Richard Meier’s Rome church is one event originally planned to mark the celebrations of the Jubilee of AD 2000. This was initiated by the Pope in 1994 when he called for a Special Consistory to prepare for the Great Jubilee at the starting point of the third millennium involving the Catholic world as a whole. Meier’s project is the 50th church to be inaugurated in the Vatican’s MillenniumProject. Each church has a community centre and they are built in various parish districts throughout Rome. The Jubilee Church commission was the result of an international competition, and the Vatican’s shortlist included Meier, Gehry, Behnisch, Calatrava, Eisenman and Ando. The award of the project to Meier was controversial from the outset, in that Meier as a Jew would be working with theforemost Catholic client – the Vatican itself. However, the relationship and the resultant complex are a triumph of this collaboration, and
entirely successful in architecture of outstanding optimism. The church, named Dio Padre Misericordioso (God our Merciful Father) by Pope John Paul II, was consecrated and inaugurated on 26 October 2003 by Cardinal Camillo Ruini in a four-hour service ofcelebration, music and ritual. This was attended by a huge congregation both within the church itself and externally on the church piazza. The church is in an ordinary 1970s 10-storey housing quarter at Tor Tre Teste, a suburb at some distance from the centre of the city. Taken together, church and community centre form a spectacular new focus in an otherwise low-key suburban environment, and define both areligious precinct and a heartening sense of place. Meier has said that ‘… expression of aspiration, hope and belief, as well as openness and transparency are all aspects of
the ideas behind the design of this church’. It is a wonderful gift to the whole community of more than 25 000 people. The fan-shaped site is approached directly from the east across a travertine paved entrance piazza(sagrato), which extends as a base to the church on the south and west of the precinct. The entrance is marked by several external features including a silver cross, and a campanile with exposed bells – the tower marking out both the church to the south and the community centre to the north. The generous entrance hall, defined by a travertine screen wall, is partly enclosed within by a raised organloft. Once in the nave, the main altar is immediately visible at the west end. Although unconventional, this position is a logical result of the frontal eastern entrance. Plan-form and section are extremely clear. Three circles of equal radius create three concrete shells to the south and together with a thick spine wall to the north, the main space of the church nave is contained. In a contrasting,plain L plan around a sunken courtyard, is the community centre, on four levels. The centre is separated from the main church by a linear top-lit atrium. The plan of the church is essentially traditional with nave, altar, side chapel and confessional booths. Introduction of the three shells transforms the project and implies the Holy Trinity. Natural light is the major theme, with skylightsbetween each shell and over the main space, creating ever changing patterns within. Meier has referred to this as ‘… a luminous spatial experience … the rays of sunlight serve as a mystic metaphor of the presence of God’. Curving in both plan and in section, the three shell wall planes are the real tour de force in the whole project. They are sweeping vertical cantilevers formed with panels ofbeautiful white concrete with a finish so fine that it resembles marble. Meier’s description of the engineering effort involved in erecting the shells as
1 In a nondescript suburb of Rome, the church is a glowing beacon composed of overlapping, shell-like forms. 2 Main east entrance. The concrete shells are anchored by a spine wall.
INSTRUMENT OF LIGHT
Richard Meier’s long awaited church in Rome...