ARTICLE: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SACRED ART OF TRANSFORMATIVE SPACES
If I asked you to write down the five places that have had the strongest impact on you, what would they be? Famous monuments? Temples? Hotels?
Here's some help. You probably felt more inspired visiting Paris' Sacré-Cœur Basilica than you would in a roadside fluorescent-lit McDonald's, for instance. Perhaps it was the Louvre, or The Acropolis. Or a special hotel that appeared as an oasis at just the right time. The world is full of places with the power to transform our lives. For the past five years, I have been trying to sell sustainable, experimental and progressive design to anyone who would listen - and I promise it hasn't been easy. Some worry that opting for sustainability is more expensive, less stylish and less convenient.
What I have realised is this: when people feel good about themselves, they naturally want to do good. That leads me to explore a very different dimension of sustainability, one related to personal growth and development. The more we develop a sense of inner peace, the more likely we are to extend compassion and kindness to the world around us. You may remember from my first piece that a ten day meditation retreat in Nepal was a catalyst for my decision to build a career devoted to sustainable lifestyle, even if it meant sacrificing financial security. Diving into ourselves and leaving behind social constructs connects us with the part of ourselves that genuinely only wants to do good, because fundamentally, human beings are good.
The sacred art of transformative spaces
If buildings such as the Sacré-Cœur can make us feel inspired, peaceful and connected, what enables this and how do we get more of it?
First of all: aesthetics. The Sacré-Cœur was designed by famous architect Paul Abadie in 1875 and is still revered as one of the world's most striking monuments, nearly impossible to approach without being impressed by its physicality and grandeur. Another significant point is the intention of the space. The driving force behind the Sacré-Cœur was a collective aim to create a monument representing spiritual renewal for French society, which had been divided since the revolution ended some 100 years earlier. Interestingly, it is the only church in the world that has records indicating there have been people praying at its pews 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since its inception. What if we could find these attributes (stunning architecture, a sacred quality and a focused intention) in spaces that we interact with on a daily basis, rather than those we only visit occasionally? What would happen if we lingered, or even slept, ate, worked and lived in sacred spaces?
New exhibition: Collectors' Club
Our gallery's next exhibition, Collectors' Club, will be an experiential (and experimental) answer to these questions. Running from September 24 to October 1, the show will be a multi-sensory event exploring the role of design and art in society, and how they relate to our sense of connection and the essence of human existence. Designed with the feel of a members' club, there will be a tearoom, a meditation space, a curated collection of books and a series of lectures.
The tearoom will be tastefully adorned with a selection of 19 greek street design favourites, alongside artworks by our partner bo.lee gallery, and will be the first public space to demonstrate my newly developed design philosophy 'The Sacred Art of Transformative Spaces' (SATS). This philosophy unites aesthetics, sustainability, spatial energy and intention to support personal growth.
1. Form and aesthetics
Through a careful choice of colours, objects, furniture and materials, we create a sense of deep connection with visitors, attempting to resonate with their core values while favouring authenticity over self-indulgent luxury. For instance, when designing the café for last year's Art of Progress exhibition, I chose colours, textures and shapes reminiscent of a majestic natural landscape I had experienced in rural Mongolia. In the apartment above the café, I added light pink tones to the walls for a friendlier feel.
If spaces can inspire us, so can objects, processes and the people behind them. 19 greek street has always been interested in curating works from designers who push aesthetic and material boundaries while questioning the state of the world and how to improve it. Furniture and objects that are both stylish and ethically made are becoming increasingly available to us. Connecting to these fuels our own innate creativity and resourcefulness. Every piece holds an energetic vibration, so pieces that are born from a sense of exploration, optimism and yearning for progress will communicate those values to visitors.
3. Spatial energy
According to the principles of quantum physics, we are energy. When looking into our composition, we find that everything in the universe is made of atoms consisting of moving energy waves. This explains our interconnectedness, but also the fact that we are sensitive to each other and to our surroundings. Some people have more attractive energies than others, and we also feel the energy of spaces. ('You could cut the tension in this room with a knife,' people often say.)
Spaces can bring about transformation through energy, in the same way that esoteric healers do. A well-known practice is Feng Shui, which dates back to nearly 4000 BC. While some of its principles are integrated in my practise, the main element is a process called "Space Whispering". Developed by my teacher Kenneth Ray Stubbs, it uses intention, energy transmission and sacred stones. Space Whispering is widely practised and users have reported numerous results relating to growth and conflict resolution.
Everyone involved in the creation of a transformative space must align themselves with one intention and communicate it clearly to visitors. Very often, when people are made aware of the sacred nature of a space, a shift occurs in them before even arriving. When tourists visit a grand mosque in Egypt, they enter with a specific mindset, making them more sensitive to energies.
These four aspects unite to create intelligent spaces that affect guests on an emotional level, eventually triggering transformation. This is a result of an energetic transmission process that is commonly referred to in science as "entrainment", whereby two oscillating systems assume the same frequency or rhythm when they interact.
Picture a table full of metronomes. If at the start the metronomes are all ticking at different beats, they will soon synchronise and tick at the same rhythm. This is what happens energetically with visitors in sacred spaces.
We have established that a space can indeed affect our development. What, then, would a 'sacred transformative tearoom' look like? You will have to pop by to get the full experience, but you can guess that the space will be dressed with 19 greek street design favourites. Comfortable and stylish Danish sofas and armchairs restored by social enterprise J&Co's program (employing ex-gang members); tables made of reused beads by London-based Czech duo Studio deFORM; a lamp made of recycled tent materials by the talented and visionary Merel Karhof; old discarded tables and school chairs colourfully and artfully up-cycled by Markus Friedrich Staab.
In line with bo.lee gallery's Petrichor exhibition, named after the smell of the earth after rain, which aims to observe nature as a unique force, we have chosen a sustainable clay-based paint and a colour palette mixing browns, violets, greys and light greens. These will offer a sense of grounding while maintaining the elegance and sophistication fit for a Soho members' club.
Our show, a much-needed haven for Londoners and visitors, will serve as an active exploration of our connection to spaces and their transformative natures. How does it feel to truly expand in an environment, and what could we do to enjoy more of these benefits in our day-to-day lives?
Sit in peace for a moment and, perhaps with a meditative tea from our partners Jing, reflect on the spaces that have made you feel your best. The next time you visit a new place, take a moment to gauge how you feel. Spend more time in spaces that resonate with you and avoid those that don't. Pay attention to the attributes of these spaces, and think of how you could integrate these into your own home.