It has been confirmed and deserves some exclamation marks: The Vatican is – for the first time ever – participating in the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, which will open on 26 May.
Ten international architects have been invited to design and construct 10 different chapels as part of the representation of the city-state in the highly anticipated Italian architecture event.
The Catholic Church’s debut pavilion will comprise 10 full-scale chapels that will be built on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, opposite St. Mark’s Square, marking a new era of change for the college of cardinals.
‘Vatican Chapels’, as the installation is officially known, invites visitors on a journey through the chapels that are commissioned from top architects including Francesco Cellini (Italy), Andrew Berman (USA), Teronobu Fujimori (Japan) and Norman Foster (UK).
As part of their brief, these chapels must be able to be relocated so that each of the structures can be deployed around the world in areas that are in need of places of worship, especially those that have suffered earthquakes. It also to be inspired by the 1920s chapel designed by Gunnar Asplund. And of course, the ten symbolically refer to the Ten Commandments; a sort of Decalogue of presences in the holy testament.
An excerpt from the official press release describes the project as such: “A visit to the ten Vatican Chapels, then, is a sort of pilgrimage that is not only religious but also secular. It is a path for all who wish to rediscover beauty, silence, the interior and transcendent voice, the human fraternity of being together in the assembly of people, and the loneliness of the woodland where one can experience the rustle of nature which is like a cosmic temple.”
A new Catholic reformation and who is running it
The question that lingers in our heads at the moment: how Vatican City is coming out of silence – all of a sudden – and playing such a radical game of public propaganda? The answer is one man – Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who is bringing a new perspective to the (occasionally) vexed relationship between the church and the world.
This is also the second time that Cardinal Ravasi has been instrumental in creating such a controversial headline in the global art scene. In fact, his involvement has been pivotal in the making of the New York fashion exhibition Heavenly Bodies and the Met Gala, where pop sensation Rihanna appeared as an ostentatiously shiny pope.
Cardinal Ravasi, who has described David Bowie as “always on the unstable boundary between the sacred and the profane”, has been a major force in blurring boundaries and encouraging critical dialogues on behalf of the pope with the contemporary world.
The designs of the chapels are also as radical as the man behind the initiative. London-based Norman Foster will be presenting a tent-like structure in wood, built around three symbolic crosses. Andrew Berman, a New York-based architect translates a design more akin to the original Asplund’s chapel.
Sean Godsell, a Melbourne-based architect has imagined a bell tower while architect Carla Juaçaba from Rio de Janeiro has put together a series of overlapping crucifixes in reflective stainless steel – all of which to create discussions and questions about the church’s archetype.
No matter how controversial this topic may be, the openness to share the very fundamental of the church in a global perspective is something that we all can look forward to. The liberalism to progress in such a diverse world may bear fruit to many more exciting things to come. And ultimately, the world is changing. If the Vatican has taken this leap of faith, what will be next?
The Vatican pavilion will be opened to the public from 26 May to 25 November 2018.