Constructing the Bahá’í Temple of South America

Digital technology has seeped into every facet of society. Systems and networks depend on it as we become connected to the world like no other generation has been before.

Architecture is no exception. On Oct. 29, Ryerson’s department of architectural studies teamed up with Hariri Pontarini Architects firm to unite high-tech mechanics with the construction and design of the Bahá’í Temple in South America, showcasing their work in a two-week exhibition at the university.

The exhibition on the temple is exploring the planning and fabrication that went into the early stages of the project. It also reflects on the creation processes behind the temple, which is to be completed in Santiago, Chile in 2016.

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The temple was set out on a rather contradicting design requirement. As a sister temple to the existing one in North America, the firm set out on their design process aiming to achieve cohesion through conflict, between stillness and movement, simplicity and complexity, and lightness and dark.

Justin Ford, the job captain for the temple, said that the duality idea is the foundation of the religion of the local Bahá’í people. During the construction of the temple, the Bahá’í community wished to uphold the moral background of their religion while still being progressive. “[They wanted] to see something to be peaceful or calm — while not being stagnant,” said Ford.

In terms of the construction, new technology has been used to fabricate building materials. Concepts that are seen as new, such as carbon nano-tubing and 3D printing, have been in use at Hariri Pontarini for over a decade and during the lifespan of this project.

“Digital modes of both designing have improved in architecture these last twelve years that we’ve been working on the project,” said Ford. “A lot of it was new back then, so we did a lot of different stuff trying to find a form.”

That form takes the shape of a dome, with nine symmetrical leaves of a flower bud before blooming. This facet of the design focuses on the number nine as a reflection on the Bahá’í faith itself, and is said to represent completion and perfection. Ford explained that his team tried to honour long standing traditions with more spiritual architecture.

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As for the environmental footprint involved in the production of the temple, Ford said that Hariri Pontarini has been making many ecological moves. These include a natural heating and cooling system, along with a large reflecting pool outside the temple — which will be used to recover and dissipate the heat from the area within.

As digital engineering practices like these become more prevalent in Ford’s line of work, it’s a testament to how transformative these changes can be. It’s only a matter of time until we see them in action, closer to home.

The exhibit will be on display at the Paul H. Cocker Gallery in the Architecture building until Nov. 13.

Photos by Ankit Singh