We are exploring the idea of building a contemporary interpretation of the Grotto in Houston next to another Philip Johnson building... the UH College of Architecture. This proposal will take the project from its original spiritual context and reframe it into architectural pedagogy that will provide a place for rest and contemplation on the campus. UH Facilities is serendipitously building a "Meditation Pond" adjacent to an existing slab next to the architecture building. We are in discussion with their landscape team on how we can integrate the project with their efforts using some of Kiesler's earthwork forms. We have been invited to submit our proposal to Campus Planning for their review... Here are some images that describe the larger context of the project within the UH Arts Precinct and the new quad beginning formed with the Grotto as its focal point.
The aerial view shows the Roofless Church at the Northern edge of New Harmony. The group of trees to the east is Paul Tillich Park with its adjacent pond. We are building a scale model of Kiesler's model in its originally proposed context and will present it as a gift to the Blaffer Foundation in New Harmony.
The students made the architectural pilgrimage to New Harmony, Indiana to meet with Ben Nicholson and visit the original site for the Grotto. We listened to Ben read the address Paul Tillich gave at the dedication of the park and proposed project...
"I have seen the model of the new park and the Cave in it. It was sent to me in bronze, a very heavy package, and was immediately powerful in its symbolic character, even in the diminished form of a model. So I look forward to one day when Mrs. Tillich and I might be here again, to see the work as it is finished. In any case, my impression of this place is an impression of something astonishing, surprising, great in itself, in its past, and in its present. And my wish is that it may remain great also in its future."
Across the street is Philip Johnson's Roofless Church also commissioned by Jane Blaffer Owen. Johnson introduced Kiesler to Mrs. Owen which led to the conception of the Grotto. He subsequently told Mrs. Owen that it could not be built and the project was abruptly ended. We had our review in Ben's studio space. The teams were able to see their collective efforts in one space for the first time outside of the Architecture Building in Houston. St. Louis is the closest airport to New Harmony so we had an opportunity to the Saarinen's Arch. Its exquisite stainless steel structural skin was a profound experience for the group as we consider the materiality of the Grotto and its potential for permanence in the Houston climate. The subtle integration of the monument into its landscape pedestal is just as impressive.
A series of studies involving different patterns projected, mapping or generated along a surface. The fact that a patterned surface can perform as a minimal structure opens the possibility to us that Kiesler's Grotto might be constructed using a frame rather than a homogeneous amorphous mass. This moves us toward an assembly of rigid parts instead of an arrested liquid such as concrete.
This series of sketches exemplifies the exploration of Kiesler's spaces through the medium he used consistently throughout his career. The expression of topological space formed by a closely measured presence of the body is one point of departure for our current work.
Kiesler was a prolific designer of visionary architecture as well as furnishings, exhibitions, interiors and theatrical spaces. An analysis of this peripheral material has been an essential tool for us to understand his broader intentions and to help us abstract the Grotto's design into a series of elements that we can riff on as we move forward with the tectonic resolution of the Grotto in our terms.
Kiesler and his various drafting assistants produced several versions of the Grotto in section. An important task is to compare these original studies at a common scale to see what the essential qualities were in development and how they contradict each other.