Architects: Cino Zucchi Architetti
Location: Milan, Italy
Design Team: Cino Zucchi, Helena Sterpin, Filippo Carcano, Cinzia Catena, Silvia Cremaschi, Cristina Balet Sala, Anna Bacchetta, Annalisa Romani, Martina Valcamonica, Valentina Zanoni
Structural Engineering: Mauro Giuliani, Redesco srl
Light Design: Cinzia Ferrara
Liturgist: Giovanni Mariani, Giovanni Zuffada
Photographs: Courtesy of Cino Zucchi Architetti
The context (an industrial suburb of Milan) and the existing building to be replaced (a warehouse converted church-hall built by a group of worker priest in the 1960s) generated a formally restrained project, which tackles the difficult subject of a contemporary house of worship without indulging in structural exhibitionism or in the search for figurative freedom.
The specifications requested by the competition brief and the limitations imposed by the existing building and open spaces led to the configuration of a necessarily compact spatial solution, which had to respect its site. The project aims to maximise the relationship between the churchyard and the city and with its garden and sports field. The volume of the church and of the adjacent rooms is hollowed out in such a way as to create a covered reception area for the community towards the street to the south and on the west towards the hedges that line the football field.
The existing sports field around the back retains its shape and size. The street façade, steeple, new street-front fence and auxiliary elements make up the concave profile that ‘embraces’ the churchyard, exploiting the long diagonal view of the façade from the city.
The front onto Via Pisa perfectly reflects the long tradition of “sail-style” facades, from the seventeenth century façade of Juan Caramuel’s church in Vigevano (author of the renouned “Arquitectura civil recta y obliqua”) to Gio Ponti’s church in Via Paolo Giovio in Milan. The new front takes the thread of the eaves of the nearby oratory; the concave angle between the two sides creates a sheltered area above the entrance and gives shape to the new churchyard space.
Surrounding the main volume of the church-hall a lower body covered with a pitched roof houses the spaces destined to the social life of the parish complex: priest’s offices, meeting rooms, the sacristy and the atrium to a large underground event room in correspondence to the liturgical hall. If the general layout of the spaces is entirely traditional, an accurate determination of areas of relevance, the proportions of the rooms, lighting, the simple design of the liturgical space and furnishings express the search for a welcoming space for a contemporary Christian community, where contemplation and activity in the world, daily life and a sense of the sacred are not separate moments, but aspects of a unified feeling. The layout of the new environments which form the parish complex aims to maximise their relationship with its open spaces, opening them up to moments of togetherness which constitute a key element of its life.
The interior space of this place of worship is meant to be peaceful, mystical but not theatrical, daily but not prosaic. Its architecture is a contemporary interpretation of the two major typological paradigms of historic churches: the longitudinal single hall, with an axis centred on the presbytery, and the central or oval plan gathered around the altar. In their many variations these two spatial forms are often combined in many historical examples, from the Pazzi Chapel by Brunelleschi, S. Andrea on the Via Flaminia by Vignola – where a circular or elliptical dome is set on a simple rectangular volume – up to several late baroque examples by Guarini.
The architecture of the interior resonates also with two opposite figurative matrices: the Franciscan and Dominican churches, undecorated halls with exposed roof structures, and the enveloping domes of the frescoed churches of the counter-Reformation.
Between the churchyard and the interior hall there is a lower transverse space, which serves as a vestibule as well as being the home of the baptismal font, whose location opposite to the altar harks back to the position it occupied in ancient times.
The ceiling of the church hall features the rhythmical alignment of thick transverse ribs that contain the skylights. Two white stucco “sails” or “wings” – branch out from the walls to generate a spatial embrace; a large skylight on the back wall carries daylight over the presbytery from the north. The outer facades are faced with an array of vertical slabs of equal dimension but different materials: white Trani stone, Grey Serena stone, oxidized zinc sheets, silkscreened glass. Their rhythm, position and quantity changes according to sun orientation, quality of internal spaces and relationship with the urban setting, generating a bi-dimensional decorative pattern which acts as a finer texture in respect to the bolder volumetric statement.
Even if the planned sacred furniture and the artwork by the French artist Hélène Delprat are not yet completed, the church has been fully adopted by the community which uses its premises in a variety of private and public fashions, confirming the success of the design moves apt for a contemporary sacred space.