Baha’i Temple – Spirit in the sky

Baha’i temple - spirit in the sky
Baha’i Temple in Santiago, Chile / © Hariri Pontarini Architects

Canadian architect Siamak Hariri spent a lifetime hoping to unite religion and technology – and realized his dream in a Baha’i temple in Chile. Alex Bozikovic reports from Santiago on one of architecture’s most ambitious undertakings

The security guard at the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut stroked his hand along the concrete wall. Across the room, an architecture student named Siamak Hariri watched; as the sun washed down through skylights onto the pale floor of travertine marble, his eyes lingered on this gesture, a man’s hand sliding across a precisely crafted, glimmering surface.

Thirty years later at his Toronto office, Hariri remembers that as a turning point. “Something twigged in me,” he says with a distant smile. Yes, he was inspired by the artistry of museum’s architect, the legendary Louis Kahn. But there was a deeper resonance. “I was raised believing that we have something called the spirit, and that you elevate the spirit with your work,” Hariri says. “And when I saw that [reaction] from the security guard, I realized there’s something in architecture that can do that.”

Lifting the spirit is an aspiration rarely achieved in architecture. Hariri and the firm in which he is a partner, Hariri Pontarini, have had a project with such aspirations. The Baha’i Temple of South America in Santiago, the ninth of the faith’s major houses of worship worldwide, opened in October.

In keeping with the Baha’i faith in which Hariri was raised, it is a nine-sided space for individual prayer, with no pulpit and no icons – a contemporary building that’s open to everyone.

“Obviously, this is no ordinary assignment,” Hariri says, seated at a table in his studio. “It had to be as perfect as is humanly possible. And it had to feel like a place of worship. But how? What is that quality?” […]

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