Architecture / Meditation in an undefined space

Type:  Open-Ideas competition
Program: public space for meditation

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Meditation in an undefined place

Modern public spaces are meant to provide an accessible and usable place for each human activity to unfold. Accessible and usable for everyone, within increasingly vast range of cultures the society is made of. Markets for the exchange of goods and services, plazas for social gathering, roads for circulation. However the question of spirituality is perhaps the most difficult to answer spatially. Once centralized, spirituality is now, as culture, exploded in a vast array of practices, and so is the modern space of spirituality: spread in many places with very little communication in between.

The goal of this project is, of course, not to question those differences, but rather to study the possibility of them finding a connection through space – the possibility of a common ground.

First, to refine our program, we must decide of a common activity:  among those spiritual practices we find meditation as a common activity – spoken or silent, regulated or deregulated, social or individual; meditation seems to be a necessary process to access the spiritual realm.

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How do space and time influence the meditation process?
Since each individual as its own spirituality, this question is to be left unanswered.

Conversely, how does meditation influence time and space?
Again, since each individual as its own spirituality, this question is to be left unanswered.

As architects of such a place we want to organize space and time for meditation, but the space and time of meditation can take countless forms.

We want to organize what we cannot define, nor predict. Answer the unanswerable.

We face a paradox, and an architecture to meditate should be shaped by this paradox:

We must imagine a place that will serve the undefined process of mediation without interfere with it, and, on the contrary, that could be shaped by it.

We must design an undefined place.

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1.Undefined boundaries

We do not choose a country or a city. We hope it could be anywhere.

We find a land large enough, we draw a circle, and that is our place. The circle is a limit for people to walk over and think “here we are”, for them to turn silent if they were joyful, or joyful if they were silent.

The circle is an undefined boundary, without angles, without a clear start or ending. One can get in and out anywhere, by plan or by chance; or walk round and round indefinitely, like in cloister, because there is no landmark to mark the start of every turn.

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2. Undefined movements

Because people will have to walk within the land to find a place to meditate, or simply walk as a way to meditate, our land must be a place of undefined movement.

We plant trees. A tall veil covering our land, giving a sense of depth and mystery to the horizon, and volume to the hills and valleys.

Like the man made forests in Europe, the trees are placed at regular intervals. A pattern defined only by its neutrality, that is, undefined in terms of directions or events.  Pure rhythm inside which the walker can trace its own paths, its own territories.
…or perhaps trace nothing at all. The walker can simply stop to contemplate this land empty of events, this space of permanence in which there is not time but the time of the mind.

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3. Undefined interactions

Because our land is a public space, where people might meet each other, our land must be a place of undefined social interactions.

To meditate together, or meditate alone? In this place there should be the possibility of company, but also, always, the possibility of solitude.

As an answer to the tension between the social and the individual, the architecture will follow the natural tension between the center and the perimeter of the circular land.

The center where people will naturally gather to find

A centrifugal flow, from the center where people naturally gather, to the periphery where they come to find solitude, a progressive gradient between the energy of many and the energy of one.

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4. Undefined positions

Along their path people might decide to stop, to rest or meditate. Because this decision is unpredictable, our place is a place of undefined positions.

They will chose, among all the possibilities contained in the space and time of our land, one area, one moment, and suddenly think: “it is here”. And because it was previously undefined the architecture around them will resonate with the meaning of this radical statement.

As designers of an undefined place we need to interfere as little as possible with this process.

And yet, as architects, we have to provide people with shelters against the sun and the rain, and we need place those shelters at specific positions.

As with the trees we find the neutral pattern is a solution: we give vast range of equivalent positions inside which the user’s decision for one or another remains spontaneous and meaningful.

The shelters, of identical construction, are placed in a radial configuration which only variation follows the social interactions explained above: shelters for many at the center, shelters for one at the perimeter.

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5. Undefined conditions

Because we know very little about each person’s meditation process, the shelters are places of undefined conditions.

They are circular, like the land. Even though they are fixed, with their sliding walls they seem to turn, facing any direction, following the sun and the wind.

Because we don’t know from which side people will approach the shelters, or which side they will want to face when meditating, or the time of the day and the year, and how long they will stay; since we don’t know any of that our shelters must be places of undefined orientation.

We make them circle, like the shape of the land. Without angles, equivalent on each side. The walls can be turned around the perimeter of the shelter, fully closed or fully open, letting people and nature in and out, facing any direction. So that, even though there are fixed, the shelters seem to turn on themselves, turning in time with the sun and the wind.

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