The Vegetal Cathedral
By Mario Pisani
On first viewing Giuliano Mauri’s Vegetal Cathedral at the foot of Mount Arera on the outskirts of Bergamo in the North of Italy, the observer will surely be amazed and astonished. Its innovative and impressive inter-relationship between a calculated man-made design project and the spontaneous growth of nature, gives this project a rare and evocative stature. In a way, it evokes the formulas utilized in the Italian gardens of the past. Yet what distinguishes this project from these historical interventions of the Mannerist period (apart from the planting of beech, hazelnut, ash, birch, spruce and other trees, amalgamated with a rich alpine flora), is the allocation of space allowing nature’s own development and growth, thus attaining an eventual bonding and amalgamation of the pre-established design with nature’s own spontaneous growth.
Giuliano Mauri, the artist of this innovative project, was well known for numerous such creative projects, always rich in poetic content and elegiac ambiances. His work could well be defined as a form of architecture of nature, yet it is a work which extends well beyond the boundaries and limitations of the so-called land art, being closer to what Paolo Portoghesi has defined as geo-architecture; a realm of artistic creation involving architectural spaces inspired directly from the realms of nature, and utilizing the passage of time to eventually combine the designers concept with nature and its elements.
Mauri’s work had been well represented in various important exhibitions. In 1976 he participated at the Venice Biennale, in 1992 at the Milan Triennale and in 1994 at the Penne Biennale. Utilizing tree trunks, branches and other natural materials, he always succeeded in creating intriguing and fascinating works. The philosophy behind these creations always focused on the spontaneous growth of plants, trees and flora, to eventually overtake the designed spaces and left over voids in order to establish a crossover dialogue between the original concept itself and its eventual realization and taking over by nature over the passage of time. Among the many works worthy of mentioning are ‘I Mulini’, windmills caressed by what Mauro poetically terms ‘imaginary’ winds, the ‘Scala del Paradiso’ and the ‘Bosco sul Isola’ project on the Tromo del Lodigiano, as also the Osservatori Estimativi realized in Germany, Gorlitz, Poland and Zgorzelec.
The Vegetal Cathedral, completed by his son Roberto, after the architect’s demise, was inaugurated in September 2010 under the artistic direction of Paola Tognon. Situated in the region of Oltre il Colle (BG), in the Orobie Alps, the work consists of a sacred locus conceived specifically as an open to the sky vegetal cathedral, extending to a height of over 1.300 metres over a ground area of 650 square metres.
The nave houses 42 columns, of a diameter of 1.50 meters, which define the internal space which echoes, recalls and evokes the soaring solemn spaces of the Gothic cathedrals. The project makes use of 1,800 spruce trunks and 600 chestnut tree branches which are bound together by over 6,000 metres of hazelnut twigs, utilizing local traditional methods of intertwining and weaving. Varying in height externally to internally from 5 to 13 metres, to a length of 28.5 metres and a width of 24 metres, this is a particularly imposing work of vegetal architecture. Laid out on a plan of five naves, the central one measures 5.5 metres wide, the lateral ones 4.5 metres and the external of 5 metres. Between the intertwining binding coiled twigs of the columns, the architect has placed a series of young beech trees. The eventual growth of these saplings over a period of time (approximately two decades) will serve to manifest a complete transformation of the original concept, allowing nature to take over and dominate the architect’s original creative design. In this way, Giuliano Mauri has created an architecture, which while relating and adhering to the rules of nature, is also an architecture undergoing a constant process of mutation. The work is a significant demonstration of how the man-made can integrate itself and fuse into the dynamic evolutionary patterns of nature itself.