NEW TEMPLE OF LIGHT in Chile will be made of translucent alabaster

Take a few moments, turn on your speakers, and watch these animated streaming videos.  They may be one of the most beautiful things you have ever seen on the Internet.  Breathtakingly beautiful!  Here is an amazing new website, launched by the Baha'i International Community for the Mother Temple of South America (Santiago, Chile), including a remarkable ANIMATED video of the temple in almost 3D virtual reality, along with essays describing the architecture.  (English FLASH for high speed / cable internet)  (QuickTime)  (Windows Media Player)

Don't fail to try the FLASH version, which has more photos than the other two.  It actually shows the House of Worship transforming right before your very eyes as the sun sets and the the temple begins to glow at night.  (Architects vision in his own words below, followed by another tribute.  If you don't find the same descriptions on the web site, you have not seen the entire presentation.)

Actually each has different features.  Windows Media can display full screen if you click on the image itself while playing.  QT you can easily run backwards and forwards... examining in slow motion each piece.  (Clicking on the image in QT may stop the motion. )


"Light is the fundamental connecting force of the universe. The Temple of Light we have designed employs both translucent stone and the newest glass technology as the means of generating and manifesting both the physiological and spiritual delights of natural light embodied in architecture.

This living Temple of Light, which will glow with a dreamlike serenity, will explore the entire range of the phenomena of light and shadow in continual interaction. Set against the stirring background of the Andes, the new Temple is to be a crystallizing of light-as-expression, an evanescent structure of white alabaster and glass: a place of pure luminescence.

The revelation of an entirely new kind of space such as that embodied by the Temple is born, like an interweaving of cultures and languages, from the degree to which the building seems to dissolve and then to reappear in light. Within its vitally charged space, the living light describes and articulates both the structure's inner and outer forms.

The outer form of the Temple is defined by nine gracefully torqued wings, which enfold the space of the Temple.

These vast wings are made of two delicate skins of translucent, subtly gridded alabaster, one on the outside and the other on the inside. Between these two layers of glowing, translucent stone, lies a curved steel structure (the source of the faintly discernable gridding) enclosed in glass, its primary structural members intertwining with secondary support members, not unlike the structural veining discernable within a leaf.

The inner form of the Temple, suspended within its radiant exterior envelope, is a volume defined by a finely articulated tracery of wood which offers a delicately ornamental inner surface, rich in texture, warm by nature, acoustically practical and responsive to the cultural givens of the area.

This inner volume screens the rays of the sun, washing the Temple’s surfaces with changing patterns of light of unpredictable iridescence, gentle waves of diffracted light now merging with soft, pulsating shadows.

The Temple’s nine enfolding wings, identical in form, are organically shaped and twisted slightly to produce, in aggregate, a rather nest-like structure, readable as a soft undulating dome positioned around a raised base. The Temple is to be sited amidst an extensive radiating garden comprising nine reflecting lily pools and nine prayer-gardens. The primary approach to the Temple, with the mountains as background, reveals a sinuous, ethereal, light-washed structure which contrasts amiably with but does not contravene the natural beauty of the distant, towering rock formations. Everywhere, water reflects and refracts the glowing structure.

During the day, it is the soft undulating alabaster and glass skin of the Temple which forms its outer expression. At night, the image reverses itself, the entire volume then becoming a warm totalized glow, with the inner form of the building visible through the glass.

Each of the entrances to the Temple is softly carved into the base of the structure, thus forming nine alcoves. The mezzanine, encircling the interior of the building lends these alcoves an intimate scale, a scale comfortably reduced to human proportions, and resulting in the carving out of spatial areas which invite a kind of optical and, in the end, a metaphysical identification with the surrounding landscape at large and the serene reflectibility of the still water of the pools. This compression of space effected by the design of the alcoves serves both to prepare the visitor for his or her encounter with the majestic scale of the Temple’s central volume, and, if required, allows those who would prefer to remain at the periphery of the Temple to do so in privacy and with peace. These serene, tranquil interior rooms, formed in the juxtaposition of the Temple’s alabaster wings and its interior curbed-wood surfaces, create spaces of gentle solitude, flooded with soft light and giving onto the gardens beyond.

The interior composition of the Temple is a coalescing of whites on white, experienced by the visitor as a pure but complex radiance. The complexity of this light is the product of the traceries of wood stained which have been stained a light silvery white, as they are set against the white lines of the jointing patterns of the alabaster. Light moving through and between each of the wings becomes light as structure, lines of radiance moving and arcing gently about The Greatest Name. Both the physical and spiritual nature of light is here refined to a crystalline delicacy and clarity, a condensing of light which reads as the matrix of a restful sensuality and serenity. The entire compositional order comes together at the upper center of the Temple, where the nine wings nest, and where the inner basket of the structure yearningly approaches the location of The Greatest Name.

The Temple touches very lightly on the ground, its base having become virtually transparent, with each of the nine wings practically floating in the horizon. While firmly grounded, in terms of its engineering, the form of the Temple speaks nevertheless of ascendance. Indeed, it is hoped that the Temple’s design will be seen as a restrained interplay of seeming contradictions: movement moving against stillness, the building’s profound rootedness nevertheless made to seem buoyant, the building reading as a symmetrical structure that seems, as well, possessed of a stirring performative variousness. In the end, it is hoped that this sacred building will feel both simple and understated, and, at the same time, complex enough to accept and hold a rich multiplicity of readings and experiences.

The Temple is to be, in other words, highly though subtly structured and ordered and yet capable of dissolving in light. It is to be both monumental yet intimate. It is to take its place as a sister Temple to the other Mother Temples - and yet, as Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, find its way into its own gentle and compelling uniqueness."  Siamak Hariri

Towards an Architecture of Meditation

"The question is a difficult, delicate one: how do you design a meditative architecture? How do you design, that is to say, an architecture at least one of the purposes of which is to provide a locus for meditation? How do you design, in other words, a spiritualizing, spiritualizable space?

You do it, I suppose, with the utmost tact. And with as much reverence as can be made congruent with the imperatives of engineering and the givens of human need for a mind-freeing, heart-freeing sense of comfort, safety, and inner peace.

The first consideration for the architect, it seems to me, might well be to find a way to embody his desire to transcend the conventional tenets of morphological style. A pre-occupation with style in architecture leads, far too frequently, to a fatal division between the architect’s will-to-form and the building’s greater meaning. A merely cosmetic, external application of style considerations to a building of noble purpose can lead to the project's fall into division – to the building's becoming an appearance-heavy shell of design-schemes at cross-purposes with the activities it is to encompass. Thus the importance borne by a building’s imagery.

For the Bahá’í Temple of Light proposed here by architect Siamak Hariri and his design team, the assumption has been that while imagery is of central importance to such a building's meaning, that imagery must serve the high purpose for which the building is intended and not, instead, stand in the way of such a purpose. The tendency to settle for an easy literalness of imagery (make the building a nest, make the building a vessel, etc.) must always have been present in their deliberations-present, but profoundly overcome.

For as the proposal now stands, the Temple is a stunningly beautiful, morphologically persuasive emblematizing of luminosity and ascension – without the easy, seductive sign-posting such abstractions might well have seemed to encourage.

The only other buildings I know where design is as successfully integrated with program as is the Hariri-designed Temple of Light are Frederick Kiesler’s beautiful (and, unfortunately, unbuilt) Grotto for Meditation (1963), his meditative environment in homage to theologian Paul Tillich – which employed highly abstracted images of seashell and dolphin and his Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem (1965), Kiesler’s architectural “amphora” for the housing of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Like those two splendid and subtly contrived projects, Hariri’s Temple of Light, begins with a certain specificity of imagery and then deepens and enriches it, moving it towards widely generalized meanings.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once observed that “purity of heart is to will one thing”. This proposed Temple of Light is overwhelmingly One Thing.

Despite the intimate complexities of its design (which are prodigious) and the sophistication of its engineering (which is remarkably inventive), the Temple is so integrated as design it looks, from afar, like a soap-bubble that has alighted, momentarily, on the ground: an evanescent architectural grace-note come to rest in a rugged, sublime setting.

Although the building is securely footed and fixed (and is as earthquake-proof as is technically possible), it sits poised, balletically, on nine barely perceptible piers – the pinion-like bottoms of the nine graceful wings that, in the act of enfolding and protecting the building’s inner spaces, create them. The building is so buoyant in appearance it becomes a post-architectural entity: an enterable droplet of light, a luminous place. The building is less like an enclosure than it is like an utterance – a lovely lifting of the heart made manifest.

The nine wings of the building – formed from translucent layers of alabaster and glass – enclose the building the way a bird, just after alighting, folds its wings about itself. These wings are the buildings “walls”, but they are not wall-like. They form the building’s nine entrances, but they are not door-like.

They torque themselves gently into a generative near-spiral so that, at the top of the building (which, in a sense, does not really have a “top”), their end-points touch and fuse into a vortex encircling and honouring The Greatest Name. All of the movement of the building is upward. Its image is a verticalizing image. The Temple is, I would venture, the very shape of the meditative act.

Every element of the Temple is etherealising: the inner “basket” of white wooden tracery that screens the sun and diffuses and refracts its light, the soft “collar” of the floating mezzanine that holds the building laterally and furnishes forth private alcoves for meditation, the wings dissolving in radiance. Like philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s “aerial tree” (Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, 1988), the building “savours the whole vault of the skies” (Rilke).

In the end, the Hariri-designed Temple of Light is a hovering cloud, an architectural mist. Imagistically, it acknowledges blossom, fruit, vegetable and the human heart – but rests somewhere beyond such readings, gathering them up and transforming them into an architectural scheme that is, simultaneously, both engagingly familiar and brilliantly original."  -- Gary Michael Dault