Curated by Francesco Dal Co and Micol Forti, the Holy See Pavilion for the Venice Biennale is inspired by the model of the Chapel in the Wood, built in 1920 by Gunnar Asplund in the Stockholm Cemetery. It is divided into ten chapels and Asplund Pavilion, each an interpretation by an internationally renowned architect, grouped together in the garden of the Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.
A Nomadic Chapel
Can we think about architecture as a ball of wool? A sphere formed by a historical thread that easily unwinds in an orderly way?
Or as a more complex and interwoven reality, like a tangle that makes every project the development of a strategy to identify the thread of thoughts and intuitions. Gunnar Asplund, in the forest, “unwound” a Nordic house together with the Pantheon, and we have tried to identify the thread of our project starting with Asplund. We have liberated the circle, a cross-section of a cylinder, placing it in balance on a point of support, a tripod, actually a Venetian “bricola.” The cylinder does not touch the ground; if the earth shakes the chapel moves, if the wind blows the chapel moves. It rises toward the west and opens like a door; it descends toward the east like an apse, following the sun. All the tensions combine in an embrace that is transformed into a three-dimensional cross, between the circular space and its roof which is wooded. In the forest one builds with wood. If the time comes the chapel can leave the lagoon, to reach other lands and find a new support, a rock, a cross, under another sky. But the circular space that contains it will not change. The construction has been designed to have low environmental impact. Originally the foundation of the sole support point was composed of three wooden poles with a circular crosssection of 30 centimeters, placed like a tripod bolted to the ground, similar to a bricola. The tripod provided the support for the single steel arm which had to receive the weight of the cylindrical volume of the chapel, forming the cross designed in the virtual plane of the roof. The main volume of the chapel was circular and was composed of two cylindrical sections, one larger, external, visible as the facade, and one that was internal, both tethered at a single point of contact corresponding to the spot where they were crossed by the east-west axis. This diameter would have been 11.2 meters, while the perimeter would have measured 36 meters. The cylinders would have been 3 meters high, with a wooden structure, connected by metal tubes held together by steel cables. The circular volume should have been supported by a large L-shaped steel arm resting on the wooden tripod. This arm would have been completed by a “basket” that would be loaded with pieces of stone weighing 20 tons to act as a counter-weight. During the construction phase, due to the limitations posed by the consistency of the terrain, the effects of the wind, the safety regulations and the constraints related to the guidelines regulating public access to the exhibition space, it became necessary to abandon the use of wood for the tripod and the insertion of the support designed to allow the cylindrical volume to move under the pressure of the wind. For these reasons, while still complying with the static concept of the project, it was decided to make the entire structure in steel, inserting a connection between the tripod and the cylindrical volume.
Text from the “Vatican Chapels” catalogue, edited by Electaarchitettura