Bahá‘í Temple of South America by Hariri Pontarini Architects

The Bahá‘í Temple of South America in Chile, designed by Siamak Hariri of Hariri Pontarini Architects, has been shortlisted for The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) International Prize. Awarded every two years, this world-renowned prize celebrates architecture from around the globe that transforms society and promotes justice, respect, equality, and inclusiveness. The RAIC received submissions from 12 countries across six contents.

Hariri Pontarini Architect’s is the first Canadian firm to make the shortlist for this prestigious award. The winner will be announced at the RAIC gala in Toronto, Canada on October 25, 2019.

At the heart of this building there is a belief and an aspiration: that even now, in the fractured 21st-century, we can respond to a human yearning to come together, to connect to one another, and to something that moves the spirit. The Temple sits on the edge of Santiago and nestles against the spine of the Andes mountains. It was commissioned by the Bahá‘í House of Justice and is the eighth and final continental temple for the Bahá‘í Faith. But, central to its brief and its design is that it be a place of welcome, community and meaning for everyone.

The Temple is a human place, universally appealing in its form and at one with its landscape. Distilled to its very essence, the Temple is a building that seeks to come alive with light – embodied light. Composed of nine identical, gracefully torqued wings bound to the oculus at the top, creating a weightless movement around a grounded centre, the Temple is light but also rooted and has a sense of permanence. A circular structure with nine sides, nine entrances open, figuratively and symbolically, to everyone. 

Photo credit: doublespace photography

In contrast to the Temple’s subtlety on the landscape, once inside the building soars along with the spirit of those who enter. The voluminous interior is alive with soft light that filters through the cast glass exterior and translucent marble interior of the wings, bathing visitors in warmth. The arched lines of the supple wooden benches invite people to come together, not for a congregation, but to congregate; to sit next to one another in quiet contemplation, sharing in the communal act of being. The alcoved mezzanine above allows those seeking solitude to tuck into themselves while not losing connectedness with the community below.

Given the intimacy and delicacy of the Temple, it is easy to overlook the inherent toughness of the structure and engineering required for the building to weather the rugged climate in this earthquake-prone region for 400 years to come. The process of achieving this was quite extraordinary, involving the hands of many; artisans, engineers and craftsmen from Canada, the United States, Europe and Chile, and a team of countless global volunteers. The process, like the building itself, drawing people together in pursuit of a common goal.

It holds an important place within the Chilean social landscape, hosting community clubs, youth outreach programs and children’s activities in partnership with the public schools. The Temple is a timeless place where people feel at home, able to hold their beliefs amongst others.