Chilean Baha’i Temple build powered by BIM

A Toronto architectural firm is building a spectactular and complex Baha'i Temple in Chile, which involce the use of an advanced Building Information Modeling (BIM) system for design, fabrication and assembly in three dimensions. "Technology is not only interesting to us if it enables us to design more interesting things and bring forward propositions that solve problems," said Siamik Hariri, co-founder of Hariri Pontarini Architects, who noted technology must also deliver things within the same budget constraints faced by other projects."Basically, what I am saying is that if it (technology) delivers something interesting, cool and is able to do that with a certain budgetary constraint, it becomes cool."Hariri made this comment as the keynote speaker at the CanBIM Regional Session and Technology Exhibition held at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre on June 11.


The theme for the session was Technology Built Innovation, which is clearly demonstrated during the construction of a Baha'i temple in the foothills of the Andes Mountains to the east of Santiago."I want to put forward this idea that we really don't care what tool we use. We just want somehow to find our aspirations manifested," said Hariri."So, we began the project thinking about the atmosphere of what this temple would look like. And, looking at a canopy of a tree may be the archetype of temple architecture."All recent work undertaken by Hariri Pontarini Architects to develop and prefabricate their own curtain wall systems revolved around the temple. These projects include the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and One Bloor East in Toronto and the Richard Ivey Building in London, Ont.


The temple project began in 2002 with a call for submissions by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Chile.  The design brief called for a domed structure with nine entrances which, symbolically, would welcome people from all directions of the earth for the praise and glorification of God. There were 185 entries from more than 80 countriesThe contract was awarded to Hariri Pontarini Architects with an initial design that involved physical models and the use of Maya 3D animation software.The building consists of nine translucent wings, rising directly from the ground, and giving the impression of floating over a large reflecting water pool. Each wing is arranged as a leaf, from which the main stem and the secondary veins of steel support the coating of cast glass."We love this idea that a building could somehow respond to light, but could also capture light, could somehow hold light," said Hariri.However, Maya is a non-measureable system and there was no way to describe and fabricate the complex curves.So, Hariri Pontarini Architects began to use CATIA (Computer Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application), which is a multi-platform CAD/CAM/CAE commercial software suite.The software allowed the entire architecture to be determined by the structure, which consists of wings with a complex geometry."This is not just allowing for crazy form," said Hariri."It's allowing for the exploration of serious architecture, but also delivering it in a format that tries to play down risk."Every object of the structure is described independently in the system.Hariri said German-based Gartner Steel and Glass took all the complexity and absorbed it into a system of hundreds of engineered members and nodal connections, which were milled from 10-cm high strength steel.The 30-metre high superstructure includes an exterior envelope made of cast-glass pieces that will be mounted on some 3,200 aluminium framesThe slim-profile structural steel frame rests on a concrete substructure, which is set on seismic isolation pads."Chile is one of the most active seismic zones in the world, so not only did the building have to be built it also had to be defendable by several expert reviews on its ability to withstand an earthquake," said Hariri.The concrete work was done by Chilean trades and the seismic isolation system by three universities. The interior is made from than 8,000 robotically milled panels of translucent stone from Portugal.The combination of marble and cast glass allows sunlight to filter in during the day and a soft glow of light to radiate out at night.The central area directly under the dome has seating arrangements for 600 people on wooden flooring, and nine alcoves on a wooden mezzanine encircling the interior of the wings in the inner perimeter of the building.Construction of the temple is scheduled for completion in 2016.

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