The project ‘House of Religions – Dialogue of Cultures’ has come into being after a study carried out in 1998 by the Urban Planning Office of Bern about the future of the west of the city. ‘Nobody goes to Bümpliz without a good reason’ is the provocative thesis of Christian Jaquet’s report. The author presents the idea of building a House of Religions and Cultures with the goal to revitalise this ‘peripheral centre’ of the city.
With the precious help of the Moravian Church (Herrnhuter Sozietät), established in Bern in 1740, the project takes shape. The church examines the possibility of activities dedicated to minority groups and interreligious dialogue. In 2000, Christian Jaquet and Hartmut Haas, representative of the Moravian Church, meet in order to discuss how to clearly define this vision: A house of religions and cultures in Bern-Bümpliz. After this meeting a study group of six people is formed.
In 2002, the association ‘House of Religions – Dialogue of Cultures’ is founded in the presence of 22 people representing six world religions. The association pursues the idea of a corporate house, ready to welcome the diverse religious communities. In collaboration with the respective representatives of the religions, the Bernese architects and urbanists bauart Architekten develop this project including the interior subdivision of the space. After having examined several possible places in the city of Bern, the Europaplatz or Square of Europe is chosen in 2004 to welcome this new house.
In 2006, the foundation ‘Europaplatz – Haus der Religionen’ is created. It assumes the responsibility of the constructive part of the project. The relationship between foundation and association is determined in a contract. One year later, Gerda Hauck is elected president of the association, a position she will hold until 2017. In 2008, the enterprise Halter AG from Zurich enters the project and presents a larger complex as well as different variations of how to integrate the new building in its nearest environment. The plans are accepted in 2010 and building work start in 2012. On 14 December 2014 the ‘House of Religions – Dialogue of Cultures’ is inaugurated at the Square of Europe and opened to the public.
The Square of Europe
The ‘Europaplatz’ or Square of Europe, where the project has been realised, is situated in the west of Bern at the junction of two regional railway lines and two tramway lines to Bern West. The building that accommodates the ‘House of Religions – Dialogue of Cultures’ also contains a hotel, different restaurants, apartments, offices and shops. Thanks to the concept established by Halter Developments and bauart Architects, it is very well integrated in the transport system of the city and is an important element of the general project. It is, at the same time, an architectural enrichment of the neighbourhood and a new point in the development of the city.
Behind the large facade of smoked glass that dominates the Square of Europe, the House of Religions accommodates the sacred spaces of five religions. The glassed front part of the building is overtopped on the one side by the tower of the Hindu temple, on the other by the copper spire of the Mosque. The spaces of worship are arranged around the dialogue space and show a direct connection to the latter by doors that facilitate the exchange among the communities.
Three other religions – Judaism, the Baha’i and the Sikh religions – disposing already of places of worship in Bern but being actively involved in the program, are represented with three display cases on the first floor.
For more information on the history of the House of Religions please read the following documentary (in German):