Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Feature Church: Padre Pio, Foggia, Italy

Italy has stunning church architecture...from the past. Today's NewYork Times has an article on two new Italian churches by architects of note, one of which is Padre Pio, designed by the famed Renzo Piano.

"...some church officials are hoping that a return to architectural splendor will help put people in the pews...I think there will be people who come here to see the architecture, just as in Assisi people go to see the paintings of Giotto,'' said the Rev. Aldo Broccato, the Padre Pio Church's top prelate. ''If more people come to see the church and then they stay in it, I'm even happier.''

Cost: $36 million dollars (!)
Time to build: ten years (!)

Summary: The plan is based upon the spiralling of a snail shell, and technically it is a tour-de-force. From arcspace: ""The worshippers are enveloped by a gigantic snail shape, the outline of which is formed by a three-quarter circle of steadily decreasing radius. The materials, selected to express simplicity and solidity, are local stone, wood and glass. The immense roof skin is finished in pre-patinated copper with a supporting structure of wood and limestone. "

My take: Certainly an interesting use of forms and materials, but too clever by half. For all its technical virtuosity, the structural complexity seems to trap, rather than to free, the space. The main issue for me is that the low angle arches are extremely distracting in the nave/sanctuary--as if the worshipers are trapped beneath the appendages of a gigantic spider--they interfere with clear sitelines and divide the space, reducing the 'community' feel.

Learnings: Don't become so enamored of whizbang ideas that you force the functions of the church (particularly the worship experience in the sanctuary) to accomodate them. This church is a case where function followed form, rather than the other way round.

I think there could have been a better balance between the aims of the architecture and the aims of the church. But many non-churchgoers already are visiting just to see Renzo Piano's work, so the goal of the prelate has been realized.

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