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
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).