To create a place where mere mortals can contemplate and even communicate with the Almighty of their choosing is one of design’s oldest challenges. No matter how you conceive of Him, Her or It, the Divine is incorporeal and, paradoxically, omnipresent. Enter a temple, church or mosque and the resident of honour is absent, yet their presence is felt. Spaces that reflect a higher order rely on harmony and balance to make perfection material, an imperative that can be seen throughout history, from the geometric patterns in medieval walls and windows to the clean lines and symmetry of modern places of worship.
Some architectural traditions become so iconic that to change them would be sacrilege. In the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the roof of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, architects from around the globe proposed redesigns that included adding a green- house, installing a swimming pool and replicating the flames in glistening gold leaf. The earthly powers that be decided to play it safe and restore the building’s “last known visual state,” but the challenge to rethink our conception of sacred space continues to inspire.
Dutch artist Levi van Veluw’s non-denominational, site-specific installation at the Tenuta Dello Scompiglio in Northern Italy accommodates the practice of faith through an interior that is both familiar and alien. Taking inspiration from the structure of the tabernacle (the Old Testament dwelling place of God), his immersive design leads visitors through three dimly lit blue-black chambers lined with ornamental patterns that echo familiar forms of venerable decor, with a subtle sci-fi twist (the Church of Scientology also provided inspiration). Offset by piles of raw coal and a stream of fragrant water, the arcane geometry of his Sanctum is a testament to our incessant quest for a fundamental order that lies eternally beyond our grasp.
Levi van Veluw’s Sanctum is on view until September 22 at Tenuta Dello Scompiglio in Capannori, Italy.
An immersive installation in Italy highlights the art of creating sacred spaces.