Once we made the decision to take part in Silent Forest Meditation Cabins competition, we hadn’t imagined at that point that over one year later we would be publishing our own article about taking part in architectural contests. That’s only one of many unexpected positive outcomes of this adventure. Coming back to the beginning, first we would like to share how we got the idea to take part in such an event.
As the master students of architecture of that time we could not complain about the lack of duties. Nevertheless the pros of participating in the architectural contest are worth spending extra hours on hard work, which is finally full of fun and profits.
TEAM AND GOAL
As far as it goes to our team, we know each other from university, where we accidentally started working together on one project, which was just the beginning of multiple further cooperations. Right away it was clear that we clicked together both as architects- sharing similar ideas, but also as friends- by having a lot of fun together. As the academic collaboration was very fruitful, we got an idea to extend our passion over the boundaries set only by studies. By taking part in the competition, we were able to choose the topic and issues of the project that were particularly interesting for us. The pros of participating in a contest as a team is that each of the members is a specialist in a different field, thus the work can be easily shared. An important factor in deciding whether to participate in the competition was also the fact that activities going beyond the academic duties are very well received by future employers and enrich the portfolio. Considering winning any prize, this also involves numerous publications, which strengthens our position as a future candidate for an employee. Taking professional motives aside, participating in the competition was also an opportunity for us for frequent meetings, on the occasion of which we simply had fun.
CHOOSING THE COMPETITION
One of the most important steps is choosing the competition itself. We got interested in Bee Breeders, because as a platform it offers a huge selection of international architectural competitions, which are constantly updated. Our attention was especially drawn to the Silent Forest Meditation Cabin contest due to a topic related to ecology and nature. At the very first sight we were also delighted with the proposed project area, which immediately became our inspiration. Despite the small dimensions of the designed building and minimalistic thematic scope, we can honestly admit, that as for architects it was the most challenging 15m2 of our professional lives.
ASSUMPTIONS OF THE COMPETITION
The competition’s assumption was to create a space for meditation for one person during a 3-4-day stay. Small, repetitive structure should enable its user both to fulfill basic human needs and more intellectual experiences, which immediately led us to an idea of simple division: sacrum and profanum. Profanum consists of little kitchen and toilet, while with “sacrum” we define mediational space.
The plot was not precisely defined. It was set in various locations in pristine Latvian forest near Lake Bezdibenė. The beauty of nature was our main inspiration. Hence instead of focusing on one’s inner experiences we decided to aim in opening minds and thoughts towards wilderness.
In this kind of context, one issue is certain: the form should be as simple as possible, not to overwhelm the fragile landscape. We decided to use natural materials and create linear, cuboid structures, like commas in the woods.
SEARCHING FOR THE IDEA
We started our work on the competition with (quite many) brainstorming sessions. We speculated on the form of our object, as well as the complexity of meditation space and what we wanted the user to feel. One of such sessions ended with us feeling that we are thinking over one particular idea. When we noticed that, we decided it is better to maybe stop and come back later to discussion, when we clear our minds. It was quite a good idea, as it helped us with thinking over few different notions, we wanted to brainstorm over and not fixate on one thing. While brainstorming and in preparation for the design process we did quite extensive research. We searched for ecological solutions, climate in Latvia, similar forest cabins and meditation itself. We wrote down everything we thought could become helpful and did quite a few inspiration boards.
When we’re surrounded by natural landscape all our senses are affected. Nevertheless experiencing all at once we see a total picture and we are not appreciating its’ unique parts.
The aim of our project is to make us feel each of our senses separately and explore it anew. In this way, interior of the cabin leads us to better understanding and deeper appreciation of our surrounding. Therefore we decided to isolate sight, hearing and touch and finally, let the user to experience all at the same time and feel the difference.
Isolation of sight. In this part we wanted the user to appreciate something that is an inseparable part of every picture we see – light. While designing we had to answer many questions: How to emphasise light? What is so special about it? Our conclusions were simple: the most unique feature of sunlight is it’s changeability in time. We did experiments on models that led us to final form of the structure, that shows this daily show: thin break in the elevation lets the light enter inside in a picturesque way, creating an exceptional pattern every hour.
Isolation of hearing. Aiming to stress the music of a forest, we designed perforated metal tubes work like a pipe organ. Sounds of nature, which are different on various weather conditions or even parts of the day, are intensified and through the audition lead into state of deep relaxation.
Isolation of touch. When was the last time you felt the moss under your feet? What is the facture of stone? All this little things are so different from what we now from human-created environment of perfectly flat surfaces. To appreciate this sense, floor in this room is covered with local, natural elements with a different shape and texture so the feet – particular sensitive area of human body, being massaged lead to total relaxation.
Integration with nature. After previous steps introducing to unification with the human body, the soul can unify with nature now. Big glazing creates a frame to a piece of art which is pure landscape. Now you can even fully open this part of the cabin, to experience with all senses the full spectrum of the beauty of surroundings.
When we were set on our idea it was time to actually transform it from series of sketches to actual drawings. As we knew that there would be many other entries in the competition we wanted our drawings to stand out amongst them. As our idea was quite profound and complicated, we needed to show it as clearly as we could.
Even before sitting and actually drawing, we talked about the composition of our four posters. We decided that we can’t simply draw a plan and a couple of sections and then hope that we would copy and paste them onto boards. Instead we wrote down what drawings we had to make (because of the requirements of the competition): like plan, elevations, detail etc. Then we wrote down ones we wanted to make in order to properly explain the idea. We decided to create an additional axonometry, schemes of the cabin and respective rooms, as well as many different renderings. This system helped us tremendously in executing the project.
Other thing that can be helpful, is showing your drawings to people outside of the project. It is always a good way of checking if your work is clear and understandable. Therefore after doing most of the drawings we decided that we wanted to showcase our work and idea to our teachers. Couple of them actually liked our project. However one of our professors said that the idea was too complicated and he would ditch it entirely. We briefly discussed, if we wanted to go with his critique, but decided that our idea was something that distinguished our project. It was something rather unique. We didn’t want to create a simple cabin with one empty room – we wanted something else and we felt that it was a good thing that could help us win.
On that final note: it is important to trust yourself when it comes to idea, but also remember to not be afraid to change some things while working on the project. Works that win competitions have not only strong and consistent ideas, but also clean and understandable presentation.
Aleksandra Białkowska, Karolina Kiełpińska, Marta Lisiakiewicz and Emilia Oworuszko met at one point during our studies and immediately clicked with each other. It has resulted in loads of time spent on work and fun. Right now they develop their skills in diverse fields of architecture in various European studios. They are also looking for further opportunities to create new designs together.