Vatican City participated in the Venice Architecture Biennale for the first time this year, inviting the public to explore a sequence of unique chapels designed by renowned architects including Norman Foster and Eduardo Souto de Moura. Located in the woods that cover the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, the chapels offer interpretations of Gunnar Asplund’s 1920 chapel at Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm, a seminal example of modernist memorial architecture set in a similarly natural wooded context.
A new video produced by Spirit of Space offers a brief virtual tour of the structures that make up the Holy See’s pavilion, lingering on each just long enough to show different views and angles. As members of the public circulate through the chapels in each shot, the scenes give an impression of how each chapel guides circulation.
The rapid pace of the video helps the projects blend together to feel like a cohesive single experience, while still offering more information about each individual design than a series of still photos could convey. Gentle ambient music adds a calming soundtrack to the video but also doesn’t add crucial information, so the audio track can be muted for watching at work.
The procession from one chapel to the next is intended to bring visitors on a journey or pilgrimage punctuated with architectural encounters, and Spirit of Space’s video gives viewers a glimpse of the sequence of experiences that the Vatican chose to include in their latest artistic endeavor. For more context on each chapel featured in the video, here is a brief guide to this year’s Vatican City Biennale pavilions with timestamps to identify each chapel in the video:
Norman Foster, United Kingdom: 00:04
Guiding circulation down a long narrow aisle like the procession entering mass down a church's nave, Norman Foster designed his chapel in for form of a faceted tunnel, with wood screen walls that create rhythmic shadow effects. The elevated walk terminates in a framed view of Venice’s iconic harbor.
Eduardo Souto de Moura, Portugal: 00:39
Eduardo Souto de Moura creates a similar sequence of entry and penetration, but the cyclopean masonry walls add gravitas to the experience of processing towards its backlit alter.
Asplund Chapel by MAP Architects, USA: 00:59
Serving as the entry point for the whole Vatican pavilion, the shingled structure by MAP Architects contains information and drawings of Asplund’s Woodland Chapel to give visitors an understanding of the source being interpreted by each of the other installations.
Andrew Berman, USA: 01:15
Andrew Berman’s design distills the idea of a chapel down to its underlying ideas, creating an outward-facing seating area and a sheltered single seat inside its enclosure that is lit dramatically from an overhead skylight -- drawing visitors toward an allegorical light from above and challenging them to interact with it directly.
Francesco Cellini, Italy: 01:30
Two interconnected rectangular volumes suggest a relationship between the universal concepts represented by black and white. The physical interaction points between the site and the formally rigid volumes also form planes that create areas of seating and shelter for visitors.
Smiljan Radic, Chile: 01:38
A monumental hollow concrete mass with a glass ceiling and heavy, off-axis door, Radic’s chapel invites visitors to enter and experience it’s textured inner walls and central hung timber column.
Sean Godsell, Australia: 02:05
Mechanized panels along the ground level of Godsell’s tall rectangular mass open to act as awnings while offering access to it’s hollow core with upwards views of the sky. The panels can also be closed to restrict access and transform the structure into an imposing monolith.
Ricardo Flores & Eva Prats, Spain: 02:16
Recalling their traditional Spanish detailing and material traditions, the terracotta-red and whitewashed chapel by Flores & Prats brings visitors through an arched doorway its thick mass of wall and up onto a covered platform where consciously-angled windows create designed effects at specific times of day.
Teronobu Fujimori, Japan: 02:44
Referencing typical peaked-roof chapel forms and incorporating wood details finished with shou sugi ban charring techniques, Fujimori’s design blends Catholic conventions with informal, natural elements.
Javier Corvalán, Paraguay: 03:06
Corvalán’s chapel embraces visitors within a lifted steel and plywood ring, which is suspended by a tripod of columns along one point of its inner edge. Inside the ring, the symbol of the cross hangs so it can be seen when visitors gaze upwards.
Carla Juaçaba, Brazil: 03:18
A particularly minimalist interpretation of a small chapel in the woods, Juaçaba uses mirrored square steel beams and rows of parallel concrete ground supports to imply the peaked form and interior layout of a congregation space. The skeletal construction maximizes transparency and seamless connection between the interior of the chapel and its natural surroundings.