Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl, Mans Search for Meaning
Your sacred space is where you find yourself again and again. Joseph Campbell
There is a Buddhist concept that even on the cloudiest of days one must remember the vast blue sky beyond. That everything is connected to a greater whole, and that our experience is simply a passing moment in the flow of time. This is meant to remind us to “poke holes in the clouds” and connect to the expansive goodness that exists beyond. In other faiths this is present in moments of reflection and meditation, when we attempt to set aside ego in order to connect with our true selves and purpose.
This concept is also essential to the creation of architecture.
I have been asked on a couple of recent occasions to look at schematic plans for projects that acquaintances were considering. It is a hard moment to put ego aside, a time when I wonder why I was not given the job to begin with, but a time when I need to set that aside in order to help people build structures which will go beyond material desires. It is a time to explain to people what they should ask their architects in order to understand what is being presented to them.
As I have discussed in earlier posts the client can too often get caught up in the material definitions of the house, the list of amenities, and never have an understanding of how it would feel to be in the space. In the case of the plans I was presented with the absence of experiential understanding was glaring. I talked about light, and how it can be brought into the house rather than left at the exterior wall. I talked about interior zoning and how functions are grouped in order to make a logical sequence of experience. I talked about the site and what opportunities were presented by it; views, sun-orientation, topography. Yet the most important aspect was the concept of spaces between spaces, the connection of rooms to each other as well as the world outside, and the occupants’ connection to the house as a whole. This is a small application of the Buddhist concept, but is the fundamental tenet to giving a building a soul.
In terms of architecture this can be experienced by imagining one is meditating in a side chapel of a large Gothic cathedral. These are usually installed on a side wall of the structure but are not lit by windows, relying on the light from the larger sanctuary. At the moment one enters the attention is focused on the votives and images of individual saints. The larger world is blinkered from view and thoughts are turned inward. As meditation progresses one begins to sense the volume of the larger sanctuary, the feel of the volume beyond. This is where the light is coming from, and there is connection with a larger reality that is embodied by the transept. Turning around one is protected by the grounding of the dense and enveloping nature of the side chapel behind, while at the same time being drawn to the majesty of the cathedral as a whole. It is a space intended to provide internal focus while still allowing us to be conscious that all individual thoughts and beings are a part of the divine.
The same experience can be brought to secular design. In a house it is often the hearth that draws us in, providing warmth and comfort. In so many cases the fireplace is placed on a wall as one would a framed picture, denying its ability to define a sanctuary within a larger space. But a simple modulation in ceiling plane, or openings in common walls between rooms, can transform the experience of the entire house. Space is allowed to connect between rooms, and spaces in between are created. This is where the spirituality of a building lives. It is not found when rooms are diagrammed and ordered next to each other, but only when they are allowed to have dialog and communicate with each other. This is then expanded to the next room, the next floor, and the house becomes a whole that can be experienced as a single entity and not a collection of individual rooms. This is where one can experience architecture.
When we are between spaces we are connected to a larger reality, separated from the physical distractions of daily life, aware of the expansive goodness that exists beyond. We are poking holes in the clouds.