previewing norman foster's vatican chapel, one of ten planned at the venice biennale

previewing norman foster's vatican chapel, one of ten planned at the venice biennale

this is a very special year for the venice architecture biennale. for the first time, the holy see, representing the vatican city, will feature its own submission. renderings of this wooden chapel by foster + partners were released, which will be among 10 others revealed in venice this may. the ten temporary chapels are all to be designed by renowned architects and  featured on the venetian island of san giorgio maggiore. foster + partners’ outdoor structure sits in the forested region of the area among trees and near to the water. it manages to appear organic, as part of the landscape; yet, offers shelter and shade for visitors.

foster's vatican chapel
image © foster + partners



the design phase symbolically began with the three crosses merged together, that are ultimately enveloped by wooden planks forming a sail-like latticework attached to the structure. principle architect norman foster goes into detail with the design process saying: ‘on a visit to san giorgio maggiore, close to palladio’s magnificent church and the teatro verde, we found a green space with two mature trees beautifully framing the view of the lagoon. it was like a small oasis in the big garden, perfect for contemplation. our aim is to create a small sanctuary space diffused with dappled shade and removed from the normality of passers-by, focussed instead on the water and sky beyond.’ 

foster's vatican chapel
image © norman foster



architects from different backgrounds and diverse experiences will design these various ten chapels. coming from europe with its complex historical configuration and from distant japan with its unique religious roots, from the vivacious spirituality of latin america and the seemingly secularized USA, as well as remote australia that actually reflects contemporary concerns.

foster's vatican chapel
image © norman foster



these 10 chapels for the vatican are not ‘graphic representations or models but a veritable sequence of chapels. even if in they are not as large as the great cathedrals, basilicas and churches, they will still seen as holy places. each chapel contains the two liturgical elements: the ambo (pulpit or lectern) and the altar, but otherwise the various architects are free to express the rest how they will. the number of chapels is symbolic of the holy decalogue of presences often seen in biblical text. but these chapels like every other are not reserved for members of the faith but for all ‘who wish to rediscover beauty, silence.‘ it symbolizes ‘the human fraternity of being together in the assembly of people, and the loneliness of the woodland where one can experience the rustle of nature which is like a cosmic temple.‘ 

foster's vatican chapel
image © foster + partners



the location was very important in the design of this pavilion. it is clear that the natural beauty of venice is a major part of the project, thus the pavilion is impervious to the natural surroundings, nor does it dig destructive foundation — it respects the landscape. this pavilion and the other nine will open on may 25 and will be open for viewing until november 25, 2018.

foster's vatican chapel
image © foster + partners

  • will be in Venice inlate May and would love to see the chapels – do you know if they will all be on san giorgio maggiori. I’d very much appreciate any further information you might be able to provide.
    Many thanks,

    Michael Devine says:
  • All of the chapels are in the same area, in the gardens near the amphitheatre beyond San Giorgio Maggiore. I have to say several were striking to my eye but I very much enjoyed the Norman Foster / Tecno installation.

    Richard D says:

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