Located just outside the UNESCO headquarters in Paris is a sizable cylindrical concrete structure by Tadao Ando called Meditation Space. The structure was constructed to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the constitution of The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, with the aim of promoting peace, scientific cooperation and cultural exchange.
The project is located away from the main street in order to surround it with an environment of peace amidst the city. It provides its users with a much-needed space to remove themselves from the immediate world and get absorbed in their thoughts thereby creating a beautifully designed contemplative space that withholds the power to do that.
The Architectural Symbolism
The structure is made of reinforced concrete and irradiated granite from the atomic bombing in Hiroshima to create a safe haven that communicates a sense of solemnity and serenity all the while The Spatial Narrative remaining symbolic of the destruction that befell the city of Japan.
The Architectural Analysis
To enter the structure, a visitor must walk through an initiatory route that leads them from a ramp to a paved path and into the structure through a human-sized aperture. This path is made to make the user think about the space they are about to enter into. It prolongs the journey to the meditative destination and focuses one’s attention to remove all other distractions and concentrate on the task at hand, thereby not only acting as a physical link but also a psychological one.
The meditative space can be entered without pushing through any doors to create a seamless connection with the immediate context, using just the volumetric mass to separate it from the world and a play of light to create the desired ambience. Inside the structure, there are four cast-iron chairs with very high backs. Once seated in them, the posture of the chair enforces a person to sit upright. This position invites a person to re-center themselves and turns their gaze upwards towards the ceiling—through which light enters in a very restrictive manner but with such intensity that it fills the space below, washing over the walls in such a way that brings out the texture of the surface ever so radiantly.
A circular slab of concrete forms the roof of the structure. It has a radius that is lesser than that of the concrete cylinder leading to the formation of a halo of light around its periphery. The light enters through the circular slit around the edge of the circle making it look like it is suspended over the roof. It exudes a heavenly quality, thereby lending the space a feeling of mystical brilliance that is a simple yet extremely imaginative outcome of the spatial arrangement of solids and voids.
The spatial narrative follows the philosophy of creating a secular space, undefined by the specifics of a particular race or religion, opening it up to humanity as one that houses everybody regardless of societal classifications that put us in defined boxes and prevents us from treating one another as our own.
The Play of Light
The standalone structure is placed within a courtyard, measuring 6 meters in diameter and height. Light is what completes the design. It acts as a physical entity determining if the space is ready or not for a person to step into it—like that of a gate which allows/ denies entry to a person. The play of light is central to the architectural language of the space—as the varied effects of the same are what is responsible for creating the ambience inside the meditative space.
The light that filters in on an overcast day plays out very differently than that which filters in on a sunlit day than that which filters in at dawn/dusk usually bearing a tinge of color reminiscent of the sun. These varying levels of luminance give birth to different intensities of an atmosphere conducive for meditative contemplation.
The Material Palette
The choice of the material palette is a classic feature of what Ando uses in his structures. It includes extensive use of exposed concrete and natural elements such as light, water and air juxtaposed carefully to create the most mesmerizing space that translates much more than what is expected of them.
Ando by way of his usage of materials has changed the way they were looked at previously. They allude to such versatility that was previously unthinkable and have become characteristic of his architecture, simplicity being the key quality that runs through all his structures as a dominant feature tying all individual elements together into a composite whole.
The Underlying Message
This small-scale structure is not what a meditative space usually looks like. The cramped space is supposed to reiterate how no matter what differences lie amongst all of us we should work towards the peaceful coexistence of all and sundry.