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Centre of belief

The winner of the prestigious RAIC award, this Bahai Temple sits on the edge of Santiago and nestles against the spine of the Andes mountains.

Photo courtesy: Hariri Pontarini Architects

The Bahá‘í Temple of South America in Chile, designed by Siamak Hariri of Hariri Pontarini Architects, has been shortlisted for The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) International Prize.

Awarded every two years, this world-renowned prize celebrates architecture from around the globe that transforms society and promotes justice, respect, equality, and inclusiveness. The RAIC received submissions from 12 countries across six contents.

Hariri Pontarini Architect’s is the first Canadian firm to make the shortlist for this prestigious award. The winner will be announced at the RAIC gala in Toronto, Canada on October 25, 2019.

“The result is timeless and inspiring, a building that uses a language of space and light, form and materials, to express an interpretation of Bahá‘í philosophy and teaching that becomes universally accessible as a shared spiritual and emotional experience.” – RAIC International Prize, Jury Comment.

At the heart of this building there is a belief and an aspiration: that even now, in the fractured 21st-century, we can respond to a human yearning to come together, to connect to one another, and to something that moves the spirit.

The Temple sits on the edge of Santiago and nestles against the spine of the Andes mountains. It was commissioned by the Bahá‘í House of Justice and is the eighth and final continental temple for the Bahá‘í Faith. But, central to its brief and its design is that it be a place of welcome, community and meaning for everyone.

The Temple is a human place, universally appealing in its form and at one with its landscape. Distilled to its very essence, the Temple is a building that seeks to come alive with light – embodied light.

Composed of nine identical, gracefully torqued wings bound to the oculus at the top, creating a weightless movement around a grounded centre, the Temple is light but also rooted and has a sense of permanence. A circular structure with nine sides, nine entrances open, figuratively and symbolically, to everyone.

In contrast to the Temple’s subtlety on the landscape, once inside the building soars along with the spirit of those who enter. The voluminous interior is alive with soft light that filters through the cast glass exterior and translucent marble interior of the wings, bathing visitors in warmth.

The arched lines of the supple wooden benches invite people to come together, not for a congregation, but to congregate; to sit next to one another in quiet contemplation, sharing in the communal act of being. The alcoved mezzanine above allows those seeking solitude to tuck into themselves while not losing connectedness with the community below.

Given the intimacy and delicacy of the Temple, it is easy to overlook the inherent toughness of the structure and engineering required for the building to weather the rugged climate in this earthquake-prone region for 400 years to come.

The process of achieving this was quite extraordinary, involving the hands of many; artisans, engineers and craftsmen from Canada, the United States, Europe and Chile, and a team of countless global volunteers. The process, like the building itself, drawing people together in pursuit of a common goal.

Expressing an unwavering belief in inclusion, the Temple has become the embodiment of a human aspiration for commonality within diversity. Since opening in the fall of 2016, the Temple has quickly developed into a major attractor in South America, welcoming over 1.4 million visitors, and sees up to 36,000 people on busy weekends.

Amongst these, many Mapuche, the indigenous peoples of Chile, who made the trek to the Temple their first journey away from their village. It holds an important place within the Chilean social landscape, hosting community clubs, youth outreach programs and children’s activities in partnership with the public schools. The Temple is a timeless place where people feel at home, able to hold their beliefs amongst others.

Siamak Hariri is a founding Partner of Hariri Pontarini Architects. His portfolio of nationally and internationally recognized buildings has won over 70 awards, including two Governor General’s Medal in Architecture and, with his Partner David Pontarini, the 2013 Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Architectural Firm Award. In 2016, he gave a TED talk entitled How do you build a sacred space that has garnered over 1.3 million views and was celebrated as one of Canada’s Artists who mattered most by the Globe and Mail.

One of Siamak’s earliest projects, the Canadian headquarters of McKinsey & Company, is the youngest building to ever receive City of Toronto heritage land-mark designation. Since then, he has established a career in creating institutional and cultural projects of international acclaim, including the Governor General’s medal winning Schulich School of Business for York University.

Also, the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University that has been recognized with the 2016 Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award, the American Institute of Architects’ Educational Facility Design Award of Excellence, and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario’s Award for Design Excellence in Architecture.

In the fall of 2016, Siamak completed a project he began in 2003, the Bahá’í Temple of South America, located in Santiago, Chile, the last of the Bahá’í continental temples. Won through an international call and a rigorous design competition (185 entries from 80 countries) the Temple has quickly become a continental landmark and attractor at the foothill of the Andes.

It has won many of the top architecture awards including the AIA Honors Award, the OAA Design Excellence Award, the RAIC Innovation Award, the Canadian Architect’s Award of Excellence; the International Property Awards, and was profiled by National Geographic Magazine. The Temple has welcomed 1.4 million visitors since the opening and sees upwards of 36,000 people on some weekends.

In 2017, Siamak completed Casey House in Toronto which has since received the Governor General’s Medal, the Lieutenant Governor Award, and the OAA Design Excellence Award.

Born in Bonn, Germany, Siamak was educated at the University of Waterloo and Yale University where he completed a Master of Architecture.

He has taught at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto, as well as been a lecturer and guest critic for numerous organizations across North America. Siamak sits on the board of the Design Exchange and the Rosehill Vision Committee and sat on the advisory board of the Royal Ontario Museum’s Contemporary Culture, the Toronto Community Foundation and was a member of Waterfront Toronto’s Design Review Panel from 2005-2010.

He has taught studios at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto and has been a lecturer, guest critic and jury member for numerous organizations across North America and Europe.

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