ART IS SACRED. ESPECIALLY ARCHITECTURE.
"God is in the details," as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, a famous German architect counted among the masters of the Modern Movement. Never was an expression more appropriate if we look at sacred architecture and the attention paid to particular technical aspects of design, to the social role of a liturgical building and the significance a place of worship has in the urban context.
These aspects became fundamental once again after the 2nd Vatican Council, with inspirational figures such as Cardinal Larcaro, a supporter of religious building in constant dialogue with the city, and were pushed to the centre of the debate on contemporary architecture thanks to the works of Starchitects such as Tadao Ando, Mario Botta, Richard Meier and Renzo Piano. But most of all thanks to the renewed impetus of the CEI [Italian Episcopal Conference] which has recently held a competition to design a new church in Mantua and is drawing up calls for bids for the dioceses of Forlì, Lucca and Monreale.
The activism of ecclesiastical clients is in contrast to the general slowdown in the industry, with an overall drop in new buildings of 44% between 2006 and 2012 and a non-residential market that is struggling to reverse the trend. A recovery that seems to take root especially in the development of environmental and urban sustainability, a goal which has always been dear to the CEI. If green design and redevelopment are the possible future of architecture, sacred building is very much a part of that "human ecology" advocated by recent pontificates. The careful selection of materials which are not hazardous to health, the focus on energy efficiency of the building, the choice of technologically-advanced equipment and construction systems that favour exposure to the sun in places of worship. Good examples are widespread, from more than 700 churches in Germany that have solar panels installed on the roof to the Immaculate Sacred Heart of Mary at Brembo di Dalmine (Bergamo, Italy), where the designers from the PBEB Studio have created a church inside a disused factory.
A liturgical building that therefore has less and less the character of a monument and more and more the character of architecture with specific functional characteristics, such as security and universal accessibility. As well as respecting the equilibrium with the surrounding environment, be it a landscape, be it the urban fabric. In particular, religious buildings expressing a contemporary language combine innovation of form and materials with the familiarity of a place dedicated to spirituality, a landmark within the social context and for the local identity of which it is a part.
Environmental sustainability is therefore one of the objectives of a sacred architecture that expresses the concept of community, with the use of green materials that represent a synthesis of contemporary aesthetics and functional quality. Speaking of materials, ceramics are historically much used in the construction of religious buildings, for example for the decoration of domes and colonnades or for covering internal walls. A prominent role reiterated today by porcelain stoneware with its "miraculous" properties adapting as it does to different colours and spaces of different sizes due to its availability in different shapes and thicknesses. This feature, combined with the elimination of glazes, allows the use of the material both indoors and outdoors, as in the case of the DSG Ceramics porcelain stoneware chosen by Itinera Associate Studio and Ithaca Associate Architects for the project proposed for the competition of the Archdiocese of Sorrento-Castellammare di Stabia for the parish of Santa Maria del Carmine (Naples). The specific DSG products selected for the construction of the church building are Basaltina and Luserna, both in the bush-hammered version - porcelain stoneware slabs resistant to abrasion, friction coefficient R11 (ideal for use in high-traffic areas) and stone effect capable of enhancing broader areas. An aesthetic detail necessary given the single pedestal that, the designers intended, should have the appearance of the cross inside the church and that reaches the exterior of the building travelling its entire perimeter and composing itself in the churchyard into a welcoming seat. The guiding principles of the project in fact recall the inseparable connection between the liturgy and the daily life of believers, represented by volcanic stone-effect flooring that eliminates any continuity between the various parts of the sacred architecture.
To return to quotations, and especially to another highly-influential member of the Modern Movement - Le Corbusier himself: "Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light." A light that, in some cases more than others, can truly be said to be of divine origin.