The other day I visited an exhibition at the V&A called ‘Small Spaces’ , featuring a series of built spaces in the museum that explore the theme of refuge and retreat. The emphasis was on ‘small’, with a series of these small retreat spaces scattered through the museum
I liked how all the displays were really sensitive to the texture of materials and proportion. The spiritual quality of wood, for example, was explored in all designs. The one I liked most was a charming and beautifully designed tree house called Beetle’s House. It would be a fantastic (if slightly eccentric) feature of any back yard – somewhere you can escape to and get away from it all.
The Japanese architect who designed the piece said he wanted to create a ‘retreat in the air’ – an intimate space where people could sit round and talk, and drink tea. You can climb up and into the tree house and watch the world of the V&A go by, or sit and speak to whoever else is in there at the time.
Another one I liked was ‘Ark’ by Norwegian architects, involving a hollow tower made up of thousands of books (6,000 altogether) – you climb up the inside of the tower and have a browse if you so wish on your way up.
This made me think about the aesthetic aspect of retreats – how colour, texture, smell and space are all so important in contributing to the spiritual experience.