Ascend, descend

DATE: 2018

COLLABORATORS: Erin Cuevas and Jana Masset

PROJECT SITE: Favignana, Sicily

PROGRAM: contemporary art museum and sanctuary

Ascend, Descend is a locus for collective sanctuary in which disparate individuals engage in solitary contemplation, while gathering around shared interests. It is a journey through which each visitor’s unique history and ambitions, together with the art, architecture, and landscape that are all integral to this place, create individual experiences that gradually unfold along a continuous path culminating at the fortress of Santa Caterina. 

This project is a continuous journey along which spaces are designed to create an experience shaped equally by art, architecture, and the topography of the natural landscape. Visitors transition fluidly between the ascending path and programmed spaces. Ascend, Descend provides a series of idiosyncratic spaces for gathering activities (to be stimulated by art, converse, learn, create, and eat) as well as private activities (to contemplate and sleep).

 While all the human senses perform together as an interrelated system, visual, acoustic, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory stimuli are each suited to uniquely impact one’s experience and memory of a place. The exhibition and dining spaces throughout the project are specifically curated to each engage these senses. Visitors’ curiosity leads them to explore the optical illusions of a Donald Judd sculpture, listen to the active movement of sound in a Janet Cardiff arrangement, feel the texture of an Ernesto Neto installation, and inhale the fragrance of a Philippe Rahm environment. The culmination of this journey is within the fortress of Santa Caterina. Spaces that were once used for confinement and solitude are now leveraged as spaces of gathering. An informal dining experience allows visitors to take their culinary selections, along with a cushion, and wander through the fortress until locating their preferred picnic-style dining location.

Existing fortress: This project proposes no modifications to the existing structures, only the routine maintenance and conservation work that are critical to the preservation of this historic site.

Existing path: The constant visual presence of the existing path frames the experience of this project. It serves as the benchmark against which visitors perceive their progression through the environments of Ascend, Descend.

 Spatial scale: The sectional qualities of the project respond to three parameters: (1) a gradual descent of the floor level in relation to the elevation of the adjacent existing path, (2) ceiling heights that are expansive at each end of the journey and compressed toward the center, and (3) widths that are required to accommodate the program at a given location.

Material: Concrete, glass, and plant material comprise the entire palette of this intervention.

Texture: Textural qualities are used as distinct tools on the floor and wall surfaces. The floor textures guide visitors into special spaces as well as encourage them to move at a quicker or slower pace. Heavy textures on the walls are implemented as an acoustic tool, controlling the qualities of sound and echo.

 Light: The quantity of natural light experienced throughout the project generally correlates to one’s location relative to the adjacent grade level. Although the deeper spaces typically receive less daylight, this trend is occasionally subverted with the use of program-specific light wells.

 Nature: As visitors move along the path and descend further below grade, their proximity to nature becomes increasingly distant. This relationship with nature reaches a climax at the base of the fortress where visitors emerge from the subterranean path and are met with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

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