Do Small Spaces Lift the Spirit?

Do Small Spaces Lift the Spirit?

Sarah Coffey
Apr 25, 2011

Size alone won't determine whether a space feels heavy or light, shallow or deep, trapped or expansive. But a tiny footprint can remind us of our own human smallness in relation to the vastness of the universe. Architects like Peter Zumthor and artists like James Turrell have used this paradox to form spaces that reverberate with the spirit.

  • Swiss architect and Pritzker laureate Peter Zumthor created a field chapel in Germany for the local farmers. Concrete encases a tree trunk frame, which was set on fire, leaving charred interior walls and an oculus open to the elements. Rain, sun, and snow make their way into the small chapel — it is enclosed and exposed at the same time.
  • Japanese architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori designs tea houses, often lifted up on stilts so that you have to climb a ladder to enter the tiny space. He loves working with time-worn materials like charred wood, whose surface draws attention to "the spiritual nature of wood," as Victoria and Albert Museum curator Abraham Thomas describes it.
  • Light artist James Turrell designed a space-age bubble for a recent exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in London. Only one person is allowed inside at a time and they're asked to leave their things outside the entrance. Inside, "the viewer is deprived of sensory stimuli and witnesses a 15 minute coloured light performance, allowing an experience of 'behind the eye seeing'."
  • Ma Yansong of Chinese architecture firm MAD designed Hutong Bubble 32 to connect a traditional courtyard garden with a rooftop terrace. Ethereal in shape and material, it looks like a half-metal, half-water sculpture that grows skyward out of the ground.
  • American artist Spencer Finch uses light to change the way we perceive space. His 2008 piece, Crevasse, relies on a narrow hallway to frame a prismatic window that reminds the viewer of stained glass.


Photos: (1) Wikimedia Commons, (2) Dezeen, (3) Screenshots from Terunobu Fujimori, Tokyo, Japan - Beetle's House from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo, (4) mab-ken used under Creative Commons license 2.0, (5) Gagosian Gallery, (6) James Turrell, (7-8) MAD Architecture, (9) Spencer Finch, (10) Mint Design Blog

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