Monday, September 27, 2010


"... The cupola [of the Pantheon] constructed of a hard but light-weight volcanic stone which seem still to share in the upward movement of flames, revealed the sky through a great hole at the center, showing alternately dark and blue. This temple, both open and mysteriously enclosed, was conceived as a solar quadrant. The hours would make their round on that caissoned ceiling, so carefully polished by Greek artisans; the disk of daylight would rest suspended there like a shield of gold; rain would form its clear pool on the pavement below; prayers would rise like smoke towards that void where we place the gods. "
Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar

The light entering the Pantheon inspired Le Corbusier in 1911. This is where Tadao Ando decided he wanted to be an architect in 1965. Rem Koolhaas calls it the world's most beautiful building . The Pantheon, the most visionary and -fortunately- the best preserved Roman building, was originally built in 31 BC by the general and then mayor of Rome Agrippa, following a rectangular layout. This building was destroyed in 80 AD a fire.

Original Pantheon of Agrippa (in red) and the reconstruction by Hadrian

But it was Hadrian who rebuilt the Pantheon in 125 AD in the cylindrical shape we see today, and he had the gesture to put the original inscription in the facade "M•AGRIPPA•L•F•COS•TERTIUM•FECIT" (It was built by Marcos Agrippa in his third consulate).

Original inscription on the frontis of the Pantheon, made by Agrippa and replicated by Hadrian.

We know this because during the excavations it was discovered that all the bricks have the mark of Hadrian, not the one of Agrippa, as had been suspected for many years. Hadrian was passionate about architecture, almost an amateur architect and he designed the Pantheon together with Apollodorus of Damascus, a famous Greek architect of the time who unfortunately was executed by order of the Emperor, because of an argument about the design of the temple (fortunately this custom has not prevailed among architects and their clients nowadays).

Reconstruction of the Pantheon in Roman times.

The name of Pantheon comes from the Greek Pan Theon (Πάνθεον) which means "temple all the gods", and although the original name of the temple is unknown, it is assumed that was used for the worship of all the Roman deities.

The facade is composed of 16 slender columns made of Egyptian granite, supporting a Greek tympanum. The beams were covered in bronze.

The bronze covering the beams was removed by Pope Urban VIII

From here, people entered the circular area through two massive bronze doors of 7 m in height .
Section and plan of the Pantheon

The interior of the Pantheon is an impressive space due to its huge dome. With its 44 m in diameter was two times larger than any dome that had been built before. Its free space was also a unique design, as most of the temples at that time had the space populated by columns.

Panorama inside the Pantheon. Click on image to enlarge. Source Wikipedia

The entire structure is supported by 6 columns 9 m wide, but empty channels are embedded in order to help reduce its own weight, which were also used for maintenance.

In the dome itself five different types of cement were used, making it lighter as the structure gained height, reducing the charges by 80%. They used a mix of concrete with pozzolana (a volcanic sand which added resistance) and tufa (a limestone). The walls used solid concrete in the first level of tufa and brick in the second.

Another way to reduce the weight of the roof and at the same time increase its aesthetic quality were the perforations in the form of trapezoidal caisson, which were decorated in gold and bronze with floral motifs.

Construction process of the dome. Image courtesy of National Geopraphic

Within the walls, arches were arranged to address the charges to the columns while reducing the weight of the structure.

Internal arcs on the walls of the Pantheon

The light falls from the great 8.9 m in diameter central hole (oculus) in the top of the dome, emphasizing the curve of the roof through a play of light and shadow. Light travels 43 meters to symbolize the connection of heaven with the earthly world. The interior conveys a sense of grandeur and harmony.

The proportions of the building were carefully studied, the radius of the dome was the same as its height from the floor. "The scale and structure of the Pantheon are representative of the religious conception of the Romans, the abode of the gods, in which Augustus intends to centralize the wide variety of worship of Roman religion, and architecture is presented with a summary of heaven and earth, "As above is below, as below is above" ( Via VITRUM, C. Sánchez Mountain )

Geometric proportions of the Pantheon

The Pantheon was the first pagan temple to be transformed into a church, dedicated to St. Mary of the Martyrs (609), and therefore it was saved from being destroyed during the Middle Ages. The monument remained intact until the Pope Urban VIII Barberini removed the bronze from the tiles and beams to make cannon balls found in the Castel Sant Angelo and to build the badalquino in the Vatican, designed by Bernini .

It was also Bernini the one who included two towers on the facade of the Pantheon in the 17th century, popularly known as "donkey’s ears", that were eliminated in 1893.

The Pantheon in the late 19th century, with the towers added by Bernini

Originally, the space in front of the Pantheon was an enclosed area, in whose center an arch was located.

Later this area became an irregular space, the square of the Rotonda.

In 1711 an Egyptian obelisk was placed in this square, on top of the marble fountain designed in 1575 by Giacomo Della Porta , the greatest creator of fountains in Rome.

Since the Renaissance, the Pantheon has been used as a tomb for renowned personalities (hence in some countries the term pantheon is used as a synonymous of cemetery). Some of them are the painters Raphael and Caracci, the architect Peruzzi and King Victor Emmanuel II, among others .

The building was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1980

A group of people perched on the dome of the Pantheon



Monday, September 13, 2010



One of the newest creations by the award-winning Japanese architect Toyo Ito, the Koenji Za Public Theater, completed in 2009, is an irregular black metal block that appears as an alien in the middle of a suburb in Tokyo. Its design reminded me of Tadao Ando’s / CASA .


Za Koenji is located in the Suginami City, within the metropolitan area of Japan's capital, near Koenji station in a residential area of relatively low density. It is a theater for contemporary performing arts, in charge of the Creative Arts Network (CTN). The theater produces, presents and promotes a series of cultural activities for the community of Suginami.


The steel-coated structure has 6 levels (three of them underground to comply with regulations of height), and acquired a peculiar shape on its roof, similar to a circus tent.

"I tried to create an impression of a closed tent, or cabin, or a play house."
Toyo Ito
Externally, the building takes the form of tent, which is actually a multiple catenary, the product of various geometric operations. The roof is a 12 mm metal sheet, supported on a frame of steel columns and beams of 12 x 25 cm.

Photos courtesy of Iwan Baan

The facade receeds from the profile of the street to create a reception area by way of an atrium and is presided by a marquee, which helps to provide the black mole of pedestrian scale.

At a first glance, this is an awkward  detail, a door leading to nothing, located on the facade. However. it is an entrance for firemen in case of an emergency.

The circular windows around the building that seem to be placed arbitrarily, during daytime hours are not so noticeable due to the visual impact of the black steel.

Photos courtesy of brando Shigeta and nordic nomad
A different experience occurs in the evening, when the light spots acquire a leading role in the facade.

Foto cortesía de Lightdesign Photo courtesy of Lightdesign

This is a relatively small building, which houses two auditoriums for theater performances. The largest of these, with an area of 440 m2 has 230 seats and a large stage.

The other smaller auditorium, called the Civic Hall, has an area of 330 m2, but can accommodate up to 300 spectators, because it has a smaller stage.

Fotos cortesía de Lightdesign Photos courtesy of Lightdesign
Hay además un cuarto para ensayos, de 160 m2, dedicado también a la danza de Awa odori , muy popular en el área de Koeji. There is also a room for testing, 160 m2, also devoted to the dance of Awa odori , very popular in the area of Koeji.

Due to the restrictions of the function both audiences are rational and perfectly inscribed within a box. In contrast, the architect has used his innovative imagination in the development of the surrounding areas to theaters, like the reception hall, stairs, exhibition spaces and a café.

Estos pequeños espacios, recubiertos una envolvente roja con círculos blancos luminosos, adquiere, al igual que el exterior, un carácter escenográfico, evocando a la función que acompañan. These small spaces, wrapped in a red surface with white circles of light, acquires a scenic character, evoking the function that are serving.

Upon entering, the bright circular spot theme appears not only on the walls, but projected on the floor, recalling the effect of a spotlight on the stage.

Photos courtesy of Lightdesign
Photos courtesy of Brandon Shigeta
After passing the reception we found the stairs, reminiscent of those of Art Nouveau style.

The staircase is worked like a colorful ribbon wrapped around a central space of curve geometry and invites visitors to tour the different levels of the building, even the lower ones that are under ground.

The so-called Café Henri Fabre, after the creator of the first seaplane in history, is probably the area where more emphasis is given to the decoration by using these circular lights, which are located both in the walls and the warped ceilings. It also functions as an expansion related to the adjacent auditory.

Additionally, the building has areas of exhibition, containing some samples of pop art.