Conference Agenda

A: Paper Session_C1: Meaning, Memory and Place
Thursday, 08/Apr/2021:
9:45am - 11:15am

Panel Moderator: Rima Ajlouni


Sacrality, Space + Self: Critical Explorations of Meaning, Relationship + Resonance in Islamic Architecture

Nooshin Esmaeili1, Dr. Brian R. Sinclair2

1School of Architecture, Planning + Landscape, University of Calgary, Alberta; 2School of Architecture, Planning + Landscape, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, + sinclairstudio inc., Alberta, Canada

Architecture is not only about creating spaces but more importantly addresses the quality of place and users' experience. With certain intentions, the architect deploys form and choreographs the movement through space, harnessing various elements collectively to tell a story. However, the message is conveyed to the users successfully only when the senses are simultaneously addressed, and a relationship is created between the individual and the environment. This results in blending one’s internal space with the experience of the world beyond, identified as “quality” (Zumthor 2006) or “life-enhancing” (Pallasmaa 2012) architecture. In this paper, the authors are particularly curious about the spiritual experience of Islamic architecture. Their research acknowledges the distinction between spirituality and religiosity, underscoring that transcendental qualities in space can be grasped by all people regardless of beliefs. The goal is not to say that all spaces are equal and that all buildings should provide an enhanced spiritual experience, but to examine those that have the requisite qualities so that designers can seek a better understanding of the concept of ‘quality’ space. To do so, this research serves to identify key criteria necessary in the exploration of spirituality as well as uncovering the importance of meaning, relationship, and resonance, more specifically, in Islamic architecture -- together creating a transcendental encounter. Architecture is more than seeing. Transformative places can be felt with the heart and spaces can be experienced without sight. Sacred spaces in Islamic architecture are often intended to detach us from our materialistic lifestyle and unite us with our genuine internal state. Transcendental spaces aim to lift us into a realm beyond our logical mind (perceptual) to the inner space of the soul or the numinous place (Otto 1970). This special feeling or spark is universal and not solely limited to sacred architecture. The present paper explores a developed set of criteria by the authors and their importance in delivering a transcendental architecture. For the second part of this research, which lies beyond the scope of this paper, the research examines the application of the developed criteria in various high profile case studies for understanding the art of orchestrating architectural features and elements in delivering the notion of “flow” and “unity” in Islamic architecture through the lens of Sufism. This research interrogates the status-quo through a literature review and considers several well-known case studies known for their transformative qualities and a heightened sense of place. The research, in a larger sense, evokes logical argumentation to develop a conceptual framework including initial design parameters/guidelines, targeted to begin the journey of developing a conceptual framework including initial design parameters/guidelines, targeted to designers and architects aspiring to elevate their design potency and spatial mastery to reach transcendental and performative ends. The authors seek a balance between provocation/speculation and rigor/discipline along with the identification of connections between several vital elements – sacrality, self, space, and wellbeing. In this paper, the authors conclude that many of the illuminations and recommendations revealed through this research find applicability in religious and spiritual traditions beyond the confines of Islam.

Qal'at Sim'an, A New Venue of Power in Late Antique Syria

Laura Holden Hollengreen

University of Arizona, United States of America

One way in which architecture “performs” is by providing a site for socio-cultural mediation among peoples with diverse needs. A pertinent premodern example, from a disintegrating empire, is the fifth-century Monastery of Qal’at Sim’an in Syria. At this site, Simeon the Elder, a stylite saint, practiced his asceticism atop a tall column for almost 40 years. Afterwards, a martyrium was built around his column in order to commemorate him; an adjacent monastery housed pilgrims who visited the church, as well as those who ministered to them. This paper will explore the initial, private ascetic performance of Simeon’s body; then the column as architectural prop for his practice, creating an elevated site visible to others; and finally the monumental architecture intended to graft Simeon’s individual fame into the power exercised by the Eastern Orthodox Church as an institution.

Simeon’s church provided a permanent focal point for the circulation of local peoples and distant travelers. It forged a perfect memorial to the holy dead and is regarded as one of the most significant works of late Roman architecture. Indeed, its elegant composition foreshadowed the integration of formal types at Hagia Sophia and the construction was so fine that scholars have assumed imperial patronage. Together, the site, the column, and the building design crystallized socio-political and religious change. They performed culturally for Simeon and later church officials by making visible the dynamic opportunities when long-standing institutions and social hierarchies break down and new people emerge to formulate new methods for achieving peace and prosperity. Dispensing exhortations and miracles, Simeon wielded considerable authority from atop his column and, later, after death, from his church, eclipsing that of local pagan gods and magistrates alike.

Bangladeshi Immigrant Muslim Women’s Memories from Past-lived Homes: Their Ways of Knowing Spaces

Mania Tahsina Taher

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, United States of America

This research inquires about the construction of spatial memories for Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant women living in the U.S. cities and analyzes their physical and sensorial ways of reconstructing the memories of past-lived spaces. The three participant women in this research immigrated to the United States at different times for study, work, and raising a family. This research reflects on how these memories serve as mnemonic devices that record and transmit their experiences inside their previous homes. The objective of this research is two-fold: first, to gain insight into the lived experiences of these immigrant women inside their homes; second, to assess the efficacy of the research methods used here to receive reflections on their occupied built environments. Interview and photo-elicitation are the two research methods adopted here to extract their narratives about everyday spaces. In this process, this study focuses on what one remembers in space, and how one remembers relying on these spatial elements that store these memories. This research framework testifies to the role of data collection techniques in qualitative research for analyzing the relationship of people’s placemaking and their spatial recall of past-lived places.