Chiara Del Core 1 jul 2021 Articles 0 comments

Evolution and change in the design of sacred buildings

The previous excursus on the architecture of sacred places relating to the main monotheisms aims to provide an overall picture of the issue. But today, what has changed in design compared to the past?
If we consider the specific case of modern churches, some observations need to be made. It is in fact essential to point out how the approach to the design of these sacred places has changed and how a slow and progressive revolution has taken place on a formal level.

The first aspect concerns the building envelope: if it was once a characterizing element, with a high symbolic value, today it takes off this function, becoming in some cases, an expression of the place where it is located or free interpretation of the architect. The solid-void relationship also changes since, for example, Gothic sacred architecture was distinguished by the few and small openings that guaranteed dark and mysterious interior spaces. Today, however, sometimes the windows are exceeded. As for the layout of the church, it used to be in the form of a Greek or Latin cross. Current buildings often do not have this planimetric conformation even if the cross is always present behind the altar or in the iconographic program. In the interior spaces the apse was and still is facing east, however if once the celebrant had his back to the faithful, today he addresses them directly. Finally, the rich and ancient decorations leave room for more bare and minimal environments.
Rafael Moneo's Iglesia de Iesu is a concrete representation of how the cross layout has been revisited in a modern key and how the Christian symbol permeates the entire building (See the dwg drawings)
Photo: Francisco Berreteaga 

Then there are some elements that should be observed during the design process, in order to ensure a pleasant and safe experience for the faithful. Let's see them below:
It is essential to ensure complete accessibility for all, through the elimination of architectural barriers and the inclusion of appropriate external ramps. In addition, it is good to provide non-slip flooring and ensure the absence of obstacles for free movement, in order to ensure adequate pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Finally, the presence of standard and disabled parking spaces is mandatory, in proportional numbers with respect to the former.
Although today the Italian legislation on fire prevention does not impose obligations in the case of sacred places, it is of fundamental importance to indicate the emergency exits and to size the accesses and internal spaces according to the forecasts of user flows.
Thermo-acoustic comfort
In order to ensure optimal acoustic comfort, the building must be designed to ensure the amplification of the sound and at the same time to contain it, in order to avoid unpleasant noises. For this purpose, adequate acoustic diffusion systems and loudspeakers distributed throughout the interior must be present. Also from the point of view of air conditioning it is important to ensure the natural exchange of air, thanks to the windows that can be opened and adjusted according to seasonal needs.
Visual comfort
The church must be properly illuminated in all its spaces, in order to minimize the use of artificial light. Often punctual luminaires are placed to recreate particular scenic effects or to give relevance to valuable architectural details.
In conclusion, with the passing of the centuries, the sacred buildings have assumed a variable importance, linked to the socio-political situation of the time, but in any case they are artifacts of great architectural and symbolic value. For this reason, the design of places of worship presupposes a particular sensitivity to places, social needs and the peculiarities of a specific religion that must be respected and celebrated. It is necessary to keep up with the times, reinterpret tradition in full respect of its core values and ensure the relevance that a context where the sacred unites with the profane deserves.
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