I’m sitting right now in St. Bart’s on Park Avenue between 50th and 51st streets, a Byzantine Revival style cathedral designed by Bertram Goodhue, the architect behind Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago and the Los Angeles Central Library. In an area full of excess in midtown Manhattan—excessively tall buildings, excessive overwork, excessive drinking and stimulation, St. Bart’s provides much needed respite. Inside there are tourists taking pictures of the six glorious mosaics designed by Hildreth Meiere, the wonderfully detailed stone carvings, the high, cavernous ceilings that make us feel so small. But St. Bart’s is far from a tourist trap—there are also several business people in Dolce & Gabbana suits and Cartier watches with their heads bowed and eyes closed. Like the rest of us, they’re listening to the organ music and praying, allowing the power and massiveness of this space to stimulate their meditative state.
It’s a reminder of the power of design. In St. Bart’s it’s far easier to feel humility, to feel simultaneously small yet a part of something glorious, infinite maybe, with the high ceilings, the cavernous empty space, and the incredible detail engraved into the stone. This structure is the result of thousands of people working together to build something special, so others could come here to seek peace and serenity. Those builders knew they were a part of something exceptional, and now I’m part of it too simply by being here, and sharing it with you.
A recent study by Dr. Julio Bermudez and other researchers from the Catholic University of America and Utah University examined architecture’s role in stimulating meditative states. Bermudez ultimately seeks to prove that architecture, specifically his “contemplative architecture”, has health benefits similar to meditation. In his study, results showed that spaces designed to invoke introspection activated the cortical regions in the brain, which manage emotional and motor-sensitive integration and reduced participants’ anxiety and the tendency to become distracted.
Contemplative architecture, similarly to meditation, is experiential. It’s a process that a viewer/listener goes through which is unique and consciousness-altering. It’s important to recognize that our moods—when we feel ashamed, anxious, afraid, lethargic, motivated, inspired, or peaceful—are influenced by our built environment.
And that we have a choice in what we surround ourselves with.
By: David Plick