Third year core undergraduate studio
UIC School of Architecture
with James Carter, Abigail Chang and Agata M. Siemionow
Monasticism, and by derivation a monastery, is a withdrawal from the world, a liberation from objects, social bonds, mundane temptations, and distractions for a complete dedication of the self to spirituality. Yet, as with every monastic enclave or community, a monastery’s position and relationship to the world of the living permeates through it.
From the solitary fugues to the Egyptian desert of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul to the earliest experiments of isolated communities of Saint Pachomius in Thebaid, Palestine, Judea, Syria and North Africa between the III and IV centuries, two main forms of monasticism developed within the history of Christianity: the eremitic or anchoritic, corresponding to an individual retreat from the world in remote hermitages, and the cenobitic, or the collective attempt of living together in isolation according to an established rule and confined within an architectural enclosure.
The cenobio — from the Greek koinos bios, “common life” — is an ideal form of living whose collectivity is inherent in all its expressions: a project that inseparably connects the individual and collective dimension through the specificity of a place and the uniqueness of the observed principles. Every aspect of the monastery is defined by the requirements of a private and collective liturgy: its architecture is inseparable from the rituals performed by the inhabitants at every instant. In the monastery, the highest peaks of spirituality are attained through the strictest regulations and most profound rationalism. Nothing could be added or taken away from its layout. The rule affects its spatial and temporal organization, resonating everywhere in the cloisters, objects, clothes, food, chants, and silence, pervading each of its rooms, gestures, and activities.
The Carthusian monastery — or Charterhouse — is a perfect combination of eremitic and cenobitic life. The typology of the Charterhouse strictly separates living quarters of the monks and nuns from the Church, the Chapter, the workshops and the gathering halls, combining the various rhythms of the single inhabitants into a common soul: a both spiritual and physical form, able to persist until today since its foundation by Saint Bruno in 1084.
In the Charterhouse nothing is owned, everything is used. Labor activities are devoted to the survival and support of the community and most of the produced goods are destined for an immediate use or consumption. Monks and nuns stay in silence and do not talk to each other except on Sundays or special occasions, observing a strict daily schedule, from nights to days. Voices are raised only for collective chanting and praying. Against a society overwhelmed by the circulation of images and the bombardment of information, congestion and instantaneous communication, noise and frantic rhythms of life, the Charterhouse, as an island of collective individual life, paradoxically proposes a radical detachment and an atemporal slowness injected with an intense contemplation and a deep cognitive production: dilution and acceleration.
The studio will explore the architecture of the Carthusian monastery as a paradigmatic experiment of common living: an introverted collective-form — constituted by an archipelago of private and shared rooms of various sizes — but also an extroverted machine, an outpost for seizing unknown territories of the world as the subconscious extensions of the soul.