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Spaces of Chora_ [CITY MONASTERY]

Part 1 Project 2010
Samantha Rive
University of Bath | UK
Space of Chora was inspired from a desire to respond to the impersonal and almost exclusively profane nature of modern society. It investigates through architecture and programme the fundamental importance of the individual's relationship to 'inner Self' together with man's coexistence. Vitally that communion acts as a mechanism to re-orientate and revitalise a society. City Monastery endeavours to re-establish an appreciation of belonging, devotion and the importance of memory, place and ritual.

The idea emerged from an essay investigating various architectural, theoretical and philosophical approaches to the creation of sacred space, specifically in Christian architecture. The work conclusively posed the question: ‘Does there need to be a specific ‘place’ for sacred space to exist?’

“Sacred space cannot be created in a place ... space can only provide a catalyst for the sacred, for it is in the private spiritual realm that the sacred is ultimately experienced." ‘Spaces of Chora’

The monastery is located in the City of Bath behind the Royal Crescent. It lies at the confluence of two Roman roads marked by an ancient burial ground, as well as growing up from within the surviving foundation walls of a Victorian Church bombed in WWII; a palimpsest of human religious ritual. The architecture develops this history, uncovering memories, catalysing the community lost after the fall of the church (both physical and metaphorical), re-establishing a minor 'axis mundi'.

The building sustains a community of Benedictine monks and visiting retreat guests. Spaces of ‘orientation’ and private individual cells provide intimate spiritual sanctuaries. Additionally the programme includes communal places of ‘gathering,’ liminal spaces engaging the wider community- particularly the chapter hall auditorium and roof garden. In opposition to the closed, cloistered typology of traditional monastic layouts an architecture is created that satisfies the needs of both solitude and communion, public and private. Fundamentally there are places where programme overlaps, intersections where the secular and sacred collide, where the community and monks meet. Within these instances, where the two worlds merge, are moments where a sense the sacred is ultimately experienced as part of the profane to the honour of both.

Samantha Rive

This is the final project of the first degree programme at Bath and required the students to position themselves within a debate centring on the project’s common theme of ‘Golden City – The Future of Paradise. At the same time it provides the opportunity for every student to further explore, develop and define their particular architectural identity and to prepare their own brief on a site of their choosing.

The proposal emerged from three strands of inquiry conducted by the student which combine to form the organisational narrative of the scheme. The first, an archaeological and metaphorical understanding of the site uncovered many layers of Roman and subsequent ‘ritualistic history’. Secondly, an investigation into the notion of Chora – sacred space, anticipates the next manifestation of monastic living and contemporary theology. Thirdly, extensive typological studies of La Tourette, Peter Zumthor and Reitermann, Sassenroth's Chapel of Reconciliation inform the basis of both tectonic and spatial moves. By essentially designing using physical modeling the scheme is imbued with a sense of richness and resolution respectful of those precedents.

The proposal excavates the site to reveal and accommodate previous structures within the body of the new. It lifts the existing garden space above street level, partially bounding it with an inhabited wall. This wall becomes permeable at points and allows the garden to meet the street in a manner reminiscent of Säyäntsalo – an accessible Eden. Elsewhere the wall hosts a timber cask that contains the lay members of the community and finally concludes in the vertical part of the monastery. The cells in this tower are organised in the manner of Figura Serpentinata, twisting as they ascend towards an observatory chapel constructed of stacked glass. This move in particular rhymes with the original church spire and is deliberately contrasted against the great linear set pieces of the Georgian City.

The endeavour is reconcile the paradoxical tension of apartness and belonging both within the actual location and monastic community but also within the wider context of the culture of the city. In the words of Rowan Williams 'the future of the soul is in the body.'

Mr Martin Gledhill
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