vertical monastery

Vertical Monastery

UTSoA Design Excellence Winner

AIA Austin Student Honor Award  + AIA Fort Worth Student Honor Award

Exhibited at 2016 Texas Student Biennial

Critic | Marlon Blackwell

Perched on a steep rugged hillside along the Mississippi River bluffs, this project aims to explore typological transformation, archetypal hybridization, the relationship between precedent, speculation, and invention in order to produce a tectonically rich structure and urban figure. A balance of these assertions of focus led to an “immanent form” or place-specific architecture that counters the increasingly bland and ubiquitous nature of contemporary construction and organizational strategies. 

For a number of decades, new forms of monasticism have been developing, and can be generally characterized, not by reclusive reflection, isolation and prayer, but by immersion in community life and social service. Many of these new organizations have been locating in urban areas, but to date there has been no effort to typify a spatial organization for this emerging phenomenon. The studio set out to develop an urban monastic prototype, transforming the traditional horizontal typology into a new form characterized by an urban location as well as vertical formal and organizational strategies.

The foundation of this new monastic architecture is an organizational strategy that sets up a relationship between the life of the old monastic and the out reach activities of the new. The main worship spaces form the base and foundation of the building - grounding the spiritual component of the monastery in the community and earth. As one moves vertically through the project the cloister separates the worship spaces from the everyday living areas - creating a physical and mental gap between the two worlds of the building. This datum also registers with an ancient Native American burial mound to the north of the site, and it allows for the timeless view of the flowing Mississippi to be maintained while creating a connection between the inner life of the building and the public realm. The rest of the program is then distributed into vertical communities that all contain a mix of programmatic elements. Unlike traditional monastic architecture (La Tourette) where the monks lives are separated from their public interactions these communities all contain living units, common spaces, shared community programs, and a piece of the monks revenue generating program - an apiary. This apiary acts as the monk’s direct tie to the public, and by distributing the various functions of the apiary throughout the building, a special circulation sequence is created where people from all walks of life can come and experience the building in its entirety.

This sequence of program and circulation creates a building that both reflects and facilitates a life that follows the theology of the new monastic monks. 

Through this organizational strategy, the architecture of the monastic is truly transformed. By using a variety of circulation and spatial qualities, the project slowly unfolds - revealing a dense inner world of life while celebrating the magnificent views from the site. Sectional form and light work in tandem in order the direct the monks minds out towards the world, in towards the community, or up towards the heavens. This formal manipulation is contrast by the simple, horizontal apiary spaces that focus the inhabitants on their relationships with on another as a means of ministry.

Formally, the project becomes a changing icon on the buffs of the Mississippi that respects the history of the site while responding to the greater context of the Memphis skyline.