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Thesis Notes: Sacred Space meets the Modern Spiritualist January 27, 2007

Filed under: Art & Design — suzanne turner @ 12:20 pm

Progress…I just wanted to jot down a few ideas and updates about the second quarter of thesis so far. Its crazy how much I researched last quarter and then I just happened upon all sorts of pertinent material just recently. But I like that I got to develop my own ideas, and then receieve more inspiration just when I needed it. Here are some of the new ideas I’ve been discovering:

Genius Loci

So I wanted a place of spirit… but not of religion. A place of monumental feel which is defined by light on materials. And then I come across this term that sums it up, genius loci. An ancient Roman phrase meaning “the spirit of place.”  Perfect. I was largely inspired by the work of Louis Kahn, and the monumentality of his ideas and works, especially the Salk Institute. I am so lucky that it happens to be right here; that and the Getty are the greatest architectural works I have been able to visit and feel, and see the light. And the Salk is by far the greater of the two. Kahn’s works in Asia are also beautiful, especially the Dhaka National Assembly. The Institute of Public Administration in India is influential as well, but brick never spoke to me like concrete for some reason. Although I think brick allowed the form and thickness he intended, it is not nearly as beautiful to me. And perhaps that is just due to my subconscious associations with brick. Which leads me to my next thought.

Methods of Expression and Interpretation

I was thinking last night of a beautiful solo piece of modern classical music. It reminded me that originally I wanted music to play a role in the space, and I still do. As it played clearly in my head, the deep sound of the strings sang of sadness and communicated something to me that could not be expressed in words, no matter how I tried. The feeling was composed of memories and images, an ineffable atmosphere. But maybe, to someone else, the same piece would seem happy or warm. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, art is subject to a million different interpretations if viewed by a million different people. One person who is trusted as an authority often has their opinions of the work become more widely held but someone seeing the work for the first time will have their own uniquie take. That is the beauty of art. Make of it what you will. Which brings me to my next point.

Light and Angles

Speaking of unique perspectives, lets think about how perspective and proximity affect experience. I think it is everything and want to stress that. When you stand in one spot in a building, even if you never move, changes occur. The sun seems to move, but really our perspective changes as we move around the sun. Light is the constant, light is the measure, the reveal. Without our proximity to the sun, and perspectives from day to night, there would be no gradient, no subtle wash of a textured wall.  Even if I were blind though, the texture and the shape of the concrete would still be amazing, as would the open central space and feel of the sea air on my face and sound of water splashing into the pools below. Light isn’t the only element, but I think it is certainly the most defining.

The Obvious Answer

I think when there is a question about life to be answered, it is important to look to nature for the solution. This has been done for ages and in all cultures and religions. Allegories, parables, haiku, fables, koans… they all refer to animals, plants, and natural cycles in order to make statements about life in general. The golden ratio is not something that Fibronacci came up with himself even if he did realize its importance. Nature has its own innate, perfect way of growing and evolving. These are methods which are mysterious and beautiful. Natural progessions perpetuate life on the whole, but hint of individual mortality. It seems at times chaos reigns, but really the process heals itself and is always governed by the same laws. Which ties in (finally) to my project.


One main purpose of art, science and religion is shared- to try to make sense of our existense, try to explain the meaning of life. What are the specific aims of architecture then? Surely not just to house. I think good art, whether architecture, music or literature clarifys and illuminates our sameness and difference all at once. A wonderful novel is one you can relate to, but which also takes you to a place where your own life has not. I think good design symbolizes and connotes life and the exchanges therein.

The Ripple Effect

I think one of the main circumstances which affects our existence is our interactions with other people, whether chosen or forced. We affect everything, we affect each other. What I want to communicate with the vault is that our actions have effects, even when they seem small. The LED lighting interface will be such that when you touch a certain area of the wall, light radiates out from your hand, and when two people are present, the ripples meet. You can see the proposed lighting here, which would be powered entirely by solar energy produced on site.


The vault also serves the purpose of fun and surprsise. I want it to be a place of spirit, not a cemetery. The interface would react not only to touch but sound as well, and this way I am hoping people would bring their instruments or sing songs spontaneously just to see the affect. This in a way reduces us all to curious children, shouting in a cave or nudging a grasshopper. Whatever effect you would feel, that is the intention. Who knows how people will react. Some will simply say its ugly, or modern and lacking history. But this argument always gets me. Who could try anything new if we all referred strictly to precedents. But what hasn’t been done before in some form anyway?

I love how I’m acting as if this will really be built. Its so sad to pour your heart into something that will never see the light of day, if you will. 🙂


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