‘Project for a Buddhist Monk Cell,' by Suriya Umpansiriratana
Well, my first answer would be to say, “Look at it before you complain.” Go on, take a closer look. What Thai architect Suriya Umpansiriratana has done here is to give perfect concrete form to the daily routine of a Buddhist monk, to his daily round of peripatetic meditation in nature, and in doing so he’s given real meaning to the monk’s existence. As the DesignBoom website explains (from whence these pictures derive),
it is designed to create an atmosphere conducive to the monk’s practice of noble conduct.
The circular form allows for continuous walking meditation, but also functions as a symbol
of the 24-hour cycle of the practice schedule:
- the first period, from 04:00 to 12:00: after waking up, during chanting, meditation,
and the daily meal, a single wall to the east shields the monk from the morning sun.
- the second period, from 12:00 to 20:00: during the time for studying the Buddha's teachings,
the simple roof overhead shields the monk from the daytime sun.
- third period, from 20:00 to 04:00: chanting and meditation takes place in a space exposed
to the elements, and the monk then sleeps under the hanging mosquito net umbrella.
The daily routine is expressed naturally by the design of the building. the circular form allows for precise directional siting of the building [see picture below].
The primary structural material is steel, and the color follows that of the monk’s robes.
The beauty here comes not from any great ornamentation, because in that respect it’s as plain as a barn door, but in the meaning that this structure builds in. You might even say that it's very simplicity makes as plain as can be the very poverty (or stripped-down simplicity) of the Buddhist project, which calls essentially for the annihilation of all personality—something almost beautifully achieved here.
And that’s why this apparently simple building is worth examining: because it demonstrates once again what architecture is able to do. Said Frank Lloyd Wright, "Architecture is the scientific art of making structure express ideas," and that’s equally as true whether those ideas are false as hell, or as false as heaven.
Since remote times [explains Christian Norberg-Schulz] architecture has helped man
in making his existence meaningful.
With the aid of architecture he has gained
a foothold in space and time.
Architecture is therefore concerned with something more
than practical needs and economy.
It is concerned with existential meanings.
Existential meanings are derived
from natural, human and spiritual phenomena,
and are experienced as order and character.
Architecture translates these meanings
into spatial forms…
You might say that we humans develop rituals that help us handle, understand and enjoy life (i.e., the natural, human and spiritual phenomena that make up each of our lives). Rituals that give meaning to our lives. We develop these rituals, and then architecture builds them in.
And in doing so, architecture does more than just keep the rain off our stuff: it gives real meaning to our existence. Even (ironically) to an existence we seek to escape from.