On a recent trip to Umbria, I visited Foligno and was surprised by the contemporary culture the town has to offer. The third stop after the CIAC and the Calamita Cosmica was the church of San Paolo designed by Fuksas Architects. The monolithic concrete cube protrudes from the landscape looking less like a religious center and more like a penitentiary, with a less than inviting point of entry, but in any case remains intriguing. The geometry contrasts with the terrain, surround by low mountains.
Although I imagine the elderly Italians that frequent this church probably do not fully understand concepts of contemporary architecture, I can appreciate the project that was won in 2001 by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas after a national competition initiated by the Italian Episcopal Conference. The design was approved “as a sign of innovation that meets the latest international research, becoming a symbol of rebirth for the city after the earthquake” that rocked the region in 1997.
The parish, including the church and sacristy, was completed in 2009. The main architectural element consists of a cube suspended within a cube with connecting forms, and shards of light intersecting the space, creating a dialog with the sky and blocking out any possible distraction from ground (mortal) level. The inner volume which reaches toward the heavens feels oppressive rather than uplifting. For me, it felt more like a threat (of falling) from above. Every element here is angular and sharp.
The furniture and lighting was also created by the architecture team, but has been subsequently interrupted by the decorative elements of the parish including numerous potted plants, extra bottega style wooden chairs, some throw rugs, and even a drum set. I tried to avoid these elements in my photos of the space as I found them oozing kitch inside such a clean space, although it is an obvious attempt to warm up the cold environment. In the end, as a church, it must serve its clients and the architect must unfortunately arrest his design intentions once the project is handed over. There is, however, a fantastic old alter piece with candles in the corner, providing a nice contrast been an old element with the new.
In addition to the architecture, there is a large totem-cross statue 13.5 meters high near the front of the building, Stele-Cross, designed by Enzo Cucchi, and Mimmo Paladino created the 14 Stations of the Cross sculptures installed around the main walls.