 1920 by the famous architect Gunnar Asplund in the Cemetery of Stockholm. To help visitors understand the reasoning behind this choice, an exhibit space will be set up as the first episode encountered at the entrance of the Pavilion of the Holy See, displaying the drawings and model of Asplund’s chapel. With this small masterpiece Asplund defined the chapel as a place of orientation, encounter and meditation, seemingly formed by chance or natural forces inside a vast forest, seen as the physical suggestion of the labyrinthine progress of life, the wandering of humankind as a prelude to the encounter. This theme has been proposed to the ten architects invited to build ten chapels, gathered in the densely wooded area at the end of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, to form the Pavilion of the Holy See, together with the space set aside for Asplund’s drawings. In our culture we are accustomed to seeing the chapel as a space created for different reasons and aims inside a larger and often already existing religious space. The practice behind this perception has produced many models that share the factor of taking form in and belonging to an “other” space, a space of worship, a cathedral, a church, or more simply a place identified for having hosted an unusual occurrence, selected as being a recognized destination. In the modern era these models have given rise to the consolidation of a canon.
The request addressed to the architects invited to construct the Pavilion of the Holy See thus implies an unusual challenge, since the designers have been asked to come to terms with a building type that has no precedents or models. The chapels designed by the architects, in fact, will be isolated and inserted in an utterly abstract natural setting, characterized only by its way of emerging from the lagoon, its openness to the water. In the forest where the “Asplund pavilion” and the chapels will be located there are no destinations, and the environment is simply a metaphor of the wandering of life. This metaphor, in the case of the Pavilion of the Holy See, is even more radical than the one configured by Asplund, who built his chapel amidst the trees, but inside a cemetery. For these reasons, the architects of the Pavilion of the Holy See have worked without any reference to generally recognized canons, and without being able to rely on any model from a typological viewpoint, as is demonstrated by the only apparently surprising variety of the projects they have developed.
Architects and Builders:
Andrew Berman (USA) with Moretti
Francesco Cellini (Italy) with Panariagroup
Javier Corvalán (Paraguay) with Simeon
Ricardo Flores, Eva Prats (Spain) with Saint-Gobain Italia
Norman Foster (UK) with Tecno and Maeg
Teronobu Fujimori (Japan) with LignoAlp and Barth Interni
Sean Godsell (Australia) with Maeg and Zintek
Carla Juaçaba (Brasil) with Secco Sistemi
Eduardo Souto de Moura (Portugal) with Laboratorio Morseletto
Smiljan Radic (Chile) with Moretti
Francesco Magnani, Traudy Plezel, with Alpi (Asplund Pavilion)