Architecture and spirituality, the Church of the Penitent Thief in Bologna

October 18, 2019

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Architecture and spirituality, the Church of the Penitent Thief in Bologna

In San Lazzaro di Savena, (Bologna, Italy), a team of young architects composed of INOUTarchitettura, LADO architetti and LAMBER + LAMBER has designed the new Church of the Penitent Thief and the annexed parish complex opens to the public, starting from a strongly participatory process shared with the whole community in 2010.

Taking a cue from the archetypal image of a church, the design seeks a sober, solemn, but not monumental architecture, which echoes the mysticism of everyday life: the wall casing is light in color, evoking the marble of classical architecture, while the perimeter of the new church is defined by walls that bend and slide off each other, evolving into large half-open doors that signal two points of access to the main hall, in addition to the main entrance.

A continuous crack from heaven to earth and running along the entire roof, cuts and splits the building’s shell, revealing the presence of the sky: in fact, the architectural, liturgical, and artistic components of the project have been carefully considered and deeply analysed as intimately connected facets.

The main liturgical spaces have been organized along the perimeter, built in wall niches and, moreover, the artistic path unfolds to encompass the entire wall development; the resulting central void is dedicated to the assembly hall: an intimate and measured space whose fulcrum is the altar, around which the benches are arranged in a semicircle to accommodate over 300 devotees.

The liturgical elements – the altar, the ambo, the baptismal font – are stone pieces in selenite, a characteristic crystalline gypsum of the Bolognese hills: these strongly material presences emerge with respect to the white wall background and match the naturalness of the wooden floor; the result is a seemingly domestic interior space, characterized by a few carefully selected materials, intimate and welcoming, and bathed in natural light.

The parish complex develops on the east side of the church and consists of two new buildings plus a refurbishment of the existing building, previously used as a place of worship: the new buildings form an internal courtyard, an open tree-lined and public space for aggregation, play and meeting, that acts as a filter to and from the urban surroundings.

 The roof of the building connecting the church and the two-storey building that shapes the east side of the lot, is a sloping green roof accessible from the park itself: this element emphasizes the connection and open relationship of the parish complex with the urban context to which it belongs.

Finally, the message of liberation and redemption, linked to the figure of the Penitent Thief, is also reinforced by the decision to involve inmates at the La Dozza prison of Bologna in the construction phase of the complex.

A project of significant architectural and social value that generates a new center to welcome worshippers and visitors of all walks.