Ever since his lecture at Pratt Institute in February of this year, I've been fascinated by architect Steven Holl. Coincidentally, he designed the recently completed connection of Higgins Hall Center, part of Pratt's School of Architecture.
These bottles of light function as both beacons of light in seven directions at night, as well as nets which capture multiple types and colors of light throughout the day. The entire project surrounds Jesuit principles of spirituality. As such, the multiple sources of light emphasize the Jesuit idea that "different methods [of spiritual exercises] helped different people" (Steven Holl).
Holl is not one of these modern architects who finds a need to rationalize architecture through modern technology. I acknowledge my naiveté in this field, but all of these architects like Brett Steele (chair of the Architectural Association in London) that look to the internet and the massive interconnected networks of the 21st century as some sort of basis for the future of architecture drive me crazy. It is not even a case of the human element being lost in this process, for it isn't even there to begin with. There is not attention to or care for form, and is that not where all architecture is "doomed" to end up, intentional or not? Yet an overarching notion is that none of these projects are intended to even be completed. This architecture that lacks a human purpose and element disturbs me, despite its intentional efforts as experimentation.
But Steven Holl is different. He is an artist-- but an artist in a way that is very much architecturally minded. He paints, but painting is not separate from architecture for him. His projects reflect this artistic approach, as they play with forms and are routed in concepts based on human interaction and physical realities. If there were any overarching guide to his architecture, it would be the constant play of light. Many architects speak of the prominent importance of light in architecture, yet Holl is more deliberate and successful in its use and exploitation than any other I have studied. Case in point is his project at the Seattle University, the Jesuit Chapel. It is without a doubt my favorite piece of architecture of modern times.
The Chapel of St. Ignatius is based on a very simple concept-- "seven bottles of light in a stone box." This water color painting became the concept and basis for the entire project:
A further play of light is that although light is admitted from all directions, there are no views out. The enclosed space creates an incredibly meditative experience as the shifting light and colors (created from colored baffles behind each "bottle") change throughout the day.
This piece of architecture is intimately connected and geared to the human experience of space. Its concept is a concept of form, and its program is derived from its intent and human flow through space. Similarly, the implementation and usage of light is derived from its purpose and inhabitants. This project, to me, is the essence of what a modern architectural project should be. Perhaps it is an age-old idea for architecture; yet I believe it has the ability to be, and is in fact only effective when, molded and shaped for its contemporary context.
Quotes and images from www.stevenholl.com