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  Living Architecture as a Healing Art: On Christopher Day's Places of the Soul

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By: Reinhold Faeth
Art and Therapy-Living Arch.doc

(Original title: Lebendige Architektur als Heilkunst. Zu dem Buch von Christopher Day. DBS Goetheanum 1996; 39:474-5. English by A. R. Meuss, FIL, MTA.)

"Confusion and devastation will reign as the year 2000 approaches; and where our Dornach building is concerned, too, not one piece of wood will re- main in place on top of another. Everything will be destroyed and devas- tated." These words, spoken by Rudolf Steiner in a lecture on architecture, of which notes were taken,(1) initially make us fear or think of physical destruc- tion of buildings - they do not seem to apply to the immediate present. Yet the lecture reference to "those terrible times" is closely connected with the statement that "the Christ shall be seen in his ether form" and that people would rage against those "who follow the living Christ impulse that contin- ues to be active."

It seems reasonable, therefore, to ask about confusion and devastation also in the etheric. As soon as the question is asked, we realize that this is the area where confusion and devastation reign. This applies both generally and specifically to architecture.

It was probably during the industrial revolution in England that people first experienced the growing emptiness of both outer and inner architectural forms and the loss of shape and form brought together in an organic way. Architects and designers know the work of John Ruskin, author of The Seven Lamps of Architecture, and of William Morris, both of them outstanding examples of people who warned, complained and fought in vain - though not without effect. Wilkie Collins gave an excellent description of the situation at that time: Is there any wilderness of sand in the deserts of Arabia, is there any prospect of desolation among the ruins of Palestine which can rival the repelling effect on the eye and the depressing influence on the mind of an English country town in the first stage of its existence and in the transition state of its prosperity? I asked myself that question as I passed through the clean desolation, the neat ugliness, the prim torpor of the streets of Welmingham. And ...the dead house-carcases that waited in vain for the vivifying human element to animate them with the breath of life - every creature that I saw, every object that I passed, seemed to answer with one accord: the deserts of Arabia are innocent of our civilized desolation.(2)

Today, we read reports of the depressing effects of blocks of residential "silos" - in the international modern style - that make people ill, neurotic or criminal. The monotonous style may even be seen in villages now. Yet most of the critical voices that make themselves increasingly heard have no answer to "the question as to how, of finding the way from here to there,"(3) from dead to living architecture, from the empty form that deforms to the ether form that heals. Shaping the environment is no longer a matter of taste; it has become an urgent therapeutic issue. Dr. Hubert Palm's book Das gesunde Haus - Das kranke Haus und seine Heilung (The Healthy House - The Sick House and How It May Be Healed) may be said to be symptomatic of this.

Building biology deals with questions of location,(4) the relationship of the house to the sun's path, with the organism of light, heat, air and water cur- rents in the house and, above all, with substances that have healing qualities, that is, healthy building materials. Awareness of the therapeutic qualities of substances helps to develop a physical basis for the development of living ether forms. The past has shown that we have not given enough thought to this, and serious errors have been made in methodology. Rudolf Steiner spoke of the healing qualities of life-filled architecture, saying that "true healing of what is bad to make it good" can be achieved by means of "archi- tectural sculpture and other forms." The question of method, the forms of architectural art, may thus be linked with an awareness for healing qualities. We may certainly speak of the healing effects of great architecture, but "archi- tecture as a healing art"?

The subtitle of Christopher Day's book is Architecture and Environmental Design as a Healing Art.(5) How do we apply "architecture as a healing art"? We are inclined to take the question of method to be a question of form, but Day shows that initially it is more important to ask how we find our way to the method. All the processes that result in the design of the building - ranging from initial talks between architect, owner and resident to letting the trades- people involved have a part in shaping it - are an artistic growth process for Mr. Day. His principle is that of an open conversation, with the artist not so much speaking in expressive terms and presenting photogenic work,(6) but first listening. He listens to the genius of the place, the angels and the spirits, animals and plants that give life to the place, entering into harmony with the invisible life of the place and inviting it to enter into partnership. Day wants to build "places of the soul" with living qualities, adjectives rather than nouns. The building process may therefore offer surprises, e.g. it must be possible to change the shell design or carcass if the reality perceived does not agree with the envisaged qualities.(7)

The conventional process involves abstract functional diagrams, models "true to scale" and plans that are generally two-dimensional. The buildings are then "raised" under tune and financial pressures fixed by contract (often resulting in "building processes" of a very different kind). The way in which buildings arise today, with exact, detailed conditions laid down in advance, leads to the construction of (residential) silos. The germinal artistic element in the design sketch or model is fixed and enlarged "true to scale," strangulating all further artistic development; emotional, artistic involvement of the builders tends to be inhibited. Day considers it vital that they be involved: "Indifferent architecture built with care and artistic involvement can become a beautiful, soul-nourishing environment. Excellent design built without care or concern never can be."(8) St. Paul's words on love no doubt also apply in architecture.(9)

Many people believe that artistic ability is a matter of inborn genius, but I am convinced that the main factor is commitment. Likewise, aesthetics is much less a function of money than of care, but care costs time. In a world where time means money, the less care put into buildings - in design, construction and use - the cheaper they will be; but since few people want cheap-looking buildings, deceptive appearance, from brick facings to cardboard structured doors, chipboard furniture to glossy fronts and cut-price rears, have become commonplace. We are rapidly building a world where deceptive appearance inadequately screens the primacy of profit over care. The fashion for polyurethane-lacquered wooden furniture comes from "visual only" consciousness. When you touch it, the wood is hard, shiny, cold and does not breathe. It doesn't smell of wood and it looks glossy - a surface, not a depth, of colour.(10)

The prevalent confusion of appearance has made the impossible possi- ble, coating our everyday world with a toxic, dead layer of plastic (even bunches of flowers rich in scent and life are presented in glittering foil).(11)

Christopher Day may be following gentler routes far removed from modern building conventions, but the prospects they offer clearly show the general longing felt for the creation of physical and etheric qualities in our devastated life spheres, for architecture to join hands with the art of healing. It becomes evident that architecture as a healing art needs to be first of all applied to the diseases inherent within it; new health in architecture will then also mean health for human beings. In addition, one sees remarkable beginnings of architectural therapy, providing therapeutic measures as a form of art therapy. The example of the Nant-y-Cwm Steiner School reveals "social architecture" as a dream for the future. I began to realize that the instrument of specific art therapy can also find its place in the orchestra of "individual efforts." In theory, one soon comes to the conclusion that architecture can be art therapy just as much as the other arts.

The question of how someone (as active "patient") can be practically involved in particular architectural development processes(12) will depend on new forms of social building processes and being aware of "architecture as a healing art." Christopher Day's book offers specific approaches but is nevertheless addressed to everyone who will live in the house, suggesting many small "therapeutic measures" to bring life into existing domestic architecture. Sadly, having read the book, one is once again left with a major question: a "luminary of architecture" has again appeared in England - when will this voice in the wilderness also be translated into the German language?

1. Steiner R. Wege zu eineni neuen Baustil (GA 286). Notizen, Vortrag Stuttgart 7. Maerz 1914. Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag 1982.

2. Collins, W. The Woman in White. First published 1959-60. Penguin Classics edition p. 503. Harmondsworth: Penguin 1985.

3. Deckert MR. Buchbesprechung in Die Drei, 3/95, P.C. Mayer-Tasch, Schon wieder mischen sie Beton.

4. Steiner R. "... that one of the most important things to be done in the future will be to take an active interest again in something that has ceased to exist - geographic medicine, medical geography." 16 Nov. 1916.

5. Day C. Places of the Soul. Wellingborough: The Aquarian Press 1990. Paperback edition 1993, with many of the photographs poorly reproduced and not really acceptable.

6. Day does not, on principle, offer competitive bids for building projects, a convention that generally results in the fixing of ideas in imposing designs to win contracts and cut out competitors.

7. "Such a method of building is financially impossible" - Mr. Day presents calculations to counter this objection but does not discuss local authority regulations.

8. Places of the Soul p. 133. Let us remember what we have heard about the building of the First Goetheanum and the open conversation with this being that brought surprises even for Rudolf Steiner. Although craftsmen still had their pride in those days, we can see Rudolf Steiner's lectures to the workmen as events designed to bond the workers to the spirit of the building rather than merely educate and provide information.

9. 1 Corinthians 13.

10. Places of the Soul p. 8 & 19.

11. Steiner R. Wider okkulter Siegel und Saeulen (GA 284). Berlin, 5 May 1909: "Anyone able to perceive and judge the situation as regards spiritual realities knows very well that customs, habits, inner inclinations, and particular relationships between good and evil during an age depend on the nature of the things we walk past from morning till night, among which we find ourselves from morning till night. It is often hair-raising, if you'll forgive the expression, what people have around them today from morning till night. People tend to care little about their daily surroundings. Is fine judgment brought to bear, is the eye, is taste important in the way we produce a table or a chair? Absolutely impossible things are possible today in this sphere."

12. It is, of course, possible to use smaller projects (appreciation of architecture, furniture, hand- crafted boxes) for architectural art therapy. The author has worked with such projects and would be pleased to hear from colleagues who are also doing research in this field.

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