Sunrise. The air is, crisp, refreshing, and dry but warm, announcing the heat and dust to come later. Outside the streets are quiet, the ancient stones still damp from the street sweepers. They are deserted too, after last nights’ revelers have finally gone to bed and before the shopkeepers and buskers arrive to entertain tourists. Out the door. Through the Piazza. A short walk through narrow twisting streets and I am here. I have been here before; I have made this pilgrimage every day, but today is special. Today I am alone. I walk up the worn steps from the square, sensing the massive presence of the solemn granite columns that now surround me. My hand touches the ancient bronze door. The metal is warm and soft, worn to a comfortable texture like an old coin. A minute later a crack appears and an attendant pulls the mighty door open. I step forward and am at once relieved of the weighty presence of the columns of the portico. My eyes sweep upward, over lavishly polished marble, across the roughly textured coffered dome. Resting at last on the void in the center, my thoughts are liberated from the earth.
The true beauty of such a building is not its significant history, its originally designed purpose, or even its attractive architecture. Even though it is one of the most famous and influential buildings in the world, when it comes to one person’s experience, it could be any building on the planet. The level of communication I was able to achieve with this work of architecture was not unique to me or to the Pantheon. It has probably happened countless times through the centuries. But it was significant.
While it is unusual for modern buildings to contain transformative qualities, it is not unheard of. These evocative traits are rare since age alone has a way of adding significance to a building that may have once been trivial. Some of the most successfully experiential modern buildings incorporate a deliberate progression through space.
My experience at the Pantheon is indicative of what I have been trying to accomplish with my designs- powerful, memorable experiences like this are part of what makes life interesting. My meditation at the Pantheon is the same thing as personal contact with history. I loved the way I was able to travel back 1000 years in time by crossing through its doors. Connecting with users on an emotional plane is the most effective way to make sure that architecture has a direct effect on people’s lives. This opportunity for a strong emotional connection makes architecture exhilarating and invigorating. Architects and designers are privileged to have such a level of influence over the fabric of people’s lives!