Title

Architecture and and Zen Calligraphy: Shaping Spiritual Space

Date of Award

8-2007

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Architecture

Major

Architecture

Major Professor

Scott Wall

Committee Members

Katherine Ambroziak, Suzanne Wright, Barbara Klinkhammer

Abstract

“The ancients penned characters as a means of spiritual elevation, for it was considered possible to express the essential spirit of the universe through brushwork. …the act of writing a character is seen as parallel to the universal process of creation, and an embodiment of the principles that govern life.” -Barbara Aria

“The way a word is written can convey as much meaning as the word itself.” -Haji Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang

“Alas, one who does not enter the gate of this art will not glimpse its mysteries!” -Sun Qianli, Treatise on Calligraphy

Calligraphy is the means by which the intangible ideals and experiences of the enlightened person or Zen master are formed and made visible. The art of sacred calligraphy is used specifically for the purposes of evoking emotion or creating experiences of spiritual elevation (Stevens 144). Though at first glance most calligraphy seems to be uninformed brush strokes, the techniques involved in creating provocative and sacred calligraphy are extremely precise and ritualistic. Zen calligraphy is only considered successful when the calligrapher is able to achieve the elevated spiritual station through the ritual journey and the arrival of the mind and soul.

The eminent calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya stated that a work of calligraphy is only complete when it is experienced by viewing (6). This can be compared to what the contemporary architect, Tadao Ando has said: “A great building comes alive only when someone enters it” (Auping 25). Both of these statements are an expression of the individual’s interpretation of either the calligraphy or the space, adding the element of a personal experience. Just as in architecture, calligraphy uses the compositional form and space to express emotion or meaning. The experiences, emotion and unity between the person or user within an architectural space and the architecture itself are all reflective of what is achieved by the viewer of sacred calligraphy (figure 1). For this reason, I believe that an architectural space based on the same principles of sacred calligraphy can convey not only intangible spiritual ideas, but also heightened experiences of spirit and soul.

A library project is fitting to the thesis argument because of the close relationship of reading and ritual. According to Louis Kahn, institutions are symbolic of human desires, such as the desire to learn, which can be expressed only in community, through people coming together. “For Kahn, architecture is the art whose concern is human institutions” (Lobell 65). The embodiment of a human desire is the essence of calligraphy. How better to express this desire than through the institution of reading, the library?

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