Tuesday, September 21, 2010

So where is it that you enter the building anyway?

What comes to mind first as the answer to this question is just the word "door".  The bigger the door, the grander the entry.  The feelings experienced when entering a structure are often dictated by how the entry is juxtaposed  with other elements of the building.  My preference when creating an entry is to make it a sequence, not an abrupt transition. For a church, the sequence starts when the members and guests enter the property. A clear path to their destination must be evident, especially for the first time visitor. Once parked, the members will follow a path leading to a courtyard, situated in front of the chapel, and surrounded by the ancillary portions of the structure.  The hierarchy of building massing should be evident and scaled according to the priority of usages.  The courtyard becomes the first "room" entered.  It is a place where those attending are embraced by the structure, felt protected, and welcomed gradually into the sanctuary. It is a place to be, not just a path to the front door.  By providing an area of roof over the primary entry doors, the members are protected from the elements, and covered by the structure.  Large glass doors lead into the Narthex where the space's scale is similar to that of the covered porch area, and reflective of the Sanctuary yet to come.

The entry sequence must be a gradual transition into the structure and mimic what the greeters do each Sunday morning.  It must welcome, embrace, and provide a sense of security to all that attend.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Interpreting the Prime Directive

The crew of the Starship Enterprise used the "Prime Directive" document as their guideline for dealing with any encounter with alien species.  Although my job is not nearly as exciting as space travel, I have utilized many different prime directives to guide me through the complicated process of design.
     Each time I start a custom project, I ask the client to summarize their project in one sentence.  In Star Trek terms, it is the prime directive I must abide by during the design process.  The reason I require this is so that I have a common anchor for which all design aspects can be attached.  Without this, the design could end up going in many directions at once, leaving nothing but attached spaces, drifting in their own direction.
     Recently, the Chapel in the Pines committee came up with the following statement about their new facility.

"Chapel in the Pines reflects God's majesty by being in harmony with its surroundings, welcoming to its community and aesthetically original."

     The first key phrase within this sentence is "being in harmony with it's surroundings".  So the question is, how does this get applied to architectural design?  There must be a transparency, a blending of interior and exterior spaces. The structure must sit quietly within the pines, and respect the environmental impact of the developed area by minimizing site alterations such as grading, and tree removal.  Design elements should mimic those found in nature.
     Next comes "welcoming to its community".  In a way, this is similar to the first phrase except that it refers to how the structure will be in harmony with people.   There must be a gradual transition from out to in, and be of human scale in order to make it welcoming to the community.  Spaces must be created to encourage interaction, contemplation, and worship.  First time visitors must not be confused, but naturally drawn to their destination.
     "Aesthetically original" indicates a desire to be unique.  This feature will be guided by the phrases "harmony with surroundings" and "welcoming to its community" So in this case, unique is not odd, but a steady appropriate structure worthy of being called a chapel in the pines.   

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meaning - what exactly is that?

The more I think about adding "Meaning" to the Chapel in the Pines project, the more I have asked the question "what is meaning exactly?".  When something is meaningful to me, it is often something that reminds me of a pleasant experience in my past.  It is like a key that opens the door to a fading memory. I have a pair of crazy pants (set me back $2) which I purchased in Agua Caliente, the town at the base of Machu Picchu in Peru.  Although they are basically worthless to anyone else, every time I see or wear them, I am reminded of the awesome trip I had with my father, brother, and nephew.  There are also meaningful symbols, especially in the Christian faith.  The cross being the most obvious.  I must find those symbols that are most important to the Chapel's congregation and incorporate them in a sensitive manner appropriate to their importance.  The other type of meaning is the meaning that is yet to be created. The space created, both inside and out, must be places that encourage meaning to be created.  Friendships, baptisms, weddings, special celebrations are but a few of the events in members lives that all will carry meaning along with them.

Meaning in architecture is not just about finding what is meaningful from the past, or incorporating symbols into the present design but also creating spaces that will become meaningful in the future.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Meaning of Meaning in Architecture

One of the most rewarding thing for me as an architect to do is design a space with integrated meaning throughout.  I recently have begun working on a local church starting from the ground up.  The opportunity to integrate the beliefs of the congregation into the architecture is everywhere, from site design to individual space considerations. Although congregations lean heavily toward tradition for ceremony, there is a great opportunity to enhance ones individual experience of tradition by having the architecture respond in a sensitive, immersive way.  As this project continues to develop, new posts will address just how meaning is being incorporated into the "Chapel in the Pines" project.