As documents they recount the millennial history , ancient and modern, which is renewed in the modernity of the forms and the faith which is recalled though prayer.
As befits its central role in the community, this Church is a Landmark and point of congregation for all in the area of Piacenza. The aim of this project is to keep the religious function of the building to the fore while incorporating the necessary space and facilities for other, everyday, activities.
The concept for the design came from the idea of leaves: emphasising the natural attachment to the earth and at the same time the spiritual detachment from it, creating a dynamic floating form to inspire worshippers with a material recreation of an ideal of the Church connecting earth and heaven. The two undulating leaves of the Church form the wall and the roof of the building; the former, seeming to rise up out of the ground and fold around itself, recalls a great stone wall, earthly and solid.
The latter, ethereal and eternal, floats in a mystical breeze above the ground like a radiant sail, sparkling with points of light, to become the crowning feature of the project and offer shelter to the ground floor buildings. The whole confers a sacred mystical quality to the Church, suspended between heaven and earth, lightness and solidity, the temporal Church and religious belief.
Following a careful analysis of the setting, it became clear the a modern contemporary style, far removed from that of the neighbouring buildings, would be the most appropriate approach to the design; a strong evocative statement, a thought-provoking presence in the midst of the community. In keeping with this idea, the design developed a single building at street level completely given over to the Church and emerging from the ground in a strong symbolic statement. All the other facilities are located in the floors beneath the Church and below street level. The design is defined by the “undulating leaves” motif of the walls and roof. Coming together other at the apex of the building to form the bell tower.
The scale and volume of the building enhance the sense of compactness and its natural integration into the setting. The decision was made to design a building of modest proportions and height (3.5m) compared to the surrounding buildings, distancing the building from with its surrounding but increasing its visibility enornously. The main façade of the new complex faces the recently completed town square, making the church the final link to complete the symmetry of the square. By building the lower floors below street level and respecting the contours of the site, it was possible to avoid deep excavations and large infilling operations.
The brief for the project included:
A church capable of seating 700, a sacristy and facilities for the congregation in a 1030 sqm. area.
A multi- purpose hall and toilet facilities, in an area of about 630 sqm. Located on the floor beneath the church.
The grounds Given the central position of the building on the site, it was possible to landscape the grounds and complete the area outside the church grounds. The footpath and cycling paths were uninterrupted outside the church as requested. The area was closed off to traffic and parking cars by means of a lawn, and custom-made street furnishing used to delimit private church property from the public square.
The Parish Priest’s House is located within the main building at ground level and has a large private area at the rear, as well as an awning for church vehicles. It is conveniently situated near the parish offices and is accessible to guests.
Other church activities As requested, the project also includes plans for a further building of 1,800 sqm. . This would be used for non-religious activities. In order to protect the centrality of the church and avoid overwhelming the area, this would be partially below ground level thus retaining a large part of the church gardens. This building has two internal courts with gardens , one of these is bordered by a covered footpath ( almost a new cloister).
The iconography of the Mater Ecclesiae is pivotal for the Church space; by exploiting the curves of the walls and roof around the presbytery, it was possible to identify a large niche, almost a votive chapel, where her effigy dominates the whole height of the wall. Without a frame the image spreads to cover the area almost entirely, and seems to replace the wall as a support for the opening at its zenith where it is bathed in sunlight.
The choices of furniture inside the building are directed to achieving maximum simplicity and sobriety to complement the statuary and the dynamic architecture of the building itself ,and, furthermore, they highlight the material solidity of the works of art by the artist Enrico Tealdi. All the furniture was designed to be essential in style with clean rational lines. This ties the idea of form and function while enriching the matt white colours with simple gold inserts. The only exception is the seating which is divided by colour based on flooring where they rest. Matt white against a white floor and wood on the flagstone floor.
The baptismal font was set in a central area , but out of line of sight with respect to the presbytery. The baptismal area is self-contained, intimate, and quiet while keeping a strong link with the main church from which it is separated by walls/translucent filters. At the entrance to the font area a route was identified that cut the whole hall transversally, leading to the stations and intersecting the main path from the entrance to the altar. Around the font, a large area was reserved exclusively for the ceremony. The axis, visible from the entrance – baptismal font, carries on in the glass opening which draws the eye to the garden and tree of life.
The stations of the cross are situated on the left wall of the nave, the niches for the stations were modelled from deep cuts in the flagstone wall. These wounds cut through to the external wall and capture sunlight which highlights the art work. The stations are made up of books which recall the sacred scriptures.
The project from the outset required great attention to the setting, and a rational use of light inside the Church. The natural lighting in the Church complex is achieved by numerous openings in the wall and roof, through which beams of light filter to strike the stone walls. A more suffused light is supplied through the windows in the facade partly screened by bars in terracotta. Even the walls behind the altar, about a metre and a half apart and cut by deep grooves, representing off the crucifix, allow the sunlight to penetrate and reduce the sensation off being boxed in at the end. The artificial lighting seeks to replicate daylight . In this way, even in the evening, the cross continues to emit light just as the virgin Mary continues to be bathed in a radiant light. Likewise the space created between the walls and the roof continue to shower light. The light through the small openings in the roof shall be substituted by bright cuts in the folds of the walls. Thus creating a diffused and suggestive lighting at all times of the day and night.