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Bart Verschaffel Essay Examples

The primordial architectural tools to construct an “inside” and articulate its relationship to the “outside” are threefold. First, the floor: the beach towel, the picnic cloth, a podium, the table and chair and bed that ensure that one doesn’t need to eat, to sit, to sleep and to mate on the bare earth. People who have to eat and sleep on the bare earth, who cannot afford clean sand to cover the ground of their homes, live in stables like animals and they are to be pitied. Architecture begins with covering the ground, with separating the dwellings of man from the earth dark, deep earth and everything that is lurking there.10 In this way the abyss underneath, the Underworld, is kept at a distance by an artificial covering: a carpet, a coloured sand carpet, a decorated tile floor. Weaving certainly is one of the oldest symbols for the cosmogony, the woven carpet one of the most archaic symbols of an ordered Cosmos. The signs and symbols that cover the floors—in the tapestry of Berber culture the mother goddess in all her figurative and geometric appearances and motives for example—survive in the decorative patterns used in the ancient mosaic floors and, till today, in ceramic floors, and the design of industrial oriental rugs.11 The ground of the house of man is covered and cleaned by signs that are at once symbolic and magical; they exorcise the dark forces that hide underneath, and organize the stage of human life. A floor by itself already makes a room—see the “Room for Monnikenheide” the Belgian artist Richard Venlet installed in Zoersel (Fig. 1). Of Daedalos—the mythical first engineer-architect—we know very little, but one of the inventions that made him famous is a dance floor in Crete: the sacred space where human existence, symbolically represented by ritual dance, is performed.

The second means to construct an artificial interior is the wall. A borderline, a ditch, a barbed wire, a hedge, a running fence, a threshold, glass screens. In principle, a chalk line suffices to create an “inside” and/or an “outside”—even though it may not always be evident which side is “inside” and which is “outside”: one often needs “inside information” about a social or political conflict to see how a border was drawn, or to find out if the wall is meant to exclude or to put behind bars. But a wall works, in any case, very differently from floor or ceiling, which are about the place of Man in the Cosmos. The walls are used to divide the realms of day and night, man and woman, men and animals, the living and the dead, Communism and Capitalism, Mexico and the United States. The archaic space is, furthermore, organized around “centres”, sacred places that somehow connect with the powers which reside in the “high above” and/or the “deep below”. The wall is also a means to constrain and isolate the sacred in a “centre”, and to give the rest of the world over to the secular life of ordinary people. The cemetery gate and wall is in this case quite significant and illustrative of this situation. But the walls first of all organize horizontally and subdivide the world of man socially and culturally; they affirm the differences in wealth and power, create distance between the bodies, assign a place to the families of the tribe, to the men and women, to the grownups and the children. And they distinguish between eating and sleeping, dirty and clean, the public and the private. The kind and materiality of a wall furthermore determine the degrees of intimacy, the conditions for what can be seen or heard publically and how the personal life can be screened off the eyes and opinions of others.

The third architectural means for making an “interior” is the roof. The roof separates the World Below from the Sky Above. Just a roof is sufficient to create an “interior”: an umbrella or a hat, a canopy, a tent, even the crown of a tree... Seen from the outside, a roof covers an “inside”; seen from the inside a ceiling saves an interior from being exposed to the Heavens. To sleep in the open air, under the stars, certainly is an unforgettable poetic experience and an adventure, but mankind first needs a roof over its head. It is the ceiling that defines the shape and scale of the “world beneath” where man lives. One feels very well the difference between the low, flat ceiling of a living room and the monumental dome of a church painted blue with golden stars representing the firmament. A ceiling one can almost touch is very different from one with lots of empty free space above the heads. To look at a ceiling means contemplating the Heavens, just as looking through a window means seeing (or not seeing) the “distant” or the horizon. Therefore, ceilings used to be marked off the walls with mouldings, and to be covered, just as the floors, with signs and painted figures, scenes and occasionally the heavens itself. The average commercial modernist architecture easily forgets the ceiling, or treats it as the backside of the floor above, as nothing but a white flat surface. But the ceiling is the last thing one looks at the end the day and the end of life! It is what one sees in the dentist’s chair, before falling asleep or dying in the hospital. To pass away under a dome, or under a vault...

The simplest way to construct an interior that is completely defined, closed and at the same time symbolically “open” and connected to the world, so that who lives there can understand where he is, is the house made of rooms: a floor, four walls, and a roof, with an entrance and windows to look out. Floor+walls+roof=a box, the house as children draw it. The earth+the four directions+heaven=the World. It is certainly possible to build even less, more minimalistic. Vernacular and pre-modern architecture use even more essential pyramidal or conical volumes, consisting of only a roof and a floor, with no walls. Circular houses, nothing but a dome, living inside a sphere. All these primitive forms and buildings are architecturally very strong. The expressionist architecture of Bruno Taut, Hermann Finsterlin, the Endless House by Frederick Kiesler, the organic architecture of the fifties and Zaha Hadid, they all avoid boxes and corners while inventing continuous spaces.

Their architecture may formally and technically be very original and innovative, but at the same time reinvents a kind of “strong”, sacred architecture, and may be latently regressive. These simple, essential volumes may indeed be very appropriate for public buildings, to create strong “centres”, but do not structure an environment and are difficult to live in. An inside that is concentrated on itself and not open onto the World, a grotto-like, “organic” house that suggests a “full” or complete interior, nears the phantasm of the prenatal condition. Hence, there are good reasons to use rectangles—quadri—to look at the world, and to take apart floors, walls and ceilings, and mark them.12 They each are about something else. The sky is not the distant, looking to the sky is not looking at the horizon, the distant is not an abyss. It makes sense to structure the field of vision in front, rear, left, right.

Book Description:

Sacred places have long exercised a special fascination. Sacred places are not static entities but reveal a historical dynamic. They are the result of cultural developments and have varied multidimensional levels of significance. They are places where time is, as it were, suspended, and they are points where holy times and holy places meet. Sacred places are places apart. It is this specificity in the context of the Christian religions of the West that Loci Sacri wishes to unveil by bringing together specialists from various disciplines, countries, and Christian denominations. One of the questions is why some sites have for centuries proven to be so popular while others have not. Another topic is the way in which extraordinary natural sites have been designated as sacred and given new meaning, primarily by means of architecture. Loci Sacri also explores the ‘eternal' character of this sacred status.

eISBN: 978-94-6166-105-0

Subjects: Religion