"The Church of Perpetual Experimentation" was my final year project in Diploma 9 under Natasha Sandmeier and Monia DeMarchi, and involved the design of a sprawling new Church in the southern Roman suburb of EUR, set within the fictive context of a new pontificate that is devoted to the massive restucturing and expansion of the church, its liturgies and its architecture. The site in EUR is set aside by the new pope as a field of experimentation where the doctrinal and liturgical innovations being developed over the Tiber in the Vatican are put immediately to test and trial with the practising -and non-practising- public. The project was developed in many directions at the same time, and while having a strong technical basis which was pulled right through to 1:1 fragments being manufactured, it was also surrounded by an elaborate mythology which was explored through alot of writings (relating to the inventions of the theologians and the presentation of their ideas in a sort of Council of Trent set of guidelines, as well as the chains of consequences and events surrounding the whole endeavour), and many drawings that contained silent spatial narratives. The final presentation was through the film below which pulled everything together into a short explanation. The original version was alot more story-based, but I remade it with a stronger emphasis on formal issues.
This is the intr0duction to the Film:
This is the film which presents in a compressed form the story of the whole project:
This is the Pope's Inaugural Speech that initiated the experiment:
When waking with the sun and then ploughing fields or tending to sheep or sweating in the smithy all day until the sun set was the breadth of man’s horizon;
When the written word was a mystical cypher of which man knew nothing;
When Nature was vast, terrifying, dangerous and inexplicable;
When death wasn’t only an idea -something one knew would happen one day- but was a smell to be avoided in the streets;
When the body was so often a burden of pain to be suffered and from which there was no respite;
When life was such a narrow path of tedium peppered with horror and misery, the Church proclaimed the transcendence of every individual beyond his sores and abscesses; the Church placed man’s life and his death within an inimitable and beautiful plan of salvation beyond the stink of corpses; the Church extracted man from his narrow and incessant toil to celebrate creation and existence, which, rather than being cursed for its hardship, was glorified and illuminated in ceremony and stone. Man was overwhelmed by the intoxicating mixture of liturgy, icon, statue and story; he was convinced through the mysteries of the Church and their representations that life indeed did have meaning, that indeed there was something magical and profound about existence, about life, and also about pain and suffering.
But now that the rising of the sun has little significance, man wakes as he pleases, where he pleases, and knows that during the coming day his horizons may extend to embrace the globe;
Now that knowledge clings to each man as thickly as an odour, as thickly as a smell that emanates from the autopsy table on which lies the dissected, analysed, categorised and preserved remnants of Nature’s mysteries;
Now that death and pain have been marginalised to the periphery of vision, to specially quarantined buildings;
Now that the body is so often a collection of parts to be perfected or changed at will;
Now that magic and representation have haemorrhaged into every corner of the Real, and stand for nothing but distraction;
Now that life is such a vast landscape of endless choice peppered with information, opportunity and answers, the Church must proclaim the transcendence of every individual beyond the boredom of perfection; the Church must place man’s boundless freedom and his unlimited emptiness back within a plan of salvation beyond the cadaver of mystery. The Church must rediscover and reclaim the magic of representation and re-inject it with an amazement of existence. The Church must plunge itself into the contemporary world to find the raw material, the techniques with which it can once again convince man that indeed life does have meaning, that indeed there is something magical and profound about existence: that man’s great plague -the blight of meaninglessness- is no different today than it was when pain and suffering ruled, only now it is impossible to seduce man into belief with only ceremony and stone.
A lot more is needed, man is waiting, and to that effect, on the eve of my election I am announcing the convention of the Third Vatican Council. The Grand Conciglio will no doubt continue to examine our faith in great depth for many years to come, and beyond my time in the pontificate. Taking this into consideration I will be focusing my efforts on the formation of a sub-council which will endeavour to re-engage the laity through a direct, and possibly radical reconstruction of our tangible presence in their lives. In order that the ideas and decisions of this sub-council do not remain as exciting intention imprisoned on paper, in order that from the first steps of this Grand Council we will lead by concrete example, in order that the laity may engage with us while we are proceeding, in order for these things to happen I have set aside a parcel of land in this very city, the heart of our faith, so that it may become the physical register of our will to change.
I hereby convene the Third Vatican Council, convene and chair the First Committee for the Architecture of Ecclesiastical Engagement, and I hereby initiate the founding of the Church of Perpetual Experimentation.
An image of an interior area in the Church after many years of Experimentation:
The vaults under construction with a performance of Spectacular Mass happening below:
The main chapters of the Committee's publication as a monument:
A drawing explaining the sequence of events and developments in the life of the Church (including a controversial visit by Giorgia):
The Technical plate of the church's vaults:
Three sections running through the site:
The plan, cut at several levels, and sometimes looking up, sometimes down:
A drawing of the Spectacular Staircases:
Interior views of a Recorporation Room and Corridor, both in the subterranean realm of the Recorpisteries:
A piece of one of the Mausochapeleum towers:
A model of the Altar-floats that move around the Spectacular Staircases celebrating Mass:
One of the Climbing-Frame chandeliers, and Building-Block columns in the Multi-Nave area:
These are some of the models through which I developed the structural integrity of the vaulting system of the church and aligned their decorative schemes (tiling and profile carving) with that logic:
Two voussoirs were taken from one of the vaults and built out of Travertine in collaboration with Porcelli-Marmi in Pietrasanta, Tuscany:
The landscape of the Spectacular Staircases that run through the church were made by Cordek with a huge milling machine into an 8metre long foam sculpture which was shipped to the AA in London as the base for our unit's end of year exhibition:
Everyone painting the foam in Bedford Square:
The final crazy exhibition. We called the landscape the "Altar", there was a space underneath it called the "crypt" and the wall of images was the "Iconostasis". For better images see the AADIP9 blog .
Altar, Crypt and Exhibition headers:
In October there was the AAHonours exhibition and this was my display (with my mother watching the movie, and thats me talking to Jake Choi in the second pic):