The Universel – An International Competition
The Sufi Order International, now known as the Inayati Order, is an inter-religious body honoring all religions, traditions and teachings. Early in 2007 the Order hosted a competition to design a spiritual temple called the ‘Universel’ at the Abode of the Message, an interfaith community and retreat center located in the Berkshire Mountains near New Lebanon, New York. There were 104 entrants, and Patricia Michael’s design was selected as the winner. Here is the prospectus, taken from the competition announcement, followed by Patricia’s design.
The original building burned in 2004 leaving a foundation that is roughly square in layout with an undulating four corners representing the knees of four meditating Buddhas. The foundation encloses an area about fifteen feet square and six feet high. The walls of the foundation are a combination of shale stonework and concrete on a concrete footer. The quartz-lined walls enclose space currently filled with rubble, and are capped with a concrete deck and marble paving. An access door to the lower level is located on the north side through an arch that needs some reinforcement. Fine quartz stone originally laid by a master craftsman line the current foundation and walls on the lower level which is still intact. There are steps set into south side leading up to the previous second level and there is no above ground structure remaining. The new temple should utilize the remaining foundation. There is no requirement for heating, cooling or electrical accommodations.
Description of Available Building Material
The rocks that create the foundation of the land include shale, source rock interbedded with sandstone. The sandstone is mostly composed of quartz. The shale is intercalculated on a more gross level with carbonates specifically limestone. The rocks are in the phyllite grade of metamorphic process resulting in massive beautiful white quartz veins throughout the rock of metasediments.
Conceptual Design Ideas of the Sufi Order International
These design concepts are not meant to limit the scope of creativity of the designer but to inform him or her of the thinking and preferences of the Sufi Order International:
- The structure should give a sense of openness to the sky and horizon creating a space from which one can contemplate heaven and earth. Structures included in designs must not be sealed on all sides.
- The building should be constructed of durable building materials suitable for an open structure using unhewn stone available at the mountain site, fit harmoniously into the environment and be inspirational — evoking the sacred. Other natural sympathetic materials such as glass and wood can be incorporated into the structure.
- The design should include an approach or a walkway inviting the pilgrim in a symbolic manner to journey from the outer world to the inner.
- Designs should in some way express harmony and balance of the four elements, which are of major philosophical importance to the SOI.
The Design of the Universel
Here is Patricia’s award-winning design submission.
Toward the One
A design submitted for your consideration
by Patricia Michael
Anahita Barbara Harmony, Astrology, and Jessica White, Fang Shui and Sacred Geometry
The Intention of the Design
This design is intended to be a simple solution of outdoor rooms defined by the floors and low rock and earthwork. This will be a sacred space defined on the ground and open to the sky and all sides. This is the kind of space where a person can feel himself or herself to be the connection between the Earth and the sky. It is designed to remind us of our inner world that is the intermingling of Heaven and Earth where each one of us creates our own inner landscape.
This design will serve the community as a place for individual and large group sacred experience, with the flexibility to allow all forms of worship with minimal upkeep and expense. It will encourage and nurture the pilgrims on their path.
The ethics of the design will be to listen to the site and be in harmony with it, making as little a footprint as possible. The site will be regenerated with the use of natural techniques to infiltrate water and improve the soil and site climate. Almost everything existing at the site now will be used and improved upon.
At the center of the central room will be the foundation of the old chapel. It will become a raised floor with a simple bench surrounding it. The floor can be used for small meetings, and as a stage or dais for larger groups. The individual will find a place for rest contemplation and meditation. I can even see people sleeping there. The bench around the outer edge of the floor will function as a guardrail, and setting place. The placement of the short rock pillars that support the bench will be an astral calendar. The calendar will use its light and shadow patterns with the movement of the Earth and sun in seasons to highlight the solstices, the equinoxes, and the cross quarters. Or the pillars can act as prayer beads for rhythm and counting in walking or sitting meditation or diker. The direction of the steps will be open. Handrails will need to be installed along each side of the steps.
The structure will be filled with hand rammed earth containing a three dimensional pattern of the golden spiral. The spiral will be made from the crystals and rocks that the mureeds have contributed from all over the world. These can be ritually laid by members of the Esoteric school, Ziraat Farmers, Kinship leaders, Cherags of the Universal Worship and Healing Order Conductors, anyone who our Pir selects for the service. The purpose will be to have a symbolic representation of the Heavens in the Earth and a symbol of both the creation of the Earth and of giving back to the Earth. This will be a gesture of honoring all those in our Silsila who are ahead of us on the Caravan.
The rebar that protrudes from the concrete beam of the old foundation will be removed as a gesture of honoring the message that said in Exodus 20-19: that when an alter of earth is made iron is not to be used.
A cap floor can be poured over the old foundation walls and the remainder of the beam and the new rammed earth floor to create a smooth floor. If rebar is needed it can be structural bamboo. This new floor can be colored, painted with designs, or overlaid with the reused broken stone floor tiles from the old foundation’s outer floor. The laying the second layer of floor will be a great expense of labor and materials and could be done at a later date. I recommend the second layer of flooring and reuse of the flat stones because Pir Vilayat, God rest his soul, walked upon them.
The new floor could have the pattern of the position of the known planets on Hejirat day placed into it by using special stones and shell, and ironwood.
The cardinal directions can be marked on the floor by drilling four holes and installing a liner and a cap. Flagpoles could be inserted in them on festival days. The poles can be painted PVC with two crosspieces that have ends with loops on them. They will function as banner and prayer flag holders, and could hold up a light backdrop. It may also be useful to install tie-downs on the sides of the floor for prayer flags or bunting to be draped over the foundation. If a tent or tent roof is ever called for the tie-downs will work for that also.
The existing arch in the foundation on the North side can become a niche for a sacred object. The bottom of the niche will need to have a drain opening because the entire structure is designed to drain in that direction. The floor or pedestal of the niche can be raised to allow for that. I’ve drawn the rock there. The back wall of the niche can be covered with a mirror. Thus a person looking at the sacred object will also see themselves and nature reflected back to them. This could remind them of the sacredness of all. The mirror can be polished and sealed copper or safety glass with glazing on the back. It will be a foggy or shadowy mirror. A really sharp mirror could under the right conditions start a fire.
The large room of which the raised floor is the center will have openings in several directions to smaller rooms. The floors of these rooms will be the ground. These side rooms will house: the existing labyrinth (which could be spruced up a bit) a scenic overlook, a fire pit, and the entry. The placement of a water feature and a wind harp will be the two sculptures added to the site that will be viewed through openings in the stone circle. The paths from the children’s camp and the walking trails will also intersect the circle. Thus we will avoid the danger Hazrat Inayat Khan warned us of standing in a complete circle. The land will tell us where it is best to place these features to be most in harmony and not cause erosion or danger.
Removing the brush and trees to reveal the western view will create the scenic overlook room. The room will be constructed by building a stone retaining wall out over the slope. The inside of the wall will be filled with drains, rammed earth, and rock. Resulting in a floor on which to walk out over the view on. The wall can be built tall enough to be a guardrail and can have seats in front of it. Removed tree trunks can be imbedded into a cut in the earth to help with to redirect the surface water away from the overlook retaining wall. The limbs of these trees might make great handrails at the central platform.
The fire pit can be placed into the ground with the surrounding space large enough to have seating, dancing, or a sweat lodge (the lodge geometry will have to be carefully worked out. Hot drinks could also be heated there on a three-legged cowboy grill.
The occasional water feature will be the ground molded into five long narrow ponds that will be filled with water only when it rains. They will be made on contours down the slope by creating gently undulating swales and berms with the ends turned up. They will get longer and larger as they moved down the slope. This geometry will be formed on the proportions of the human body. If seven swales and berms ware formed they could symbolically represent the chakras. These undulations will be gentle enough to be mowed. They will only hold water for a moment of time, than infiltrate it into the earth as an offering.
The wind harp will consist of small rings bolted to trees with piano wire or another high quality wire tied to them forming a harp of many strings. They can be tuned with a toggle or screw. They are mounted around the side of the tree enough that a bridge can sit on the tree trunk. I have seen these stretched for many feet. They make a drone when the wind blows.
The Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Either will all be represented in this design. The design can be completed within the budget using a lot of volunteer labor and local materials, and the described equipment. The design can be installed in stages so it does not tax the community too much. The design allows for the artisans working on it to bring their own love, harmony and beauty to their work. The design is simple and natural enough to be a fitting space for all God Ideals.
This design came to me in the summer of 2006 when doing practices at the site. It was in answer to my question: What does the land want here?
Thank you for your consideration,
Toward the One,