The Smog Eating Church of Rome

ByABC News
November 29, 2006, 3:03 PM

ROME, Nov. 29, 2006— -- Behold! The smog eating church of Rome -- The Dio Padre Misericordioso, is a dramatic white church, designed by noted American architect Richard Meier, to look like a ship, complete with enormous billowing sails. Critics say it exudes tranquillity, which is exactly what the Vatican wanted in a church to mark the 2,000th year of Christianity.

But behind that peaceful facade, it turns out, there lies a formidable pollutant buster. Its all in the cement.

Titanium dioxide particles were added to the cement as the church was being built to ensure it stayed white, and clean, by resisting Rome's notorious smog.

But then the company that made the cement for the church made a startling discovery. "As research went on we discovered it destroyed pollutants in the air, " said Enrico Borgarello, the director of research and development at Italcementi. He calls it is an extremely significant step as the world grapples with global warming.

Borgarello says when the titanium dioxide absorbs ultraviolet light, it becomes powerfully reactive, breaking down pollutants that come in contact with the concrete. It is particularly good at attacking the noxious gases that come out of a cars exhaust pipe.

As for Richar Meier, the architect, he says he would like to see the technology used elsewhere: "I would be happy to create something like this in Los Angeles. L.A. is certainly a city that could use it, " He told ABC News.

So do people notice any difference? Dio Padre Misericordioso church sits in a quiet, non-descript neighbourhood on the Eastern outskirts of Rome -- no ancient cobbled piazzas here, no hint of the incredible depth of history just a few miles away in the center of the city. In fact, the church is sandwiched between two mundane 40-year old apartment blocks.

People in the neighborhood appear used to this architectural anomaly that appeared in their midst three years ago. They hang laundry from nearby balconies, push baby carriages on the street in front. Jog through the park at the back of the church.

One man, who called himself Guiseppe, who lives in the apartment block, was dutifully filling one of the recycling bins, when ABC News asked him if the air seemed cleaner. He smirked: "it would be impossible to beat Romes pollution, there are too many cars," he said.

Another woman was clearly impressed with the beautiful church as she walked past, but said she knew nothing about the church's power to keep itself and the nearby environment cleaner.