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Temple of Light

Temple 0f Light

Founded in Iran in the mid-19th century, the Bahá’í faith is the most recent of the world’s independent religions. It encourages equality and world peace. In fact, light—a powerful symbol for many religions—stands for the “oneness of humanity” in the Bahá’í faith.

Almost a century later, the Bahá’í Temple for South America stands on the foothills overlooking Chile’s capital city, Santiago. The temple, or House of Worship, as Bahá’ís call it, is comprised of a dome-like building structured by nine arching translucent sails, nine entrances, and a 15-acre garden with nine pathways and nine fountains. Nine, as the highest single digit number, is a symbol of completeness and perfection.

After a ceremony with local authorities, diplomats, religious representatives (and a weekend of activities that gathered five thousand Bahá’ís from over 100 countries), the 30-million dollar project—funded through voluntary and anonymous contributions from Bahá’í members worldwide—is now officially open to the public.

After dozens of sites and 3 more years, a local architect gave them a new lead. Hariri visited the prospective land: a site in the Andean foothills that offered a sense of nature and at the same time urbanity, since it was located on the mountains at the very edge of the city. It was part of a local alumni club. The architect was taken close to a pond; Hariri, however, without knowing the reason, started walking uphill. He climbed more than 1,640 feet. He stopped more or less where the temple stands today. Right there, all alone, he started shouting to the group down the hill: “Guys, this is it!” But they could barely see him, let alone hear him. “I felt the temple, I just tell you. It just felt perfect,” asserts Hariri smiling widely. The next day Hariri took Juan Grimm, the landscape architect of the project, to the site: “It’s perfect,” he agreed. After years of searching together, they had found the right nature-city balance. The Bahá’ís managed to buy over 200 acres of land (the temple and garden only use 25 acres). Now, construction could really start.

“There’s a beautiful quotation in the Bahá writings, which inspired the entire project,” explained Siamak Hariri.  The Toronto-based firm that in 2003 won the open competition to design the temple, at the opening press conference. The passage in question describes a servant deep in prayer that, illuminated by his connection to god.  The idea that light could not only go through, but be truly captured, became essential to the design. The central scheme, then, was to build a double skin nonagon structure that could really “embody” light and, constructed with cast glass and translucent marble.

Hariri Pontarini Architects designers of the Temple of Light.