Designed by Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, Riola Parrish Church is a stunning concrete form which mimics and modulates with the contours of its Italian landscape. The magnificent baptistery, completed in 1978, is located eight kilometers south of Bologna in the small town of Riola. Aalto’s evocative modernist architecture captures the spirit of this mountain setting; it is a spiritual structure which, inside and out, unassumingly expresses sanctity of faith and place.
The interior chapel’s play on light is especially divine; the northern light is diffused through vertical, asymmetrical ribs, which create a majestic grid of soft light which projects down onto the worshipper. The presence of light brilliantly transcends the occupier into a holy state.
The intensified light around the alter is intended to create a close relationship between the functioning spaces of the alter, choir and organ, and the baptistery. The hexagonal baptistery is occupied by wooden pews that descend in height as they approach the luminous alter.
The church’s distinct exterior profile is inspired by the three mountains that surround Riola: Montovolo, Monte Vigese and Monte Vigo. Its form is harmonious with nature, and this is present in Aalto’s intentionally pure geometric forms which converge at a central point to represent the center the church itself represents.
The interior of the church is left moderately unadorned, in modernist style, and instead highlights its architectural arches with natural light from above. The only other window is a sliver of glass which views out toward the adjunct river, the Limentra torrent.
The Riola Parish Church is said to be characteristic of Alvar Aalto’s lamps; the architectural ribs which support the light shelves in this structure are reminiscent of the structure used to support the structure of his light fixtures.