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IDEAS / travel

The Pantheon. Of Greatness And Deception

5 October 2014

words:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

photos:  Jian Yong Khoo

If the essence of architecture – its intrinsic and determining constituent – is empty space, every man has experienced an archetypal feeling when visiting the Pantheon. Confined in an immense space, we can never embrace its entirety. Ignorant but curious, we marvel at how such a great dome can stand. Questions whose answers lie in subtle ploys: secrets buried within the structure and the material.

The fame of the ‘Roman Cyclops’ still lies in its architectural genius, never yet been equalled. Trapped in the narrow streets of Rome, the Pantheon may have lost its power but not its charm and mystery. Legends and taboos together with mathematical and philosophical symbols mingle under the self-supporting concrete dome and beneath the alerted eye.

To receive everlasting fame, a hint of fortune and wit is necessary: qualities that are not lacking in this building. The Pantheon’s almost spontaneous conversion to Catholicism made it receive grace. With a little indulgence, all past sins have been forgiven: a small price to pay to remain intact.

The interior atmosphere of the church-temple strikes us immediately. We oscillate between light and shadow, astonishment and disbelief, illusion and reality. An intangible light descending from unfathomable heights, invades the space and dazzles us. During sunny days, we are led to confusion: the innate generosity of the sky seems to have given the Cyclops the much-desired second eye.

Too narrow sighted to appreciate the dome in its whole, the only option is to sit down, look up and slowly analyse this space.

A space like no other.

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Salk Institute. Concrete Theatre

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Parrish Art Museum. Herzog & de Meuron

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Musée du Louvre. An Endless Struggle

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Convent de la Tourette. Le Corbusier

The Convent de la Tourette hovers weightlessly on a hill overlooking the nearby town, uncannily reminiscent of a temple atop the Athenian Acropolis. Visitors willing to make the pilgrimage are initially met with a visual field of low intrinsic interest – but the beauty of the architecture slowly reveals itself the more one looks.

architasters / project by Natalie Donat-Cattin and Jian Yong Khoo. It is a platform for speculation and discussion, functioning as a complementary repository for their design work.