Intensifying the Sensorial
The Arvo Pärt Centre will be an instrument to make the landscape sing.
The Northern Estonian Forest is full of music: the sorrow of the Southern wind, the crackling of the branches, the whispering of the leaves, the screeching of the swallows, the silence of the snow… Perhaps the remote singing of a Runic tune… The Baltic singing traditions are inevitably linked to the Estonian nature, and the Arvo Pärt Centre should become an opportunity to evidence that relation, to make it physical.
But the Laumatsaala’s forest is not just the sounds. It is also the winter’s sun’s raking glare, filtering through the pine trees, the luminescence of the night sky during the Northern Lights, the springy stepping on the foliage, the glittering of the sun over the sea, the whiteness of the snow, the teardrops of melting ice, the profiles of the clouds, the endless nights, the blaring sunrise, the blossoming of the daffodils… There is a whole phenomenology of light, form and color that the Arvo Pärt Centre will seek to intensify.
One of the most distinctive qualities of Arvo Pärt’s music is its systematic composition which is driven towards effect, rather than to detail. Unlike other contemporary minimalists, interested in the texture and the detail of the composition, Pärt’s music uses similar compositional techniques while seeking an impression, an affect. This is not technique for the sake of it, but to produce a sensation.
Our project is ultimately aimed at the intensification of sensations: to create a chamber of resonance for the energies of matter, sonic or luminic. Sound and light are ultimately vibrations, rhythms of matter, waves, corpuscules, bouncing on other matters, occupying them, reflecting, refracting, crossing... Like Arvo Pärt’s music, the Centre poses some fundamental questions that have been there since the origins of mankind: Is the wild orgy of sensations in nature the effect of a contingent and ever-changing recombination of matters? Or is there an underlying order, perhaps the manifestation of a higher form of intelligence?
From Physical to Metaphysical
Arvo Pärt’s music elevates the sensorial to a transcendental, unifying experience. The Arvo Pärt Centre will seek to transcend the sensorial perception and its phenomenal experience, and project it towards a trans-subjective, essential state, akin to the circularity of Pärt’s work. The appearance of stasis, both in Pärt’s work and in the Centre, exposes the more meaningful movements that occur within, the subtle changes in tonality, rhythm, texture. Pärt’s compositions create a sort of mythic time, in which experiences of past, present, and future amalgamate into a single one. We move constantly between the sensorial to the phenomenal to the ontological.
Pärt’s music tendencies to a spatial circular experience probably arises from the physical or somatic associations of sound being diffused throughout large orthodox churches and cathedrals, where one becomes surrounded by a continuity of sound which is non-localized and tends to fill the reverberant space. The Arvo Pärt Centre will have to create the conditions to produce a space where sound and light reverberate. The large volumes of air for every room in the complex are aimed to produce this very effect of reverberation. The slanted surfaces in the roof will contribute decisively to produce a diffuse, yet precise, sonic environment.
But it will not be only a sonic environment, but also a visual one, where the direct views of the forest are combined with reflected views, which bring views which are not possible without the building itself, which will enable unprecedented glimpses of the forest. The slanted roofs will also capture the raking sun inside of the different rooms, producing a luminescent environment, an intensification of the Northern light.
In Arvo Pärt compositions both perceptual and phenomenal worlds arise as a result of reduction, stasis, and the evocative possibilities of automatic phenomena. Laumatsaala’s nature is for the Arvo Pärt’s Centre building, the source of automatic phenomena which are transformed and magnified by the building: capturing the sunrise and sunset light inside of the rooms, watching the clouds in the ceiling, framing the view of the forest… Arvo Pärt’s Centre is a magnifying mirror of Laumatsaala’s nature.
Tuning of Traditional Typologies; Textural Consistence and Repetition
While Arvo Pärt music is undeniably global, both in spirit and clientele, its roots are quintessentially Estonian, based on the Runic songs and the Baltic singing traditions. Pärt’s music blends the rigors of serialism and dodecaphonic composition with traditional Estonian choral music. This project is an effort to thread those two aspects of Arvo Pärt’s work into a piece of architecture that mediates with the local landscape and architectural precedents.
The building is based on the varied repetition of a unit which has been distilled from the traditional Estonian farm, a four-gable pavilion roof, where two gables are extended in order to produce vertical skylights. This basic unit will be scaled and stretched up or down in order to optimize its acoustic or luminic performance to the different functions in the complex. In the upper casquet of the ceiling a mirrored surface will be installed, in order to reflect the light of the sun and the views of the forest at a high level. The clerestory will work both as a light trap and as a periscope, looking at the forest on the ceiling of the rooms.
By making the pitch of the roof higher, we will increase the volume of the space, changing its acoustic performance, but perhaps also enlarging the daylight ingress through the skylight. Depending of how do we orient the skylight, we will capture the light of the sunrise or the sunset, or noon. It is precisely the similarity between the different parts of the building is what will help to perceive the subtle differences between the different rooms. Like in a gothic town or in a church, there is a very rigorous typological system that is adjusted to varying conditions of light, acoustic resonance, views, temperature, volume of space…
A library does not sound like an exhibition room, an archive has very different luminance conditions than an auditorium. But also, one does not look the same at the forest from a private room than from a cafeteria. The building becomes a device that mobilizes different material qualities and intensify their sensation: the amount and quality of natural daylight, the temperature variation, the acoustic reverberation, the air flow through the rooms… We will be in fact able to “tune” the building, both acoustically and visually. Rather than “composed”, this will be a “tuned” building.
The different tuning options are:
- Scale of space. The footprint of the room can be varied in order to accommodate program.
- Pitch of the roof gables. The slope of the gables can be altered in order to gain volume internally. Volume and angle of the roof will have an effect on the acoustics of the spaces and the air ventilation.
- Size of the clerestory. The size of the clerestory will affect the light intake and the views to the forest, reflected on the ceiling. This can be controlled by displacing the clerestory plane closer and further to the peak of the roof. The closer it is to the peak, the smaller is the skylight, the further, the bigger.
- Orientation of the clerestory. The orientation of the clerestory will affect both the daylight intake and the quality of light. Being oriented to the north or to the south will provide an entirely different effect, both luminic and environmental. East or West orientation will be equally influential on daylight and solar gains. In some cases the units can have a double fronted clerestory N/S and E/W. This will increase luminance but will reduce substantially the “periscope effect”
- Openings of the walls. Depending of the number/scale of the openings, the rooms will have a more or less intense relation to the forest, by framing different views to the forest or enabling users to walk outside.
Repetition, Aggregation, Textural Unity.
The perceptual space produced in Pärt’s music is built through resonance, consonance, and dissonance that arises as a result of the sustaining of a unified texture. Pärt’s music maintains allegiance to equal temperament. The textural disposition of tintinnabulation is generated through a melodic line contouring around a single pitch or collection of related pitches, to produce the sense of several voices merging into one. The rhythmic repetition that is often present in Pärt’s work contributes to the textural consistence necessary to produce this effect. This idea of similarity and textural consistence has been a crucial inspiration when producing the structure of the building. The systematic repetition of a typological unit, derived from the traditional Estonian Farm and tuned to suit the specific functions, is what will produce consistency across the sensorial effects produced in every room of the complex: the merger between the different voices of the building.
The building has been organized through the grouping of self-similar elements, which resembles a cellular system. Like other natural structures, this organizational system enables growth and adaptation to changing environments. The different rooms are not strictly bound to programmatic specificities but to sensorial effects. This predisposes the rooms to certain functions (for example, the archive has almost no light ingress) but does not preclude them from potentially evolving a different functional pertinence.
Rooms are therefore flexible and interpretable. The plan is formed through an aggregation of units to a central foyer, in a vaguely cruciform structure, where the center expands into four different areas: auditorium, archive/offices, library and creative rooms. In between these expansions, the building captures the space of the forest through four open courtyards. While the cruciform structure and its rigorous quadripartite organization is present in the plan, the exterior perception is a much more contingent aggregation of self-similar units.
The building unfolds in a single level, and its irregular perimeter engages with the surrounding forest, providing multiple opportunities to relate to in in different modes. Sometimes, rooms are open to the forest; in other instances, rooms are linked to the open courtyards. The movement of the volumes, its roofs, the cellular geometry and the references to the vernacular architecture of the area dissolve the mass of the building into its beautiful surroundings.
While Arvo Pärt’s work is undeniably universal, it is deeply rooted in the Estonian landscape and musical traditions. The integration of the building and the surrounding ecologies has been an important concern in the conception of the project.
Like Arvo Pärt’s music, the project departs from its perceptual dimensions, yet is concerned with essences and will eventually transcend the merely perceptual. The building is not simply a perceptual instrument; it has to be able to engage fully with the ecologies where it belongs, as much as make them explicit. It engages with water, snow, heat, energy, sun, wind… The Arvo Pärt Centre will not be composed but tuned into the multiple ecologies to which it pertains. Architectural spaces are not static or isolated but dynamic and systemic. They form an open system that unfolds in continuous exchanges with the environment, an aggregate of surrounding conditions and influences, a mirror of nature in the literal sense.
Sustainability is therefore one of the main drivers of the design. This has been a major concern on all decisions of the project:
Typology and Massing
The building type has been determined with the purpose of optimizing the performance of a building that is made for the public. All rooms have been kept on ground level, but have been given a substantial volume. This has two effects:
- The rooms are all in contact with the earth, which will be used as an environmental stabilizer. The heating system will be done through a radiant floor which will provide comfort on the lower level.
- The rooms have a large air volume, which will allow the building to reduce the rate of air renovation. Likewise, the corrugation of the building mass will present opportunities to provide daylight to every room, and possibly natural ventilation. The height of the rooms will also be used in the summer to induce natural ventilation. Materials The materiality of the project has been carefully considered in order to minimize embedded energy and Co2 emissions. Low carbon energy footprint will be achieved by using local materials such as Siberian Larch for the structure and the wall construction, including the natural wood fiber insulation which will make most of the construction material into a carbon trap. All interior finishes, floor, walls and ceilings will be built with Ash wood, a locally sourced material too. The exterior faced-sealed cladding, which is proposed in naturally oxidized copper for durability and efficiency is 97% recyclable and has low embedded energy. All the exterior paving materials will be made with impervious surfaces to avoid altering the hydraulic cycle. Active Systems 80% of the building’s energy will be supplied through Ground Source Heating and Cooling and the peaks will be met through a biomass boiler, covering 100% of the energy supply from renewable sources. The Arvo Pärt’s Centre will establish a seamless continuity with the natural environment, both as a sensorial mechanism, and as a energy device.