EMBRACING THE HUMAN SPIRIT
National September 11 Memorial, New York, New York, by Michael Arad with PWP Landscape Architecture (photo by PWP Landscape Architecture)
Upon returning from the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, a colleague stated that she found the design dismal. I responded, “Maybe that is the point.”
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is not exultant. It does not elate. As commemoration, the architecture honors the lives lost through acknowledging grief and pain. Through such, comes healing and the succinct message, “Never forget.”
In the mainstream of TV shows and magazines, architecture is merely thought of as designing homes. And indeed, architecture is a house.
But what can it house?
Besides housing families, architecture can collect memories, it can store beliefs, and it can sustain faith.
Whether the design of memorials or sacred structures such as shrines and temples, the architecture of spirituality informs. It influences and guides. Such architecture can be a celebration enlivening the human spirit, or it can be solemn, confronting the human spirit.
Here, when I speak of religion, I am referring to a belief system that might be a private personal agenda or a structured practice of an organization’s ethics. The architecture of religion then, offers spaces that contain an individual’s creed or a community’s doctrines. The resulting forms and materials from such architecture express conviction and devotion.
The design of a church for example can be flooded with natural light to express the revelry of faith. On the other hand, a church can be intentionally dark and somber, so as to make any form of light, say a single small sun beam, apparent and dramatic—representing the presence of a holy deity.
I previously wrote about my many years serving Buddhists as their select architect. For their national foundation, I designed places to worship and study, to retreat and meditate, and to gather and connect.
Poon Design has created spiritual spaces of all kinds. Just to name a few: a 140,000-square-foot manufacturing plant transformed into a church in California, a Holocaust and Human Rights library in Maine, and a cemetery and memorial park for the freed slaves in Virginia. Our other projects of remembrance include 9/11 in California, AIDS victims in Florida, and the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C.
Whether a chapel designed for a retirement community of the Air Force in Texas, or a Massachusetts memorial designed for the victims of the Holocaust, my architecture can be engaged individually and intimately, or publicly and as a society.