May the Spirit of Space Be With You

Event: The Spirit of Space: A Conversation with Noushin Ehsan
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.07.08
Speaker: Noushin Ehsan, AIA — President, 2nd Opinion Design
Moderator: Wids DeLaCour, AIA — Co-chair, AIANY Housing Committee
Organizer: AIA Housing Committee

Baha’i House of Worship

Baha’i House of Worship by Fariborz Sahba embodies Noushin Ehsan, AIA’s idea of the spirit of space.

Norman McGrath

New York-based, Iran-born architect Noushin Ehsan, AIA, has become fascinated with the spiritual aura that certain architecture holds, dubbing it “the spirit of space.”

She was “converted” when profoundly moved upon visiting former schoolmate Fariborz Sahba’s Baha’i House of Worship, a lotus-shaped temple in Delhi. Le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp, too, has spirit of space, as do many secular designs, such as NYC’s revamped Columbus Circle, according to Ehsan. So what leads to a place having spirit of space? To Ehsan, flashy, attention-grabbing design is irrelevant, as are costly materials and adherence to a style.

While there’s no exact formula, she outlined qualities conducive to spirit of space: an airy, joyful, orderly, holistic design; an apt use of symbolism; and skillful landscaping and integration with nature. Beware of copying, for “a replica can’t radiate the same power,” Ehsan said, citing the imitation Parthenon in Nashville, TN.

Theoretical reference points were notably absent in this lecture. Risking the obvious, Ehsan also asserted that our built environment profoundly affects people’s emotions and behavior, a point no one would dispute. But her extensively researched, slide-filled lecture came alive through her enthusiasm and detailed examples, ranging from Tadao Ando, Hon. FAIA’s renowned Church of the Light in Osaka to the quirky Albert Moore-designed Igloo House in Cornwall, CT, a vacation house owned by Ehsan herself. At first glance, the artificial, lumpy look of the foam-built house repelled her, but inside, the geodesic-dome-shaped structure is remarkably soothing, womblike, and rejuvenating, she said. In fact, her sojourns there have been her “salvation,” she declared — high praise from this architectural evangelist.