The sacred construction of space - St. Benedictusberg Abbey
"From your eyes to my eyes" is a project that was born from the idea of involving the people who follow me in magazines and on social media in my photo reports; inviting them to send me their favorite architectural places, the ones they carry within themselves, in their eyes.
A "bird's eye" view of the world. A great variety of types, functions, geographical contexts and emotions, different but also with subtle affinities and possible relationships.
And this is how, from a program of places proposed by hundreds of people, together with Nicola Carofiglio and Giuseppe Tupputi, the idea of intertwining two distant stories was born, that of Hans Van der Laan's Vaals abbey in Holland and that of an abusive church built in Puglia in the informal settlement of Torre Mileto.
A long journey from Holland to Puglia, from the north to the south of Europe, through our eyes.
THE SACRED CONSTRUCTION OF SPACE
After Aldo Amoretti told us he would have selected our proposals, he suggested this — apparently impossible — comparison. Two architectures that are really distant in their aims and results, beside their mere ritual function. We welcomed the intuition of his gaze, then we started questioning what we thought it could have been the only possible ground of comparison: the conscious or accidental search for a spatial ‘zero grade’, the elementary gestures building these spaces, the clarity of the relationship between sign and meaning. We defined the trajectories and accompanied Aldo to these places, then we developed reflections within a dense three-voiced-six-eyed exchange, combining words and images. Starting from two opposite points of view, this photographic and textual report tells about the sacred construction of space trough the smallest amount of gestures and components, tending to the primitive, the essential. Hans Van der Laan’s work is the result of theoretical awareness and a continuous rational search for the archetype, whilst the illegally built church in Torre Mileto is the outcome of a spontaneous necessity, distant from any form of abstract thinking.
Nicola Carofiglio & Giuseppe Tupputi
Hans Van der Laan, St. Benedictusberg abbey, Vaals (NL)
The monk-architect Hans Van der Laan designed a church, a guest wing and a library for St. Benedictusberg abbey in Vaals (NL), between 1961 and 1986. Here he moved and dedicated the rest of his life to build this lime washed brick demonstration of his theories on the architectonic space.
The extension of the old monastery (designed by Domikus Böhm) establishes a rediscovered relationship with the surrounding green hills and the dense vegetation of the Kolmonder Bosch. An enclosure made of trees hems the forest and imposes a new order to the landscape. It mediates the boundless nature, ‘makes space’ for the architecture of the abbey.
Similarly, wall masses separate the limited human space from the limitless natural space; they tame this nature, they close and disclose themselves to it: southward a platform bounded on three sides overlooks the upland, eastward the big communal courtyard reveals the landscape trough the openings of the portico. Here you can sight the vastness of the landscape protected by the walls of the courtyard. Within the heart of this dense sequence of spaces, the narrow atrium links the church, the guest wing and the existing convent. Surrounded by pillars as tall as trees, this courtyard cuts a piece of sky out — like a clearing in the wood.
The liturgical hall and the surrounding galleries are imagined as a system of enclosures protecting the nucleus “full with space” , where rites happen. The library building, the L-shaped gallery and the portico complete the cloistered figure of the first monastic settlement.
The ‘sacred’ construction of this sacred space takes place only with the elementary gesture of enclosing: creating an ‘inside’ in relation to the ‘outside’ . These ‘inside’ spaces, or spaces of the human experience, are shaped by life flowing: working, walking, contemplating. Three proportional boundaries correspond to these actions; the monk-architect calls them “cell”, “court” and “domain”. Walls shape and make spaces visible. Their thickness measures these spaces and proportionally links them, like a yardstick, according to the so-called “plastic number” proportional system. The lime washed paint partially covers the tectonic qualities of these walls: they become perceptive boundaries wherein bodies move, with no material distractions.
Hans Van der Laan’s language restraint is not an ‘a posteriori’ process of abstraction nor the result of a severe benedictine simplicity. The minimal gestures with which these spaces manifest are part of his continuous rational search for the archetype, the elementary. He is a conscious “primitive” searching for the original essence of things, empirically observing the world and trying to understand the natural rules of inhabiting.