Opinion

Chrysalis of crystal: A Baha’i temple offers a new kind of sacred space

Temple has nine portals and a cast-glass exterior. RNS photo by Michael J. Crosbie

(RNS) — On a misty morning, the Baha’i Temple of South America, nestled in the foothills of the Andes above the sprawling city of Santiago, Chile, can appear as a mysterious, otherworldly object, perhaps a visitor from another planet.

When I visited the temple recently, I was not prepared for the power of this transcendent space.

As a visitor, you move toward the temple first from below it, treading along a series of nine pathways and gardens that radiate through the landscape. The paths are not direct, so you experience the temple from different perspectives, noting how light strikes its variegated exterior surface, which almost looks like a chrysalis. As you come closer, the 10,000 exterior cast-glass panels, each a different size and shape, glint with reflections on their surfaces and are replicated back into the earth by nearby pools of still water. When you arrive next to the temple and look up at the panels of clear-to-opaque glass, the effect is alive with light.

The American Institute of Architects and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada recently recognized this unique work of architecture for its innovative design and path-breaking use of materials.

The AIA bestowed its 2017 Innovation Award for Stellar Design, describing the temple as “South American poetry at its best.”

In giving it the 2017 Innovation in Architecture Award, the RAIC described the temple as “a project of such extraordinary ambition.” The design of the temple by the Toronto-based firm Hariri Pontarini Architects was selected in an international design competition that drew 180 submissions from 80 countries.

This first Baha’i temple in South America was designed to reflect the beliefs of this religion, which sees itself as open to people of all faiths and no faith. The parameters were fairly straightforward: It needed to have nine sides with nine portals, symbolizing its access to anyone who wishes to enter.

Early on in the design process, architect Siamak Hariri (who explains the history of the project in a TED Talk ) gravitated to a circular building with no front and no back, which could be approached from any direction. Hariri describes the temple’s geometry as reflecting the faith’s emphasis on “completeness and perfection” and allowing anyone to express their beliefs, given that Baha’is do not have clergy.

“A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him,” Hariri said, quoting a Baha’i text. “If his prayer is answered, his very being becomes embodied light.”

The architect wanted to literally make the temple glow with “embodied light.” The temple enclosure is conceived as two layers of glass and marble, separated by a layer of steel structure. The exterior layer is borosilicate cast glass, which has a milky appearance that captures ambient light and appears to literally glow. The interior surfaces of the nine-sided dome are covered with translucent white marble from Portugal. Nine metal-clad doors encircling the worship space pivot open to admit worshippers into the temple, which can accommodate 600.

The temple structure was designed to mitigate the effects of earthquakes, which are common in the region.

As you step through one of the nine portals, the temple mushrooms over your head. It is impossible not to throw your head back and gaze at the swirling vortex of glowing marble that spirals high above you. Slivers of clear glass separate each of the nine veils of light and cascade clear sunlight along their gently warped surfaces. The entire dome ensemble appears to pinwheel in a counterclockwise motion. At the very center is a small, circular oculus that displays the Arabic words “The Greatest Name.” The temple interior’s forms and surfaces literally move as they stand still. It’s as if you are spiritually elevated into the welcoming folds of the dome, lifted into the heaven of its space.

Hariri says that he set out to create a “new kind of sacred space.” It’s an ambitious goal, given the thousands of years that human beings have been creating houses of worship. In the year since its completion, the Baha’i Temple of South America has become a work of architecture for the ages.

(Michael J. Crosbie is an architect who teaches architecture at the University of Hartford and is editor of Faith & Form magazine. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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Michael J. Crosbie

16 Comments

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  • Some added facts-

    “The religion (Baha’i) tries to maintain a public image of being tolerant, progressive and liberal-minded. At the same time, a more authoritarian side can be observed:

    Despite claims to believe in the equality of women and men, the ultimate ruling body of the religion (the “Universal House of Justice”) is restricted to men only.

    Baha’is are noted for a controversial practice of excommunicating those who attempt to create division within the religion. These people are known as covenant-breakers. The practice does not extend to those who resign or convert away from the Baha’i Faith.

    Despite opposing “every form of prejudice,” quite a few Baha’is claim that homosexuality is immoral under Baha’i law. Shoghi Effendi, leader of the Baha’i Faith in the early to mid-20th century, classified homosexuality as an affliction[]. This stance has lightened somewhat. Shoghi Effendi denied scientific infallibility, so his interpretation that homosexuality is banned under Baha’i law still stands, but his statement on the nature of homosexuality is outdated.

    Due to disputes over succession, the Bahá’í religion has split into a number of factions, few of which survive. The most well-known group, and the only one of any size, goes by the name of “the Bahá’í Faith” (note the diacritical marks); the other factions generally call the largest faction the “Haifan Bahá’ís,” after their headquarters in Haifa, Israel.

  • Funny how my previous response to “Rational Conclusions” has disappeared…

    Baha’ullah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, in His Book of Laws prohibits homosexual acts. As Shoghi Effendi explained (paraphrasing), .. no matter how fine the love between two people of the same sex, it is wrong to express it in a sexual act. We are, indeed, told to love all people and not act upon prejudices. There is no duality here. You can follow the Baha’i law to not engage in homosexual acts yourself, yet not practice prejudice against others who do. If the secular world allows same-sex marriage and gives employment protections from discrimination for gays, there is nothing in Baha’i laws to tell us to tell others to not allow this. To be more clear: we Baha’is will NOT be out there trying to order others to practice the laws of our Faith. One of our main tenets is that each individual must conduct his or her own search for truth – that’s one of the reasons why we do not have a clergy.

    Baha’is believe in human rights, including not believing in the Baha’i Faith – or any faith for that matter. We are not prejudiced against non-Baha’is or any other person or group that chooses to have different beliefs than ours. If you do not believe Jesus brought laws from God, then don’t be a Christian. Same with the Baha’i Faith: if you don’t believe that Baha’u’llah brought laws from God, then don’t be a Baha’i. And we will love you anyway…

  • And yet nothing about male domination? And you keep referencing god. Who might that be?

    And do you have an angel connection like Gabriel and Moroni, those mythical tinker bells so important to Muslims, Christians and Mormons?

  • In my first response – which was there, then it was removed for unknown reasons, I addressed the Universal House of Justice (UHJ) consisting of 9 elected men serving 5-year terms. They are elected every 5 years by the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) members from nations around the world which are made up of men AND women who are elected annually. If the UHJ would make decisions that are perceived as not consistent with Baha’u’llah’s law that men and women are equal, it would be likely that many of them would not be re-elected. I do not accept the premise that 9 men cannot be fair and just simply because they are men. I’m a woman, by the way. Note that being elected to any of the elected administrative bodies in the faith are not to be considered as being used for power and ego reasons.

    The Local Spiritual Assemblies (LSAs) are elected annually; this body, too, has both women and men on them as a general rule (could have all women, if that’s who is elected). I have been a Baha’i for over 50 years and have participated in many elections of LSA members and in the annual conventions that are held to elect the delegate from my electoral district to the annual convention that elects the 9 members of the NSA of the USA.

  • I recommend that you read the Baha’i writing through www(dot)bahai.org/library.

    I also have several videos on Bible prophecy fulfillment by the Bab, Baha’u’llah, and the Baha’i Faith through YouTube. Go to YouTube at youtube.com and put my channel name in the search box: IntegralDestiny9.

    These videos show how Bible prophecies – and the Bible itself – is far more logical and consistent than popularly thought these days.

  • Baha’i, a minor cult of 7 million with a founder obviously not equal to Jesus or Mohammed whose followers are just as brainwashed in prophet and angelic/maid myths. Once again:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. ”

    and Baha’ism:

    “Bahá’u’lláh (/bəˈhɑːʊˌlɑː/; Arabic: بهاء الله‎, “Glory of God”; 12 November 1817 – 29 May 1892 and Muharram 2, 1233 – Dhu’l Qa’dah 2, 1309), born Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí (Persian: میرزا حسینعلی نوری‎), was the founder of the Bahá’í Faith. He claimed to be the prophetic fulfilment of Bábism, a 19th-century outgrowth of Shaykhism,[1] and, in a broader sense to be a Manifestation of God. He also claimed he was the fulfillment of the eschatological expectations of Islam, Christianity, and other major religions.[2]

    Bahá’u’lláh became a follower of the Báb in Persia in 1845. Three years after the Báb was executed, he was exiled to Baghdad (then a part of the Ottoman Empire), where in 1863 he proclaimed the Bahá’í Faith when he declared himself He whom God shall make manifest, a messianic figure in Babi theology. Bahá’u’lláh based this announcement on a vision of the Maid of Heaven he claimed to have had while imprisoned in the Síyáh-Chál in Tehran, Persia.[3] He would be further exiled to Edirne and ultimately to the prison city of Acre, Palestine (present-day Israel), where he died. He wrote many religious works, most notably the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Kitáb-i-Íqán, and the Hidden Words.”

    And there it is another hallucination/lie/”vision and in this case the “Maid in Heaven”. Right up there with Joe Smith, the founder of Mormonism and his vision of the mythical angel Moroni.

  • Perfekt Thank you
    What is your answer if someone asks why we are not allowed to allow cremation after our death?

  • Excerpts from “A Guide to Baha’i Funeral and Burial Practices”, p. 5 —

    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained the law prohibiting cremation:

    ………. “‘Thy letter has been received. Due to the scarcity of time, I write the answer briefly: The body of man, which has been formed gradually, must similarly be decomposed gradually. This is according to the real and natural order and Divine Law. If it had been better for it to be burned after death, in its very creation it would have been so planned that the body would automatically become ignited after death, be consumed and turned into ashes. But the divine order formulated by the heavenly ordinance is that after death, this body shall be transferred from one stage to another different from the preceding one, so that according to the relations which exist in the world, it may gradually combine and mix with other elements, thus going through stages until it arrives in the 3 vegetable kingdom, there turning into plants and flowers, developing into trees of the highest paradise, becoming perfumed and attaining the beauty of color.

    ………. “‘Cremation suppresses it speedily from attainment to these transformations, the elements becoming so quickly decomposed that transformation to these various stages is checked.’

    “When we realize that our physical bodies are composed of elements placed in the earth by their Creator, and which through the orderly processes of His Law are continually being used in the formation of beings, we can better understand the necessity for our physical bodies to be subjected to the gradual process of decomposition. As at the time of death, the real and eternal self of man, his soul, abandons its physical garment to soar in the realms of God, we may compare the body to a vehicle which has been used for the journey through earthly life and no longer needed once the destination has been reached.”
    ………. [Letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated June 6, 1971, to an individual believer, in Lights of Guidance, no. 669]

  • To my knowledge, forbidden homosexuality is an interpretation of guardians. Neither Kitab i Aghdas nor Bahaulla’s writings do I know a statement from Him. If you know a passage in Bahaullah’s homosexuality submission, I would be very grateful if you would send it to me

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