ST 2023 | "ganz zu schweigen". Isola della CertosaCopyright: © Sarah Schroeter
About the Silence and the Stillness in Architecture
Master's Thesis by Sarah Schroeter
Are there spaces that make us whisper or even completely silent, and what characterizes them architecturally?
In addition to a theoretical consideration, as a vocabulary of silence in which terms, references, personal impressions and conversations are collected, visualized, ordered and related, there is a concrete exercise location and a practical exercise task where some of these aspects can be tested. The place La Certosa is an island in the Venetian lagoon and gets its name from the silent Carthusian Order and its former monastery on the southern shore of the island. The task is a retreat house, i. e. a house for the spiritual exercises according to Ignatius of Loyola, which are instructions for contemplation and prayer, which are mainly carried out in silence.
The shape of the Venetian lagoon is the (preliminary) result of about 6,000 years of changeable history: In the interplay and dependence of the sea, which provided food, gave protection from the invaders of the mainland, but also allowed individual islands to sink or disappear altogether. The medieval city of Venice was surrounded by prosperous populations, small fishing, hunting or monastic communities, each of which had a fixed serving role in the political, religious, social, agricultural and economic ecosystem of the Serenissima. The outbreak of the plague and the Napoleonic wars marked the conversions. With the construction of the railroad around 1850, the city of Venice was downgraded to an "appendice della terraferma" – a subordinate extension of the mainland. Many of the surrounding islands thus lost their original function of serving the city. The island of La Certosa, also Andrea del Lido, or S. Bruno in Isola, after the founder of the Carthusian Order, is located east of the city center in the lagoon of Venice. In 1424 the island was given to a Carthusian community, which gives the island its name.The Certosini developed the island's shore, laid out kitchen gardens, watercourses and agricultural land.They built a conglomerate of individual monastic houses with little gardens, sacred rooms and farm buildings, which corresponded to the way of life of the Ordo Cartusiensis. In this way, the Carthusians left a permanent mark on the landscape of Isola della Certosa. The monastery contained, besides the great Galilee, two other cloisters, one next to the church, with refectory and chapels, and one as entrance courtyard, to which other common spaces were adjacent. Of the ancient Carthusian monastery, after decay and destruction in the course of the plague and the Napoleonic occupation, only the left of these small cloisters, that is, the most public part of the monastery, is preserved today. The ruins of the cortile and the forest stand were additionally severely damaged by a tornado ten years ago.
The designed retreat house and its outdoor facilities settle in this monastic place on the island, the loggias of the guest houses with their water accesses are located in the small protected bend of the southern shore, which was also used by the Certosini to settle their chapels and cells. The access is through a path that leads to and through the ruin, which remains as a garden and whose cloister is recreated by a pergola that runs around it, in the shade of which the individual plots of the garden can be entered. Here the retreat house is not yet visible. Only in the last section of the path does the view open up to the elevated retreat house, its adjacent enclosed garden, and the agriculturally used area with water access and work shed. The retreat house consists of four structures. In one house lives permanently a community where one can be a guest. In another, the lowest, guests live in individual rooms with anteroom and loggia. And in the third, the highest, rises the house of God, a sacred space with its sacristy. The meeting takes place in the courtyard, which also serves as access, in the common rooms and in the church. The bodies form a modest-looking compact structure. The principle of a small private place to sit, read, pray, protected but with a view of the vastness of the landscape. The unavailability of the water that gains entrance to the loggia and the forest that can be looked at through the windows, the restricted views in and out of the courtyard and the connection with the historical inventory: they all take their origin in the guest's cell and reappear in modified form in all parts of the retreat house.