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Story - Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church
S. Giovanni Rotondo (Foggia), Italy, 1991/2004
The liturgical hall is located on the San Giovanni Rotondo plateau, near Foggia. The project was commissioned to the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in 1991 by the Provincial Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. The new church stands not far from the convent of the Capuchins and the existing sanctuary: from here, the slightly inclined churchyard invites pilgrims to descend towards the church itself. The churchyard has an area of 8000 m² and is bordered by a horizontal bell tower to the south, the church window to the west, a grove of 24 ancient olive trees to the north, and the old sanctuary’s “vegetable garden” to the east. During the design stage, the clients expressed their desire for a structure that would be large enough to house the thousands of pilgrims who come to San Giovanni Rotondo from all over the world, moved by their devotion to the memory and the teachings of Padre Pio, without however betraying the humility and simplicity imposed by the Franciscan rule. Renzo Piano’s goal was also to create an “open” church. A structure without a monumental facade represented the perfect blend of these two original objectives: from the outside, the church does not instil the apprehension typical of a religious structure, but rather invites the pilgrim to approach. The front entryway is in transparent glass, through which the inside of the church can be seen from the square/churchyard. The absence of a clear division between the inner space and the outer space helps to maintain this welcoming sensation: in fact, there is no discontinuity in the floor.
The roof of the church, which is made of pre-oxidized copper, is lower over the sacristy (the short side of the structure) and rises gradually until it reaches the highest point of the glass façade rising between the church and the churchyard. The roof is structurally supported by tangential and radial beams made from laminated wood, to which two rows of blockboard planks are connected: the actual copper roofing has been applied to the upper portion, while plaster has been applied to the lower portion (the structure’s ceiling). This structure, in turn, is supported by internal arches, which are connected by pairs of stainless steel V-shaped struts. The interior space is spanned by 22 stone arches, made entirely of the “bronzetto” variety of Apricena stone. Cables have been inserted into the stone blocks in order to provide the pre-compression for absorbing the structure’s horizontal stresses. The church has a spiral pattern: it starts high over the churchyard and is progressively compressed towards the other end. The arches are arranged in a radial pattern around the altar, starting from the centre of the structure, and are organized in two rows: an internal one, in which all the arches have a common central pillar, and an external one. They are offset by 10° and are gradually reduced in height and span. They have a variable cross-section, starting from the bases and moving up to the keystone of the arch itself, thus providing the structure with a sense of lightness. The widest arch is that which leads out to the churchyard: it is nearly 45 metres wide and more than 15 metres high. In order to overcome the natural weakness of the arch in the presence of forces perpendicular to the plane in upon which it stands, links were built between the feet of the various arches themselves: a concrete wall was built to connect the outermost feet of the external arches, while a membrane was built for the inner arches (also made from reinforced concrete), which can be seen above the central column.
The stone blocks of which the arches are made were required to pass a long series of tests before being utilized. The fault tolerance in the cutting of the blocks never exceeded 3 mm. For the surfaces in contact with other blocks, the tolerance never exceeded 0.5 mm. In order to ensure even greater safety levels, full scale tests were carried out in order to ascertain the true strength of the material: in fact, the legislation in force at the time of construction did not include regulations for the use of stone as a structural material. The studies carried out by Peter Rice, and continued with that of Favero & Milan, were partially employed for the construction of the arches. The central column measures 4.40 metres and rests upon a reinforced concrete plinth (with a diameter of 26 metres and a depth of 6 metres). This was created using a special blend of concrete, which ensured the absence of excessively high temperatures during the hardening phase in order to prevent the formation of cracks in the concrete itself. The church was inaugurated on July 1st, 2004. 2004.
Fondazione Renzo Piano Via Pier Paolo Rubens 30a 16158 Genova Italia CF95086900107 P.IVA 02089770990