Monday, April 20, 2009

Contemporary Temples are Necessary

Temples are essential to human dwelling. Wherever people have settled in whatever time and place they have crafted shrines to the mysteries of inhabiting this world. For most of human history the places that honored being flowing into becoming and back again embodied the beliefs of a particular tribe or religion. The grid of belief used to organize each sacred place was seen as a description of absolute truth. Hindu temples embodied the viewpoint of Hinduism; Hopi kivas reflected the Hopi worldview. As belief systems changed across territory and time, the shape of the architecture manifested by those beliefs changed.  

In today's cut and paste global community, the shimmering digital screen challenges any and all notions that truth can be grasped, let alone be absolute. Yet, the essential human need for temples still stirs our blood. In response, people are exploring new possibilities of contemporary temples. One such place is pictured above. Skyspace, designed by James Turrell, occupies a corner of the sculpture garden at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. It's the kind of contemporary temple I love to visit; architecture that opens directly to the intersections of energy and matter without an agenda. 

Skyspace is simple enough, a domed enclosure with a hole on top. There are no words or images instructing visitors how to use the space or what to do there. In response most people who enter act a bit confused, giggle, and spin explanations as to what it's about. But, sitting on the curved concrete bench encircling the room and gazing through the oculus is a chance to look directly into wonder. On a clear day the blue sky is charged possibilities. A bird might dart over the shimmering azure disk; a wayward balloon might float a path across it. On cloudy days, the opening becomes a living painting constantly heaving and undulating in continuous slow motion transformation. On Friday nights, you can visit Skyspace and enter a wild, glorious surprise.

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