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.
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Water Temple. A Found Ruin
5 February 2018
words: Natalie Donat-Cattin
photos: Jian Yong Khoo
Water temple, designed by Tadao Ando, hides in the inland of Awaji Island. Despite its close proximity to the sea (only a 15 min walk) the building turns its back to the ocean to embrace the hillside.
The road to reach it, is deserted and steep: a series of greenhouses and fields are the only panorama’s highlights. A light hiss of wind provokes a sovereign silence as we step on the gravelled pathway between the old Buddhist temple and the cemetery. As soon as nature surrounds us, a wide space opens up before us abruptly overlooked by a concrete wall: austere in its mass, yet violated by a square entryway. Like the red doors of the shinto temples, this marks the transition into a mystical environment. It is a symbol of passage, reflection and acceptance.
Upon crossing it – with a great surprise – we find ourselves standing in front of another solid wall of the same material, trapped between a linear and a circular surface. The trail, just adjacent to the latter, invites us to follow it in all its length. Its curved shape guides the hand, which timidly dares to caress its smooth finish.
The edge of the wall marks the entrance to a second space. Here a circle of water is embraced by the half-moon wall and cut in half by a staircase, penetrating into its depths. The descending passageway invites us to leave the earthly world.
The prayer room is also circular. It is protected by a shiny red wooden cage and hidden from sight. The change of material on the floor outlines the access into the sacred space. Shoes must be abandoned, like all superficial behaviours. The cold bare feet stroke the wooden deck, while the eyes become accustomed to the candles’ artificial lighting. It is in a state of mind of anxiety that we walk around the perimeter of the circle, at which half we are offered access to the godly hall. The gold of Buddha sparkles in the centre, never so bright as in the darkness.
“Lacquerware decorated in gold is not something to be seen in a brilliant light, to be taken in at a single glance; it should be left in the dark, a part here and a part there picked up by a faint light. Its florid patterns recede into the darkness, conjuring in their stead an inexpressible aura of depth and mystery, of overtones but partly suggested.” – In Praise of Shadows, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
Water Temple is a found ruin we stumble upon: silent, forgotten, abandoned. No one is around. Nature, wind and water are the only spirits looking over our actions. The concrete, trapped in its hardness, observes dumbly. Everything seems to be allowed. Desolation reigns, in a kingdom where even the lilies are dead. Only a female voice reminds the community to pray. Cold, mechanical, chilling. In its stiffness, it seems to reproach us for having usurped the quiet of the place. It is art and part of the temple. Phantom of time and religion.
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Tokyo – Close your eyes. If you do so you will hear the noise at the Shibuya Crossing and the smell of the sakura flowers in bloom in Shinjuku on an April’s day, while walking around Gyoen National Garden. Close your eyes tighter. Do you feel the spatial tension? From the small labyrinth-streets of Nakano to the huge Roppongi’s skyscrapers, Tokyo paints the 21st century Japanese society on one single canvas.
Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright, an inverted zigurrat within the urban metropolis of Manhattan – the unconventional layout of the museum makes for a playful visual experience.
In the far east of London, stands majestic and solitary the London Aquatics Centre. In an almost inexistent context, it emerges from the flatness of the surroundings, like a solitary wave in the middle of the ocean. At first sight, its dynamic form amazes but then the question arises: would it be as beautiful within a context? Or is it this emptiness that enhances the building? “Space is meaningless without scale, containment, boundaries and direction”, writes Huxtable – so is the aquatic centre just a meaningless wonder?
A cultural oddity, the sense of mysticism surrounding Japan has captivated us for generations; and in it we seek to decipher this elusive quality, of which is believed to somehow offer profound ‘answers’ to life’s toughest questions. This fascination is curiously unusual: with the ever-expanding wealth of knowledge available in the virtual environment, a culture so distant is instantaneously made accessible. The relentless flow of images and anecdotal accounts on mainstream media allows one to transport one’s self into a culture thousands of miles away. A fleeting immersion, which no doubt sows the seeds for preconceived notions and judgments.