CONSTRUCTION OF THE SOUL
by Brin Stevens

In today’s complex landscape, space has become something of perpetual reorganization; and virtual space something of an ironic safe haven. Cities that were first formed on the contours of the land, are now gridded sprawls of skyscrapers, strip malls, and asphalt dotting our surfaces with ill-ordered structure. Even our parks are designed with artificial programs built in to guide us along restricting paths. Physical, unadulterated exploration becomes increasingly limited.

Yet while modernization has reconfigured our maps, and the rules of space bend with each newer material, the essence of space remains the same. Space continues to create epiphanies. It advances society; it creates and re-creates communities. Structures enclosing space and closing out other space tell a powerful story of human origins. Sacred space offers a place to experience the tangible Paradise or at least a portal to the celestial one. Space adapts to our needs as it fills with discourse and participation, or silence; it is the very fabric of our lives, past, present, and future.

What began as a four-hour symposium co-sponsored by CrossCurrents in April 2002 on “Ethics and Architecture” evolved into a dialogue of much greater proportion. We asked ourselves: How within the context of our rapidly changing world, do experiences with architecture and sacred and social spaces impress upon the individual? How, in times when one’s emptiness reveals itself in the form of excess do we live in our society?

In this issue, we explore intimacy and immensity, architecture and “structures” ranging from the microcosmic environment of genes and their manipulation, to design in the universe. We study a nature that has become humanized and ponder the control we have gained over wind, fire, gravity, and energy, but sit somewhere between awe and fear when they retaliate.

There is the unfortunate reality that we are not “cast into the world” to reshape it; we are instead born into an immensely codified cosmos of administration, economy, hierarchy, and concrete relationships. When, then, our spaces are defined by their limitations, we realize that life is one of boundaries. In lands where a people are in constant defense of their spaces, borders frame and define their community; and while these borders are there to protect, they also limit human experience. The center no longer determines the periphery, but the reverse.

From weaves of dimension, whether simply a resident of space or a creator of walls, we are a people searching for meaning and permanence; we are separate energy systems moving in continuous construction of our souls, sometimes advancing before our spaces do. So that we shall live in a more grounded self, we need to revisit our ethical structures which remind us of the verities of life and help create and preserve internal exploration. And while the most precious space may be found within oneself, it is only by virtue of the presence of others that we come to know our soul.

Note on the issue: As you might have noticed, we at CrossCurrents recently decided to redesign our own two-dimensional spaces. I guess you could say we were inspired.

Note on the conference: Thanks to those who participated in the Ethics and Architecture conference, including architectural writers Mary Zaboglio Donovan and Elizabeth Kubany and speakers Professor Jean Gardner, Parsons School of Design; Professor Frank Harmon, FAIA of the University of North Carolina and Harvard Visiting Professor; Professor Eugene Kremer, FAIA, of Kansas State University; Professor Stanley Tigerman, FAIA, of Tigerman McCurry Architects and cofounder of ARCHEWORKS, Chicago; Professor John Matteson, of John Jay College, New York City; and Leevi Kiil, FAIA, managing partner of HLW Architects and President of the AIA New York Chapter (also a co-sponsor of the event).

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Source: Cross Currents, Fall 2002, Vol. 52,  No 3.