From the land to the sea
Matter and spirit merge in a renovation project for an old church in Olbia, which now resonates with new light through its architecture.
In this large-scale church renovation project, the main entrance was moved from the landward side of the building to the side facing the sea, allowing light to flood inside and injecting new life.
The bold, radical project to renovate the San Ponziano parish church in Olbia, the work of the firm A1Engineering headed by architects Sandra Deiana and Giovanni Antonio Spano, is a social remediation project and a splendid example of a partnership between the municipality and the church.
The idea of creating a more vibrant and usable urban space stems from an agreement in which the municipality undertook to transfer ownership of a portion of the adjacent building to the church on the condition that it redeveloped the entire complex.
The church is named after St. Pontian, the pope who died in exile on the island of Molara in the Gulf of Olbia, and was originally built in the 1970s as a chapel for the adjoining nursing home.
Built with modest materials and damaged by corrosive sea spray, the church had aged badly over the years and fallen into a state of severe neglect and disrepair.
And as so often happens in agricultural communities that eke out an existence from the land, the church had been built with its back to the sea, meaning that light was able to enter only through small, high-up windows and through the west-facing entrance door. This characteristic – a kind of “original sin” in design terms – condemned it to being a dark, cold and soon dilapidated space.
Through their bold intervention, the architects introduced air, strength and light, breathing fresh life into this small new world.
The key decision was to move the entrance to the eastern wall, where it opens onto a square with a belvedere looking out over the city.
The windows were enlarged and fitted with panes of stained glass reminiscent of the colour of the sea, creating a sense of vitality and luminosity inside the building.
The altar and ambo are both made of wood and clad with ceramic tiles (Grande Marble Look Saint Laurent collection from Marazzi), giving these two elements a sense of lightness as they literally appear to float above the floor tiles, chosen from the same series but in a pale colour (Grande Marble Golden White Lux).
And of course every self-respecting parish church needs its own visual landmark, an element for attracting attention. In this respect, a bell-tower proved a welcome addition, projecting the church skywards while maintaining a sense of decorum suited to a respectable neighbourhood.
The architects changed the proportions of the façade in accordance with tradition, while the chosen colours and materials – lime, granite, wood and the marble effect of the ceramic slabs – are all typical of Sardinian rural churches.
This big little church, which serves the Poltu Quadu neighbourhood with its approximately 8,000 parishioners, is now a beacon that welcomes travellers arriving in Olbia.
But it is perhaps not from afar or from outside that it expresses the reason for its existence, which instead is linked to an ancient magic described by the architects as follows: “The wall behind the altar has a cross-shaped window through which light penetrates inside the church and, depending on the time of day and period of the year, reflects on the ceramic floor creating stunning plays of light.”
The church is well designed in terms of energy efficiency and lighting. Illuminated from below, at sunset it reflects its light over the entire city and is visible from anywhere along the waterfront, which is undergoing redevelopment and will become one of the most attractive areas of the city of Olbia.
by Virginio Briatore – © ceramica.info
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