San Pio da Pietrelcina church compound - Rome

A roof that combines aesthetics and symbolism

The parish complex of San Pio da Pietrelcina has become the landmark of the Malafede neighbourhood in the suburbs of Rome
Maria Giulia Zunino
Studio di Architettura Anselmi & Associati
Year of completion

A large ceramic roof shimmering in the light breaks up the anonymity of one of Italy’s countless suburbs and stands out for its powerful aesthetic impact. The roof of the Church of San Pio da Pietrelcina combines a unique concept with the aesthetic and technological quality of ceramic products by Casalgrande Padana and anticipates Renzo Piano’s commitment to “mending the suburbs” through the work of a small group of young architects paid using the salary he receives as a senator for life. The aim of the project is to remind us that “the suburbs will be the city of the future − where human energy is concentrated and which we will pass on to our children − and it is here that we must put our faith in our humanistic culture and our capacity for invention”, making the best possible use of the outstanding products offered by Italian companies.
The parish complex of San Pio da Pietrelcina, created as part of the “50 churches for Rome 2000” project for the evangelisation of the suburbs, powerfully anticipates this aim of fostering a sense of identity and belonging in Rome’s Malafede neighbourhood.
This sense of identity is symbolised by the church and adjoining parish buildings, which in turn are enhanced by the stylistic vision and urban design approach.
The concept behind the project by Rome-based practice SAA&A – consisting of Valentino Anselmi, Valerio Palmieri and the late Alessandro Anselmi – is the sacred cloth that covered the Ark of the Covenant during the Jews’ wanderings in the desert, envisioned as a “curtain” that swells and billows in the wind.
The result is an undulating, sinuous surface generated by three curves of different sizes that rise from the ground and intersect to create the entrance façade. They then converge to form a single wide curve that delimits the opposite façade, located 30 metres from the tripartite façade and facing onto an immense 900 sq.m parvis. The overall design alludes to the Christian mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Thanks to its unique ceramic cladding, the flowing lightweight shape shimmers with light. Conceived as a visually striking and highly irregular contemporary mosaic, it combines extraordinary aesthetics with the characteristics of durability, colour stability and ease of maintenance of porcelain tiles from Casalgrande Padana. Rather than a coloured and intentionally legible project in the style of Gaudí, it is a highly sophisticated monochrome surface created by breaking aquamarine coloured tiles from the Unicolor collection and then recomposing them with great skill to follow the curves and to multiply the shimmering light.
This curtain-like roof defines the shape of the white 800 square metre interior space of the church, consisting of a single rectangular space in which all traces of hierarchy are eliminated, in accordance with the directives of the Second Vatican Council. The altar, located in front of the long rear glazed facade, stands at the centre of the space, while skilful plays of perspective create a sense of dynamism and distinguish the various sections such as the baptistery, presbytery and choir stalls.
Rising to a height of 18 metres at the rear of the church, the bell tower acts as a connecting element to the parish buildings – in particular the large multifunctional hall, which with its luminous ceramic mosaic cladding serves as a secular counterpoint to the community of the faithful.

Casalgrande Padana, Granitogres
porcelain stoneware
30x30 cm
Technical characteristics
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): ≤ 0,10%
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): compliant
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): compliant
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): N/mm2 50÷60
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): R9A
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant
Certifications and awards
ISO 14001
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