Do Buildings Have Souls?

My son and his family are building a new home and we’ve been keeping up to date on the progress of their plans by seeing blueprints and looking at models. The other day they sent a video of the work beginning at the site of their future house.

Observing the planning process they are going through and seeing how they are trying to design a home that fits their family and their lifestyle reminds me of an architect I once interviewed who told me he believes buildings have souls.

There was something quite soulful about the Taj Mahal especially during my visit there at dawn

According to him, an architectural concept for any building should be a metaphor or image for the dreams and values of the people who will use that building. Articulating and defining the soul of a building is a process that needs to include as many of the people who will inhabit the finished structure as possible. If you read the story I wrote about the designer of the Syndey Opera House Jorn Utzon you see how his vision for the soul of the building was compromised and the consequences of that. 

My husband and sons on a Habitat for Humanity build in northern Thailand. I think the homes Habitat builds reflect the values of their organization.

For his article Do Buildings Have Souls writer Ray Edgar interviewed a number of architects who said buildings might be said to have souls when they reflect the personalities and values of the people or organizations who build them.  Apparently, no concrete rules can be laid out for making sure a building has a soul. 

An architect from Dehli India Vidur Bharadwaj says he tries to treat each building he designs like a living being, a being with a soul and fundamental need to breathe.”

The house my grandfather built for his family in Drake Saskatchewan

I wonder if people aren’t attracted to certain buildings and love to revisit them because they speak to their souls.  It might be a church or an art gallery or someone’s home.  I remember my grandparents’ homes as having a kind of soul for me.  They were places I felt I belonged. Our family’s Moose Lake cabin had a soul for me too. 

Recent troubles at the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg seem to indicate that the stunning design of the building can’t override its troubled soul

I once led a discussion about a book called Treasure Palaces a collection of essays by well-known authors who talked about the museums and art galleries that have touched their souls in some special way and brought them back for many visits. 

The church I attended in Hong Kong Tao Fong Shan had a soul for me.  I think it was the way the building was designed but also it’s setting high on a hill surrounded by trees and rocks and the quiet oasis it offered in a noisy city that lived life at a very fast pace. 

I asked the architect I interviewed, how we could know for certain that a building accurately reflected the soul of the community it housed. He told me the soul of a building could not be measured. It was something that could be discerned only with the heart.

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