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How Contemplative Spaces in Architecture Deepen Connection

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

‍Image Credit: © lapas77 | Fotolia

Giving Occupants Room to Breathe

Within an architectural design narrative, it is wise to give occupants room to breathe — to absorb what they have experienced and to prepare for what is to come. If it is all “surprise, surprise, surprise”, a design can lose impact potential by not allowing occupants to process what those “surprises” mean to them for their needs, goals, and ultimate fulfillment. As you will learn later in this article, architecture that “speaks” can be well balanced with an architecture that “listens”.

Contemplative spaces can help patients healing in a hospital. They can help students learning in a school. And they can even help employees at the workplace. Thus, for your specific building type you may ask yourself the following questions as you design:

  • Where are the climactic moment(s) within the occupant journey of my architectural design?
  • How are my occupants prepared to experience this climactic moment? How would a space for contemplation help my architectural design have maximum positive benefits for occupants?
  • Just after experiencing the grand architectural moment within my design, would occupants benefit from having a “breathing space” to absorb what they just experienced? How can this space help them learn better, be more creative, or take on healthier behaviors?
  • Can the architectural language which makes up the contemplative space within my design be used as the climactic moment — where it becomes a moment of grand stillness?

Heightening Connection with Oneself

Space for contemplation can also help your architecture reach more spiritual realms. By allowing your occupants to have a space where they can think, pray, meditate, or simply just be in the present moment — you are designing architecture that can connect those occupants to themselves in deeper ways. Then, you may wonder: What architectural language would a space for contemplation have for your particular project design? Is it an urban garden oasis? Is it a streamlined room that filters in an ethereal light? Or is it in the way you compose the location of a window vista? Whatever you decide, know that creating contemplation space(s) are a way to “listen” to your occupant through your architecture — to help them think, feel, or behave in ways that can lift them more profoundly. Then, when they are able to experience your grand climactic architectural features, they will be in a place where they can process it to their fullest. Taking advantage of all that it has to offer them, by being fully present to what it evokes.

Learning from Contemplation

Does your architectural journey teach occupants about themselves, other people, or the world which surrounds them? By giving your building occupants space to absorb, process, and respond within your architectural design journey, you are creating a design that will more truly “listen” to them. Yes, architectural environments can teach, inspire, and motivate people — yet, it can do this by both “speaking” and “listening”.

An architectural feature that “speaks” has an important role to play as it encourages certain outward occupant actions in certain ways, and even at certain times. However, an architectural space that “listens” helps occupants to get in touch with a deeper part of themselves — to experience an architectural stillness. To better understand the difference, simply think of how a retail store “speaks” as compared to how a place of worship “listens”. Again, it is important to have architecture that both “speaks” and “listens”. After all, it is in the balance between the two that real and meaningful connection between environment and occupant can be born.

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what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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