An Architectural Dialogue with the Eleatic Stranger
Reports throughout New Zealand have highlighted a chronic and growing problem in our urban centres – the effects of alcohol abuse and binge drinking leave our youth vulnerable and unprotected. The results can sometimes be catastrophic. Makeshift paramedic tents have recently been erected in Wellington to provide aid and retreat, but these are temporary structures and only available two nights per week. The vulnerability of New Zealand’s youth occurs not only on nights with too much alcohol, but also in response to the daily stresses brought on by contemporary urban life. New Zealand youth suicide rates are the highest out of 30 OECD nations and more than twice the OECD average (Chapman). Likewise the secularization of contemporary urban society has resulted in the loss of spiritual retreats previously found within churches and religious centres. This thesis examines the need for a permanent urban retreat for all those who are temporarily vulnerable. The thesis investigates how architectural form can provide a new approach to urban retreat by critically engaging analogous theories found in the writings of Plato and Louis Kahn. Both Plato’s theory of Forms (discussed in Plato’s “Dialogues”) and Louis Kahn’s 1961 essay “Form and Design” are centred on the idea of achieving an enlightened state of mind, freeing the mind from the physical realm. Plato’s theory of Forms posits that the universe is separated into two realms: an intelligible realm and a sensible realm. All objects that exist in the sensible realm – perceivable to us by our senses – are merely imperfect shadows of their essences or Forms. By understanding this, we can free our minds from the distractions of life which so often lead to stress and despair. Plato’s theory of Forms has many parallels with the architectural theory of Louis Kahn, as evidenced in Kahn’s “Form and Design”. Kahn describes the ‘measurable’ and ‘immeasurable’ realms, which are analogous to Plato’s sensible and intelligible realms. This thesis critically engages these analogous theories of Plato and Kahn – achieving an enlightened state of mind, freeing the mind from the physical realm – to establish how architectural form can provide urban retreat for those who are temporarily vulnerable. The site for the design research investigation is the nameless alleyway in the Courtenay Place precinct which separates Wellington’s historic St James Theatre from The Mermaid bar and brothel – a site which symbolizes the conflicting stimuli to which our urban residents are now continually exposed.