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THE RIVER SANCTUARIES

a choreography of the Sacred and Profane / an interfaith sacred space for religious reconciliation

 

Thesis Awards : OAA Awards '05, On The Line Exhibition '05

 

rs01This thesis explores the potential of sacred space as a place for religious reconciliation; specifically how space can be articulated to encourage interfaith discourse through the recognition of outwardly contrary but inwardly similar values. The expression of opposites and their reconciliation is therefore critical.

 

The study of major congregational rituals and their psychological experience became the foundation for this thesis. Rituals reveal very divergent myths, values and expressions setting religions apart. However, many rituals have comparable psychological experiences - all are in search of some form of Sacred/numinous and transformative/transcendental experience; an experience many religions associate with immersion in water.

 

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Based on the above premise, the sacred space resides on the desolated, industrialized Don River. Its location is part of a complex watershed that reuses existing industrial fragments to shape and sculpt a new meandering river delta. Its metamorphic landscape suggests the transformative temperament of rituals and water. Located at the cusp of this natural and artificial landscape, the River Sanctuaries is conceived as two spaces.

 

rs03The ‘closed’ Sanctuary takes its name from the specificity of its program and the pragmatism of its configuration and plan – as a vessel conceived for the observance of rituals or prayer (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Bahá’í). It is a bearer of religious diversity and houses relevant symbols and objects required for rituals (orientation, hierarchy etc). The sanctuary is perched atop the Keating Channel conveying a sense of permanence, protected from the waters below.

 

The Sanctuary enables the creation and unfolding of one's Sacred practices, its destruction by the practices of another, and its inevitable renewal through recurring performances of that practice. One's manifestation of the definitive Sacred is ‘destroyed’ with the manifestation of another’s, much as sanctified space is continuously defiled and renewed by people of various faith. The ‘closed’ Sanctuary endlessly renews itself through the practice of various religions. It nurtures a sense of diversity and facilitates discourse that aids in understanding, discovering and rediscovering that in which we consider Sacred.

 

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rs10As contrary counterpart, the ‘open’ Sanctuary is conceived as programless drawing upon nature’s indefinite temperament as inspiration. The sanctuary’s unscripted program space proposes a form and plan that reflects no ritual or ceremony. Instead, rituals and ceremonies are practiced through their adaptation to the unscripted environment that is devoid of symbolic and iconographic references, prevalent sources of orientation, hierarchy and authoritative ideology. Events are undetermined, unscheduled and sometimes even conflicting. They range from small individual and family meetings, rituals and ceremonies, to large city-organized gatherings like prayer vigils in the event of natural disasters and memorials for peace. Nestled in the old Toronto Port Authority Pier, the sanctuary is lowered and immersed in the metamorphic qualities of the delta and open to the environment.

 

Like the ‘closed’ Sanctuary, the vessel uses the practice of diversity as a source of renewal; however, its unmanifest state also harnesses the destructive and renewing properties of nature. Its space blurs ritual boundaries generated from Eliade’s imago mundi, ideologies and dogma; and corporeal boundaries erected to disassociate inside from outside by forming an experiential connection to water, earth, sky and time. The sanctuary evolves and transforms through its interaction with the practice of various religious practices and transcendental phenomenon of nature (rain, storm, floods, sedimentation morphology, etc).

 

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A double skin (translucent and opaque) spiraling roofscape envelope the two contrary sanctuaries generating spaces of varying vistas, fluctuating luminosity and shifting spatial relations: a variable experiential narrative slowly unfolding in space. The roofscape is a metaphor of the transformative temperament of rituals expressed through the helical movement of water made by all meandering rivers. Its form is fluid, dynamic, responsive and integrative; weaving and uniting the contrary: landscape and building, stone and water, natural and artificial, city and lake, ‘open’ sanctuary and ‘closed’ sanctuary, one’s Sacred values and another’s.

 

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DESIGN PARTI

 

Experiencing rituals includes one’s psychological submission to a ritual (death), immersion in the sacred scriptures of that ritual, and eventual emergence from the ritual (rebirth). Much like immersing in water can be depicted as the experiencing of something new, another’s religion.

 

Taking on the helical form of a meandering river’s current; the roofscape unfolds in an anti-clockwise manner at the ‘closed’ Sanctuary poised on the Keating Channel dock wall. It rises from a horizontal position and envelopes the sanctuary, its terraces and paths. The roofscape’s protective and closed composition severs the ones connection to the sky and water. At the end of the sanctuary, the roofscape terminates in mid-air, framing the Toronto skyline.

 

At the Toronto Port Authority pier, the roofscape resumes its spiraling narrative by tracing the outer edge of the ‘open’ Sanctuary. It diagonally drifts down and under that exposed edge effectively cradling the sanctuary, lowering it into delta. The folding roofscape’s unprotected profile exposes the sanctuary to the sky and waters of Lake Ontario.

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The thesis suggests that the issue of whether architecture can foster a psychological condition of reconciliation is embedded in the diversity and temporality of its environment - a place where the Sacred is continuously renewed and rediscovered. As water shapes and reshapes the sanctuaries and site, over time our perspective of another’s religion begins to evolve through experience and rediscovery. The River Sanctuaries provides a place to experience the religious diversity of Toronto in hopes of creating stronger bonds of understanding of one’s Self and collective identity.

 

(above is a synopsis of the thesis titled - The River Sanctuaries - a choreography of the Sacred and Profane)

 

 

 

abstract from ...

THE RIVER SANCTUARIES

a choreography of the Sacred and Profane

 

ABSTRACT

 

Time has shown that the Sacred is commonly understood as the contrary of the Profane. The distinction is made apparent by its numinous temperament and expressed in its manifestation in art, iconography, and the like. Through its definitive expression, what is Sacred to one may appear Profane to another resulting in divergent ideologies and irreconcilable perspectives.

 

Religious architecture, being a manifested entity of such expressions can serve to advance a definitive understanding of the Sacred. Therein lies the problem of architecture as a possible source of division amidst religiously diverse global communities.

 

This thesis investigates the relevance of interfaith rituals and the role of modern architecture as a medium that facilitates a new, collective understanding of the Sacred as that which includes the Profane. Drawing on theological, philosophical and psychological insights, the thesis articulates the contradictions between the contrary constructs of Sacred and Profane. It then deconstructs the definitive structures of rituals used for their manifestation and reconstructs them through a psychological understanding of the numinous and transcendence. The contrary constructs of Sacred and Profane are rediscovered through ritual’s new psychological physiology and used to conceive an interfaith sacred space for religious reconciliation.

 

Architecture’s potential to create opportunities for reconciliation is embedded in the diversity and temporality of its environment: a place of eternal renewal.

 

...

 

TRANSCENDING THE SACRED           

 

My exploration has in many ways brought a sense of inner peace through a better understanding of the inexpressible and ineffable qualities of the Sacred. Exploration into the various rituals and religions has convinced me that it is only through sincere investigation that one can understand the significance of their values and inherent numinosity.

 

This exploration has surfaced a realization that the source of many problems lies in the inability to engage in a dialogue with the Profane for fear of the Sacred’s destruction. Veiled in ignorance, we delude ourselves into believing that our precious ideologies are the only means to salvation. Many fear experiencing the discontentment that might arise from the search for answers. This thesis suggests that the escalating religious conflict in the world today is due to the inability of contemporary culture to transcend the failing ideologies of old.

 

Only when the Sacred and Profane are allowed to discourse can transcendence be found. The words of poet T.S. Eliot ring ever so clearly in my ears.

 

We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring,
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.

 

TS Eliot