Church Dio Padre Misericordioso (Jubilee Church) in Rome
Designed by Richard Meier
Given the extraordinary quantity and quality of churches Rome already offers, did the city need another, and would you want to take the time to travel out to a workaday suburb to visit it? The Vatican was apparently sufficiently clear on the first question to fund the construction of an additional 50 churches to celebrate the "Jubilee" (Millennium) in 2000, and after a visit out to Tor Tre Teste I am just as clear on the second.
Meier's building is a dramatic church and community center surrounded by 1970s apartment blocks in a salubrious but nondescript suburb six miles to the east of Rome. Won in an invited competition against Tadao Ando, Santiago Calatrava, Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry, the bright white church makes dramatic use of light both outside and inside. As Meier describes it:
"Light is the protagonist of our understanding and reading of space. Light is the means by which we are able to experience what we call sacred. Light is at the origins of this building... In the Jubilee Church, the three concrete shells define an enveloping atmosphere in which the light from the skylights above creates a luminous spatial experience, and the rays of sunlight serve as a mystical metaphor of the presence of God...
"Transparency and light cascade down from the skylit roof, literally invading the interior of the church also penetrating from below through a narrow slot opened at floor level. People in the atrium are enveloped with mystical light."
The narrow slot at floor level, teasingly emphasising the non-load-bearing nature of the concrete panels immediately above it (vs. the steel skeleton hidden within the shell), is reminiscent of the similar slot between wall and ceiling in Le Corbusier's chapel at Ronchamp which, together with La Tourette, are Corbusier influences Meier acknowledges, along with Alvar Aalto and Frank Lloyd Wright:
"These are the contemporary churches that have impressed me most, and I would say that what they all share is the importance of light."
The color palette and materials in the Jubilee church is restrained and beautiful: traditional Roman travertine; more recently-Roman smooth, white concrete, invented for the Olympic Stadium in Rome in 1960 and created by Italcementi; and light wood panelling and pews.
With the structure supported by the curved cantilever of the concrete-clad shells, reaching over towards the opposite "spine" wall, the west (altar) and east (organ) walls are light glazing, surrounding the bright, white set pieces for the cross and organ respectively. As the church guide describes it, "Taking part in a prayer, you feel like celebrating in the presence of God thanks to the roof of the nave, the eastern and the western facade entirely made in glass." Despite all the glazing, the geometry is such that direct sun almost never comes into the church.