God is in the details: Santa Maria Goretti Church by Mario Cucinella Architects
by Jincy IypeDec 24, 2021
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jincy IypePublished on : Jan 28, 2023
Religious architecture for me, has invariably been personal, instead of catering to a particular higher being; of curated spaces decorated with divine light and an aura of spirituality that offers to bear the burden of your worries for a little while, cleansing and calming your soul. As we progressed into the modern world, so have our spiritual spaces, from minimal, non-denominational buildings to museum-like, grand edifices. I am reminded of Le Corbusier’s last completed building in Europe, The Convent of La Tourette, set on slopping green hills, and unique in its architecture of a pious dwelling catering to silent monks. In the late architect’s own words—"(The intention was) to give the monks what men today need most: silence and peace...this monastery does not show off; it is on the inside that it lives."
Semerano Architecture Workshop, led by Italian architect Toti Semerano, conceived the Monastery Accommodation Stella Maris, a 'hypogeal intervention' that creates a meditative womb within a chapel and cloister housed inside a residential complex, located in the Bibione Comune in Italy. The subterranean architecture as well as the complex it resides within caters to guests with disabilities and their families, serenely ensconced in a bucolic natural environment, that of a verdant and deep pine forest overlooking the splendid Adriatic Sea.
Semerano paints a visual picture of the chapel’s architecture—walking towards the discreet form, upon a soft carpet of pine needles, footsteps muffle while the mind starts to get still and take in the space. The natural landscape begins to rise imperceptibly, abandoning the darkness of the pine forest, broken only at times by large clearings, to transition into a smooth terrace that kisses the canopy of pines, and in the process, rapidly revealing the sea in all its vastness and glory, with the sun dancing in innumerable sparkles.
A substantial dune articulates the space clearing in the garden rolling below, further defining the Italian architecture’s built space. “From here we proceed by excavation and subtraction: a deep furrow into which the vegetation has entered until it visually joins the wooded space, a green river which at the same time increases the privacy of the residences that overlook it. As you go up you feel the presence of a void, a sudden suspension, which you cannot access, but which is strongly present,” he adds.
The unique cloister, the covered walkway inside the monastery, comes alive here, as a sacred space around which everything revolves, as a discreet yet eloquent spiritual architecture that worships the ground. Access to this space is only possible from the chapel and kept barely discernible from the outside. The space is described by Semerano as “a crypt in which natural light enters from a single cut, from the east, the morning light,” giving it its characteristic monastic allure. Blocks of stone articulate this space, whose surface was machined with particular milling to make joints disappear, resulting in the volume seeming as though it was built as an excavated monolith, an immense mass of stone occurring naturally.
“Through the movable walls of the chapel, with deliberately limited size, but not in height, the chapel itself can be expanded by incorporating the halls of a meeting space: a meditative space that, on certain occasions becomes a liturgical space of considerable capacity. The stone becomes the protagonist, the high walls that seem to be dug in a single block, making the surface vibratile under the light. A painted sky shines behind the interweaving of the branches to emphasise the upward movement of the housing wall,” the architect explains.
The calming, palpable presence of the natural environment suggested the ‘botanical’ design approach adopted for the stone architecture. The construction of the Monastery Accommodation Stella Maris aimed to preserve the pinewood from extreme human settlement, in tandem with formulating the built as an “editable image in time, in the sense of its programmed mitigation,” says Semerano.
The experience of crafting a modern chapel design that remains in continuous dialogue with natural light represented “an increasingly urgent answer to the question of how it is possible to safeguard the architectural quality at all stages of the realisation,” he continues.
Inside the warm beige chapel, a minimal, peaceful familiarity, reminiscent of comforting sleep, awaits—the welcoming entrance wall with a slightly protruding holy water font embodies subtle decoration in the form of petite yet prominent rectangular cutouts, placed in choreographed tranquillity, as the wall curves around the perimeter. A trapezoidal hunk, plain but given embellishment through etched striations on its skin serves as the altar, while a four-shaped cross is sliced out in the background, a twinkling night star in stone. To the left, a cuboidal pulpit stands in stillness, while the skylight above blesses the altar in abundant light, with strips seemingly peeling upwards from the walls to bunch towards the ceiling in worship.
Ceilings and continuous surfaces inside the other zones of the Monastery Accommodation Stella Maris curve gently, injecting subtle contrasts and adding dimension to the otherwise monastic interior design.
As the project began and took shape, the search for its materiality followed suit. Semerano highlights the idea and intent—“The wrinkled bark of pine trees with its non-colour-changing hues under light, now grey, red or brown, remained the constant reference in identifying the materials that had to be used.” Along with hand-made bricks, deactivated concrete (a building material that turns off the surface to highlight the aggregates contained in concrete by removing the surface layer of the same) was also employed for the idyllic contemporary architecture, made with a specific mixture of inert earth and oxides which were formulated in a laboratory.
Santafiora stone was chosen for the flooring both inside and outside, not only for its colour but also for the adaptability and possibility that it presented, to realise a wide range of surface treatments. “The outcome is a variety of shades of a single colour that considerably dampens the impact of the built for its degree of harmonisation with the surroundings,” the design team shares.
The personality of such typologies, ranging from churches to monasteries, theological seminaries, and convents, is what ultimately defines the individual experience of its users. An intended sliver of light that chases the floor, entering from a slender aperture becomes the private meditation space of a nun, or an alcove birthed between tree trunks functions as a group study for young seminarians, or a wide-eyed child’s first visit to a massive stained-glass cathedral, casting a memory that will remain etched in their lives thereon.
by Sunena V Maju Mar 31, 2023
The architect, professor and curator, talks to STIR about architectural responses to the refugee crisis, building for underrepresented communities, and his curational practice.
by Vladimir Belogolovsky Mar 31, 2023
Vladimir Belogolovsky reviews Owen Hopkins's new book Brutalists: Brutalism’s Best Architects and finds it refreshing in its focus on architects and broad representation.
by Almas Sadique Mar 29, 2023
Vltavská Underground is an underground space for sports, recreation and food in Prague, Czech Republic.
by Anmol Ahuja Mar 27, 2023
Designed over the site of an abandoned 1950s petrol station in London, the building borrows its visual vocabulary from nearby railway arches and housing complexes.
make your fridays matterSUBSCRIBE
Don't have an account?Sign Up
Or you can join with
Please select your profession for an enhanced experience.
Tap on things that interests you.
Select the Conversation Category you would like to watch
Please enter your details and click submit.
Enter the code sent to
What do you think?