Nestled in the serene Italian landscape, eight kilometers south of Bologna, the Riola Parrish Church stands as a timeless beacon of architectural brilliance. The small mountain village of Riola di Vergato, on a slope of the Apennines, is home to this masterpiece designed by Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto. The church, whose project was initiated in 1965–66, is a harmonious blend of natural contours and modernist design aesthetics, encapsulating the spirit of its mountain setting and symbolizing a profound sanctity of faith.
The Riola Parrish Church Technical Information
- Architects: Alvar Aalto
- Location: Riola di Vergato, Bologna, Italy
- Topics: Sacred Spaces
- Project Year: 1966-78
- Photographs: © Alba Deangelis, © Franco Di Capua, © Alvar Aalto Foundation
Architecture must always have charm; it is the crystallized sense of being at home, in one’s region, in one’s country, on the earth. It is a matter of profound harmony.
– Alvar Aalto1
The Riola Parrish Church Photographs
Luminous Testament: Alvar Aalto’s Ecclesiastical Masterpiece in Riola
Aalto’s distinct vision for the church came to fruition after Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, the Archbishop of Bologna, invited him to design this sacred edifice upon viewing his work in an exhibition in Florence. Aalto accepted the challenge and thus embarked on a journey that would result in the creation of an extraordinary piece of ecclesiastical architecture.
Inside, the church is a testament to Aalto’s mastery over the play of light, where the northern light, diffused through vertical, asymmetrical ribs, descends into a majestic grid of soft illumination. This light brilliantly transcends the occupier into a holy state. An intensified luminance envelops the altar, establishing a close relationship between the functioning spaces of the altar, choir, organ, and the hexagonal baptistery.
The exterior of the church is a mirror to the three mountains that encompass Riola: Montovolo, Monte Vigese, and Monte Vigo. The geometric forms in the church’s structure converge at a central point, resonating with the unity and centrality the church signifies.
The interior aesthetic remains unadorned and follows a modernist style, with the architectural arches and the natural light from above as the key highlights. A unique addition to the interior is a narrow window which offers a scenic view of the Limentra torrent.
Construction of the church began in 1975, with the final consecration happening in 1978. The Campanile, however, was completed as late as 1993. Aalto’s design includes six asymmetric prefabricated concrete frames, supporting a series of prefabricated light scoops. These elements contribute to the church’s distinctive exterior profile.
Aalto’s design of the church seems to echo his own creations of lamps and bent plywood furniture, suggesting an intentional and fascinating interplay between his architectural and product design work. In fact, the architectural ribs supporting the light shelves in the Riola Parish Church are reminiscent of the structure used to support his light fixtures.
The Riola Parrish Church Plans
The Riola Parrish Church Image Gallery
About Alvar Aalto
Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) was a Finnish architect and designer hailed as one of the key figures in modernist architecture during the 20th century. Known for his humanistic approach to modernism, Aalto’s designs harmoniously integrated with the natural surroundings, blending functionality and aesthetics. His prolific career spanned architecture, furniture, textiles, and glassware design, creating iconic works such as the Paimio Sanatorium, the Viipuri Library, and the Villa Mairea. Aalto’s work was characterized by a thoughtful use of materials, organic forms, and a keen attention to detail, light, and space, leaving a profound impact on architecture and design worldwide.