Archive for July 20, 2012

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Team Assignment 1:
Visit Giovanni Michelucci’s Chiesa dell’Autostrada del Sole, choose a detail to document, the documentation should be coherent and has an in-depth topic as the team’s discovery
Team Members:
Erica Claustro, Alex Guimaraes, Xing Su
The condition that our team documented is an intriguing staircase that lead the circulation up to the mezzanine level of the church.
Sketch drawn by Erica Claustro
Sketch drawn by Alex Guimaraes
Sketch drawn by Xing Su

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Chiesa dell’Autostrada del Sole

Architect: Giovanni Michelucci

Location: Florence, Italy.

Date: 1960-1963

Building Type: Church

Architecture Styles: Expressionist

Architectural Time Period: 1900s

Construction Type: Concrete and Brick

Context: Suburban

Introduction(Information mainly based on Internet and Readings):

Dell’Autostrada del Sole is a church in Florence, Italy, designed by architect Giovanni Michelucci. The church is formally named after John the Baptist but has also earned the name Church of the Freeway of the Sun for its location between autostrada del Sole (Freeway of the Sun) and the A11 Firenze-Mare highway.

The design of the church is meant to reflect both modern and traditional church design. The stone facing evokes a traditional feel while the tent-like vertical elements and copper roofing reflect modern design tastes. The church stands 27.5 meters (88.5 ft) high.

It was built between 1960 and 1963, based on plans by Giovanni Michelucci. The materials used for the building are stone and concrete for the walls, copper for the roof, oxidized to green on the outside and burnished blond on the inside. Marble, glass and bronze are used for the interior elements. The floorplan of the building is asymmetrical and follows sinuous curves creating a feeling of fluid space. The church is decorated with works of Marcello Avenali, Jorio Vivarelli, Dilvo Lotti and Luigi Venturini.

The intentions of the church builders was to honor the workers who had died during construction of the freeway and to provide a “parish for the tourists” so those who are traveling can have a place to worship.

The Autostrada del Sole is a reflection of two great societal changes of the 1960s, a society moving toward a more mobile and itinerant culture and the new religious ideas brought forward in the Second Vatican Council pronouncements.

My own exploration:

Keywords: Sculpture&Organic, Material, Light&Opening, Structure Expression

Today we visited the famous Giovanni Michelucci’s church:Dell’Autostrada del Sole,as the photo indicates, you’ll see the highway church as you’re driving down the A1, negotiating the ramps around the Firenze Nord exit. As for me, it functions as an organic sculpture for people moving through this particular area, as the idea for Michelucci is to “stop” the drivers here, not so much for physical rest, but for some spiritual uplifting. The church was thus developed as a kind of “traffic stopper” that ought to slow motorists down. My own feeling is that its open shapes and continuity with the level and land of the highway itself were also intended as welcoming.

I started by circling all 360 degrees of the exterior as I felt invited to do so by a raised walkway that takes you around to admire each facet of the building. It’s surprising by walking around this structure because for every few steps,  I can see a different shape, shadow and texture, which gives me the feeling of organic.


From the exterior, I felt that the use of material is brilliant, on the base, the use of the rusticated stone indicates a feeling of heaviness, which benefits for a church: as a spiritual holly place for people to worship, the base has to be stable in order to show the strong “foundation”.

The material for the upper part is copper oxidized to green, which gives the feeling of lightness and modern, it reflects more light in order to show the contrast to the heavy base, as a result, the roof is light and bright, and the green color coordinates well with the surrounding green nature: trees and grass, which gives a harmoniousness and balance to the surrounding area.

This a quick sketch I did for analyze the building form and its relationship to the site. First, the building is spiraling up itself from the heavy base to the top cross. Second, the logic of choosing the material color is: heavy color connected to a light color, that is, the base connecting the roof, surrounding trees and the grass ground. It is a deep logic of combination of balanced color.


The church has some brilliant solution of openings, it tells us tectonic ideas and how to bring light into the interior, I focus on the apertures and effect of light while visiting the church, here is my discovery.

This is a small opening occurring  on the stone base, as we can see, it tells us the tectonic idea of how to make a opening: a concrete lintel seats above the load-bearing wall, since it is a small opening, I think the function of it was to bring spot light into space to draw people’s attention.

Large openings near the alter, from my point of view, the irregular mullion is mimicking the stone base supporting it.

The vertical apertures, there are three types of lintels: the end-supported, cantilever and sandwich. which are marked in the photo.

Different type of openings on the base and upper part, I think it is the architect’s notion to celebrate the different tectonic system of the base and upper part.

A stone stands right front the window all the way to the bottom of the lintel

A stone stands right front the window half way to the bottom of the lintel

Apertures at the entrance, it celebrate the transparency of the entrance as well as bring more light into the lobby

As we enter the church, the openings of the lobby seems more regular, because the lobby has a certain linear rhythm, the language of the openings and roof structure follow the rhythm, this is something I learn as a designer.

The interior light effect, we can see the different light reflecting quality of stone and concrete, the stone has a more rough surface, the light was absorbed a lot. The concrete surface is more smooth, thus reflecting more light, that why Michelucci place the concrete at upper level.

With the help of the concrete roof, as mentioned above, the space was well lighted.

The aperture here has two different types, at the bottom, the linear aperture brings vertical light and the view was framed along the edge of the adjacent mass, the aperture at the top opens up to the sky to give more depth for the space. At the same time, it is a separation of two materials.

This window frames the view of the courtyard, as a vertical linear visual experience.

The horizontal window appears at the alter of the church, both in lower level and upper level, the horizontality nature of the aperture brings more light into the space.

The well designed aperture helps light up the interior

Compared to horizontal window, the function of vertical window has a different quality of welcoming light

Vertical, spotted and large aperture work together based on the geometry and function of the space

This window show the depth of the courtyard

The aperture reflect the nature of the space

Interesting combination of geometry and materials

The mezzanine was well lighted by the aperture on both side: the alter and the gallery space.

Structure and Element Expression

The structure and element of the church is mimicking the irregularity and organic quality of the nature

The vertical tree like structural element give a feeling of nature, in fact is the concrete member painter with tree bark grains

The roofing structure above the lobby space

The guardrail for the mezzanine is the irregular cross

The irregular cross guardrail for a spiral stair

The organic roof structure

Analytical sketch for the material and logic of the church

Analytical sketch of a stair for team project, drawn by Erica

Analytical sketch of a stair for team project, drawn by Alex

Section diagram of portion of the churh