‘Keep go­ing Richard, keep go­ing’

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE - – Axel Mun­the. – Jorge Luis Borges.

This is not the first time I have vis­ited the So­ci­ety of Chris­tian Doc­trine’s

at Santa Ven­era de­signed by Prof. Richard Eng­land. I love it as it is so full of colour, un­like the ‘weep­ing and gnash­ing of teeth’ doc­trine lessons of my youth. No guilt, no doom and de­struc­tion, no hell here. Just vi­brant colours, sooth­ing wa­ter and hope. I love it also for its orig­i­nal­ity.

The in­vi­ta­tion came from the Kite Group, so brave to go into Malta’s world of pub­lish­ing and who do their launches so well. (The book was printed in Italy by Ba­roni e Gori.) The oc­ca­sion was the launch of

which rep­re­sents 50 sa­cred spa­ces and are­nas of med­i­ta­tion cre­ated over a num­ber of years by Prof. Eng­land.

The hall was full. A Richard Eng­land launch al­ways at­tracts peo­ple. It is worth go­ing just to hear him speak – al­ways elo­quent and highly quotable and yet, in his own way a ‘hum­ble’ Re­nais­sance man. How does he jug­gle it all: de­sign, here and abroad, po­etry, books, de­sir­able art. Who can for­get his book about San­torini, to name just one ex­am­ple that comes to mind? In Dr Chris Abel’s words: “Richard Eng­land’s man­i­fold achieve­ments have rightly earned him fame around the world as well as in his beloved home­land.”

Dr Abel, who also wrote the For­ward to the book, gave a mov­ing trib­ute to the au­thor that evening. He is Hon­orary Vis­it­ing Pro­fes­sor at Ul­ster Univer­sity Belfast and a mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of Ar­chi­tec­tural Crit­ics. Dr Abel has taught at ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties around the world and is the au­thor of numer­ous pub­li­ca­tions of ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory, the­ory and crit­i­cism, in­clud­ing two books on Prof. Eng­land. He lived in Malta for many years and now re­sides in North­ern Ire­land. To quote Dr Abel again: “You will find plen­ti­ful ex­am­ples of Richard’s bound­less cre­ative en­er­gies in this book but to my mind it is the var­i­ous chapels that best ex­em­plify the univer­sal mean­ing of sanc­tu­ary ex­pressed in th­ese works. Peo­ple of re­li­gious faith will of course re­spond to th­ese most spe­cial of spa­ces in their own way, but my point is that the meta­phys­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence Richard of­fers us here tran­scends spe­cific re­li­gious be­liefs to cre­ate oases of calm and re­flec­tion where both be­liever and non-be­liever can find so­lace for trou­bled spir­its. If I had to choose a sin­gle project amongst all this re­cent cre­ative bounty, how­ever, then it would be the Wa­ter Chapel and ad­ja­cent gar­den here at the House of the Good Sa­mar­i­tan so named for its is­land plat­form sur­rounded by rip­pling wa­ter chan­nels, a vis­ual and sen­sory metaphor for the is­land na­tion it­self.”

Dr Abel re­marked that Dar ilHanin Sa­mar­i­tan is en­tranc­ing dur­ing the day­light, the coloured lay­er­ing of space ac­quires yet another di­men­sion at nighttime “when the whole gar­den is il­lu­mi­nated: a mag­i­cal vi­sion far re­moved as its de­signer in­tends it to be, from the trou­bled world out­side. If Manikata Church marked the be­gin­ning of Eng­land’s jour­ney in his long quest for sanc­tu­ar­ies of the soul, then the Wa­ter Chapel and gar­den surely mark the apogee of that quest, if hope­fully not yet the end.”

Rev. Dr Fr Ste­fan At­tard lec­turer at the Univer­sity of Malta also spoke but alas I have mis­laid my notes of his trib­ute while Gor­don Pisani rep­re­sent­ing the Kite Group also said a few words by way of in­tro­duc­tion to the evening.

Prof. Eng­land started by thank­ing the peo­ple and per­son­al­i­ties in­volved in the long process of the mak­ing of the book. He also ex­tended his thanks to the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned con­trib­u­tors for the schol­arly texts which so richly en­hance the pub­li­ca­tion. Th­ese con­trib­u­tors are Daniel Libe­skind, the em­i­nent ar­chi­tect, mas­ter plan­ner for the World Trade Cen­tre Ground Zero re­de­vel­op­ment and one of the most il­lus­tri­ous prac­tion­ers of the pro­fes­sion. Another em­i­nent con­trib­u­tor to the book is Juhani Pal­las­maa, ar­chi­tect and out­stand­ing ar­chi­tec­tural critic who has pub­lished over 45 books in­clud­ing one of the most im­por­tant ar­chi­tec­tural books Another con­trib­u­tor is Ed­win Heath­cote, the ar­chi­tec­ture cor­re­spon­dent of the

and au­thor of numer­ous books on con­tem­po­rary church de­sign and also the Wily Academy mono­graph of Prof. Eng­land’s work.

Af­ter thank­ing the liv­ing Prof. Eng­land spoke briefly about those who are re­gret­fully no longer with us. He men­tioned Gio Ponti, the ar­chi­tect with whom he spend two years work­ing most of the time on the de­sign of his San Carlo Bor­romeo Church in Mi­lan; Basil Spence the ar­chi­tect of Coven­try Cathe­dral; artist Vic­tor Pas­more “who en­light­ened me about the elim­i­na­tion of the non-essen­tial and the har­mony of op­po­sites, qual­i­ties so nec­es­sary in the de­sign of sa­cred spa­ces. “Prof. Eng­land also men­tioned the late Charles Knevitt and Fr Peter Ser­ra­cino In­glott. He thanked his wife Myr­iam “my muse and spir­i­tual men­tor, not only for her con­stant sup­port but also for her pro­found Chris­tian faith which has helped me to cross the thresh­old to open the door for me to en­ter a higher realm of spir­i­tu­al­ity and thus in­ten­sify my Chris­tian con­vic­tion… All of which goes to prove that to pro­duce a book is by no means a one man ef­fort.”

Prof. Eng­land is not only a cre­ator but also a man of great depth – and a first class thinker. He gave us his thoughts on his mak­ing of sa­cred spa­ces. Above all he is a great be­liever in a sense of com­mit­ment, ded­i­ca­tion and most of all love in the mak­ing of sa­cred, or for that mat­ter, sec­u­lar spa­ces. “Mother Teresa’s words re­main an essen­tial les­son ‘it is not so much what you do, but how much love you put in the do­ing.’ I firmly be­lieve that this sense of com­mit­ment, ded­i­ca­tion and love are ac­tu­ally ab­sorbed by the ma­te­ri­als of the man­i­fest build­ing and are re­flected to the users while creat­ing a sense of welcome and spir­i­tual en­hance­ment.”

He be­lieves that faith re­mains a needed ad­di­tive to the ar­chi­tect’s in­tel­lec­tual and ma­te­ri­al­is­tic tools in or­der for him or her to cre­ate a sa­cred space of an­i­mated sacral­ity. “It is worth not­ing that the in­tro­duc­tion to my es­say in the book is en­ti­tled “there are many ways to God, I have cho­sen ar­chi­tec­ture”. He said that he is con­stantly re­minded that it was An­to­nio Gaudi who said that the great­est chal­lenge for an ar­chi­tect re­mains the de­sign of a church. “How right he was, for here, one is uti­liz­ing the phys­i­cal to ex­press the tran­scen­dent… by no means an easy task.”

He then gave his au­di­ence sev­eral quotes which pro­vide him with few essen­tial guide­lines which con­tribute to his de­sign process in the mak­ing of sa­cred spa­ces. Here are a few of my favourite:

– Ten­nesse Wil­liams re­mind­ing us that in the past ar­chi­tects were high priests, myth mak­ers and ma­gi­cians. – Al­var Aalto. – An­toine de Saint Ex­u­pery,

– Gio Ponti In con­clu­sion Prof. Eng­land said that si­lence re­mains an essen­tial qual­ity in the de­sign of any sa­cred space. “In the Holy Book we are con­stantly re­minded that Christ al­ways prayed in places of si­lence while in the Gospel of Matthew we also have al­most di­rect in­struc­tions from Christ Him­self for the ne­ces­sity of si­lence when He states ‘go into your in­ner room, close the door and pray to the Father. He is there in si­lence’….”Ul­ti­mately it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that in the mak­ing of sa­cred spa­ces man is mea­sur­ing him­self against the un­mea­sur­able. DIF­FI­CULT.”

In Chris Abel’s words: “Keep go­ing Richard, keep go­ing”. I heartily join Dr Abel in this.

mbenoit@in­de­pen­dent.com.mt

Prof. Eng­land with Dr Chris Abel

Prof. Eng­land, his wife Myr­iam and Gor­don Pisani of the Kite Group

Med­i­ta­tion Gar­den fo­cus­ing on wa­ter foun­tain at Dar il-Hanin Sa­mar­i­tan

Malta’s Re­nais­sance man: Richard Eng­land

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