“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I'll meet you there.” Rumi.1
A revered thinker and philosopher of the East, Jalal ad-Din Rumi’s legacy is imbued with other-worldly references. Depicting a place that exists beyond ethics, aesthetics, perceived space, and even time, he sets ground for a motion towards the transcendental – a state where the metaphysical thrives.
Manifested within the realm of physicality, architecture stands not only as a background for human life but also as a prism through which we understand the world. It reframes the natural existing world and provides us with multiple experiences. To understand the metaphysical in architecture, it is of crucial importance that we realize that the experiences we have on a daily basis are mostly limited to our basic human senses. Existing in a realm that lies beyond sensory experiences, metaphysics is, according to Aristotle’s philosophy, a system of thought and a model of interpretation of reality that bears interest in the essence of being and the truth.
Architecture acts as a threshold between nature and man, both part of the same whole but operating on different scales. Our everyday building may very well fulfil the Vitruvian model of Utilitas (Functionalism), Firmitas (Stability), and Venustas (Beauty), but on too many occasions fails to project us on a transcendental plane. A plane where architecture behaves as a physical epitomic instrument that allows us to resonate with the higher orders of the natural. When architecture takes such a role, it transcends its role of reaching us through solely the physical. Exemplifying this is the case of ruins where time is experienced differently. When one gets to experience dilapidated architecture of the past, a mysterious feeling is triggered as the spirit of the space differs greatly from the one contemporary architecture provides. This occurs mainly for two reasons: the effect of time on the architectural artifact, and the presence of the self within a manifestation that is detached from the current epoch.
The metaphysical in architecture bears a strong relationship with the relationship that we have with time. Transgressing the current space-time relationship, it transports us to a state where the self is confronted to the Sublime2and allows for introspection. It abstracts the matter that architecture uses to form thresholds to such an extent where an individual is raised to simultaneously realise and question the state of being itself. In doing so, the metaphysical in architecture becomes a self-referential tool and a multi-dimensional mirror. The self can there and then engage and interact with something larger than itself.
One architectural piece that allows the self to experience the metaphysical is the Bruder Klaus Chapel in Germany. Its architect, Peter Zumthor, believes in the existence of a simple duality that allows him to generate such edifices.
‘’There are earth and water, the light of the sun, landscapes and vegetation; and there are objects made by man, such as machines, tools or musical instruments, which are what they are, which are not mere vehicles for an artistic message, whose presence is self-evident.’’ 3
He clearly distinguishes the natural from the man-made. The chapel stands in the vast spread of a field where, upon approaching it, one sees it manifest itself through platonic forms. From the exterior, it remains difficult to predict the stark difference that the interior provides, not only morphologically but also experientially.
The surprise that one feels upon crossing the doorstep of the building contributes considerably to projecting the self on a transcendental plane. Instead of using tectonic methods of construction, the architect opts for stereotomy that allows him to achieve an interior articulation that is reminiscent of natural formations. To produce the negative space, the architect first constructed it as a solid form with wooden strips that were later burnt to attain the texture of the walls. Formed by fire and illuminated by light from above, the space presents the self with the essentials.
Travelling to the Middle East, Istanbul also holds a contemporary example of an architectural piece that bear transcendental characteristics. Emre Arolat’s Sancaklar Camii, a reinterpretation of the traditional mosque, is similarly located on the stretches unbuilt territory. This underground mosque was designed with a level of abstraction that allows the self to attain the spiritual. The devotee stands in the dark under a dome that has bears the articulation of topography lines. Upon entering this space, one feels as if entering a cave. The overhead plane is masterfully distanced from the vertical wall, allowing light to penetrate the space. Here, in this man-made cave you stand in the dark and look up to light that does not only affect your vision but touches your spirit.
The manifestation of the metaphysical is not only present in the contemporary and Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia bears testimony to that. Located in Barcelona, the basilica strongly references natural forms with a lower level of abstraction than the preceding examples; rather than using rectilinear elements to form spaces Gaudi utilized a series of hyperboloids, parabolas, helicoids, and conoids to craft his piece. This allows for a drastically different experience of natural lighting and acoustics within the basilica. The principle of space formation is not far from Zumthor’s as Gaudi used a system of strings and weights under gravity that generated his forms. Across the examples, we find mimesis as a crucial tool for the production of such spaces, although not the only one.
Transcending the visual, the olfactory, the auditory, the tactile, and the gustatory, architecture allows us to reach the essence of being and brings us closer to ourselves by connecting us to a higher order of life. Rather than shielding us from the natural, architecture bears the potential to attain the metaphysical when it expresses an appropriate, correct, honest and threshold between nature and us. Putting us outside the representation of the passé, the contemporary, and the upcoming, architecture has the potential to enlighten, move, and even transgress. When architecture succeeds at that, one is transported to a place where the essential and the truth lies. Hopefully, we shall all meet there.
1. Jalal ad-Din Rumi, Coleman Barks translation, Quatrain No. 395
2. Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Other Writingsavailable at:https://people.whitman.edu/~frierspr/9780521884129pre_pi-xlvi.pdf
3.Zumthor, Peter: Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime and Other Writings available at:https://people.whitman.edu/~frierspr/9780521884129pre_pi-xlvi.pdf
Jawaad Issoop, a recent graduate of Architecture, and has been in the field since 2015. Starting from his early years, he was interested in writing, art and culture. Without any doubt, his year-long experience for a magazine when he was only 18 had a big impact on his later years. Under the modernist thought of architecture in METU, he has been shaped and reshaped continuously. His discovery of the developed world dates back to 2018 with an internship in Spain. A year later, his experience while interning at MONU, in Rotterdam, as an Assistant Editor deeply influenced him. He is currently working and producing in his 50 year old social housing flat, in Ankara, Turkey.