Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
Hey, it's Manu, and before we start the show, we'd like to ask you for some feedback. Please help us out by telling us what you like about the TED Radio Hour and how we could improve our program. You can do that by completing a short anonymous survey at NPR Gorga TED survey. It's really quick and you'll do all of us at TED Radio Hour a huge favor by filling it out. That's NPR again, Ted Servais. And thank you.
This is the TED Radio Hour. Each week, groundbreaking TED talks. Our job now is to dream big delivered at TED conferences to bring about the future we want to see around the world to understand who we are. From those talks, we bring you speakers and ideas that will surprise you. You just don't know what you're going to find, challenge you, which we have to ask ourselves, like why is it noteworthy and even change you?
I literally feel like I'm a different person. Yes. Do you feel that way? Ideas worth spreading. From Ted and NPR. I'm a new 02. And I want to go back to the early 90s, to Poughkeepsie, New York, you know, when I was growing up there every Saturday, basically my father would get up really early and tinker and work on the house that we lived in.
This is Michael Murphy, and that house was an old Victorian.
It was designed by this incredible architect named Horace Rombauer, you know, the kind with shingles and stained glass windows, a big wraparound porch. But it was kind of falling apart.
Yes, sure. It was very drafty. There was rot and wood. The porch was falling down.
There was stained glass that needed to be fixed. You know, this is my worst nightmare, by the way.
Know, but Michael's dad loved it. And slowly restoring this house piece by piece became his ritual for years, nonstop every Saturday throughout the year.
Just some project that would take years to figure out he would just kind of chip away at even after Michael left for college and moved abroad until 2004, I got a call from my mother, uh, that my father was very sick with cancer and that I had to come back in order to be with him on undefined death watch, we might say, hit about three weeks to live. They told us. And he was only 52 years old. Is that right?
That's right. He was 52 years old. So pretty young and quite surprising for us. And I'm sure, you know, many of us have experienced something tragic like that where the table cloth is pulled out from under you and some things are made and some things fall off. And, you know, so I dropped everything and moved home. That status, that paralysis. The condition of anxiety, of just keeping myself busy, really, to avoid thinking deeply about what this loss might actually mean.
That's when I decided to think about the house and trying to finish what he had left before this event happened and he decided to help me.
You know, strip old hundred year old wallpaper and try to figure out the stained glass and started repairing the floors of the attic space, three weeks turned to three months.
Three months turn to six months.
The summer came. We're working all the time.
And he turned to me after we repaired the front porch and had finished 50 paned windows.
And he was now in remission. And he said, you know, working on this house saved my life.
Were you surprised when he said that or did you immediately know what he meant?
I think that statement in the moment makes a lot of sense. Maybe it means something like this gave me hope. This gave me something to do every day. This gave me a North Star to point towards and working with you on it kept me alive. It kept me focused on what's possible.
But maybe it also meant something deeper, maybe the kind of spiritual connection that we have to the places that we live in.
It is only made manifest in that daily toil and the daily maintenance and the daily restoration that the ritual and the practice of participating in creating the conditions for our family to live safely is a part of the human condition.
Four walls and a roof provide shelter, but they can also comfort, inspire and sustain us, something we're all realizing these days.
So today on the show, ideas from people building and using space and ingenious ways, how particular rooms and places can shape the human experience from our homes to our hospitals, buildings, our frames for our own understanding of our place in the world to theaters and dingy nightclubs.
You know, often the space is a really important protagonist in your life. You know, they like your friends to ethereal places of worship.
Creation doesn't just spring whole out of somebody's head. Context has a huge effect on creativity.
Spaces can give us meaning and purpose, and just as that house inspired Michael's dad to keep going, it also set Michael on a new path into architecture to build structures that had the power to heal.
So I'm hoping that you're going to tell me that you go off to architecture school and they are like, welcome, we will make all those big ideas, you will be able to build them for people in the rest of the world. Is that what happened, Michael?
Uh, you know, a version of that I want.
It was a unique moment. So this is 2005 and 2006. Great, fancy, beautiful, expressive cultural centers were being lauded and talked about.
But I wouldn't say I was hearing a lot of or learning about this thing that really, I think struck my father this deeper spiritual connection to why we build or what the design of a home might mean to us in our daily lives.
Is it fair to say that what you're talking about is this idea that architecture can inspire awe and wonder, but it wasn't being used to do something more sort of practical in that it wasn't being used to heal in a much more sort of humanitarian kind of way?
Yeah, I think architecture does do both of those things. I think architecture does produce a sense of wonder, but it does more than that. It affects our daily lives. It affects our physical health. It seems it affects our ability to imagine a possibility of living a more productive and more hopeful life for our families. And those links are broken. It occurred to me until I meet this amazing doctor.
His name is Paul Farmer, and I think he bridged some of that gap for me.
Michael Murphy continues his story on the TED stage.
Just as I was about to start my final exams, I decided to take a break from an all nighter and go to a lecture by Dr. Paul Farmer, a leading health activist for the global poor.
And I was surprised to hear a doctor talking about architecture. Buildings are making people sicker, he said. And for the poorest in the world, this is causing epidemic level problems. In this hospital in South Africa, patients that came in with, say, a broken leg to wait in this unventilated hallway walked out with a multidrug resistant strand of tuberculosis.
Simple designs for infection control had not been thought about, and people had died because of it. Where are the architects? Paul said if hospitals are making people sicker, where are the architects and designers to help us build and design hospitals that allow us to heal?
And there in that moment, I think the link emerged that we in the architectural and design professionals are providing and working on a crucial human right. Without the ability to live in a life of dignity and a place that protects you, drugs won't work. The full scope of your ability to live a fruitful life is restricted.
Did the plan come together then that you would join him and help his mission through architecture? Yeah.
So that started a long journey to work with Dr. Farmer and his team in Rwanda. And the first thing that I did was I met their head engineer, an amazing guy named Bruce Noisey, and Bruce was leading all their building projects.
Airborne diseases are mitigated by moving more air through the room. So I worked with Bruce and his team and came up with the design whose primary goal was to reduce transmission of infections, to create all the waiting areas in the exterior, to think about airflow, basically to remove all hallways, to increase the height of the wards so that we got both sun and air movement as the WTO prescribes, but also had plenty of space for patients to walk around. And our precedents were TB sanatoriums designed in the 20s and 30s, medical facilities designed in the 19th century, like Florence Nightingale and Alver Alto and these incredible designers who were thinking about airflow before the advent of HVAC or mechanical ventilation, they were thinking about how a building is sited and oriented to capture and maintain and control as much as possible in order to make people healthier.
And we're thinking about this all the time.
I'm sure now you're thinking about with the coronavirus, the tables that you're touching and the spaces and the know handles and all of that is related to some degree, being spatially aware of what is invisible around us.
OK, so you you wrapped up that project in Rwanda back in 2011. And since then you have gone on to build more hospitals and schools, affordable housing, senior homes. And what's amazing to me is that you have been thinking about architecture and airflow for over a decade. And I mean, the rest of us literally just started thinking about this in the last few months.
Yeah, I think we're you know, we're undergoing a real existential moment in our relationship to the built environment around us, sort of recognizing that suddenly the built space around us could really threaten us. And while hospitals are designed, or at least we hope they are designed to think about mitigation of disease, the apartment building that you live in is not designed that way. The restaurant that you go to is not designed to manage disease transfer. And so we are suddenly in this moment where we have to think about all buildings as threatening our health and all built spaces as potentially improving or protecting us a little bit more seriously.
Do you think even when the pandemic is over, that we are going to be forever changed in some ways with our relationship to our homes and to indoor spaces?
I think so. I hope so. I mean, Six Feet is really a proxy for us to get more air flow. And with that understanding, we start to see at least I started to see buildings really as breathing machines, as lungs themselves. If we acknowledge and accept the fact that, you know, buildings are basically allowing us to breathe freely, then it really becomes a question of rights that we have the basic human right to breathe.
And we then can demand it in our policies and our codes and demand that housing is better, that with that demand, how could we allow prisons to exist the way they do? Institutional buildings have to be radically rethought under this rubric of the right to clean air, the right to breathe freely.
And I think that's a, well, challenging and certainly going to be difficult to redesign spaces. I think the public will be demanding more accountability from the bill world around us, which I think is a really good thing.
That's Michael Murphy. He's the founding principle and executive director of Mars Design Group, which designs hospitals, schools and memorials around the world, including the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama. You can see his full talk at TED that come on the show today, The Power of Spaces. I'm new Shahmoradi and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.
Everyone, just a quick thanks to two of our sponsors who helped make this podcast possible, first to E-Trade, trading isn't for everyone, but E-Trade is whether it's saving for a rainy day or for your retirement. E-Trade has you covered. They can help you check financial goals off your list. And with a team of professionals giving you support when you need it, you can be confident that your money is working hard for you to get more than just trading with ETrade to get started, visit ETrade Dotcom Slash podcast for more information.
ETrade Securities LLC member FINRA SIPC.
A Minneapolis business owners daughter is called out publicly for racist antiblack tweets, fighting to save his business and trying to make amends. He calls on a prominent black Muslim leader for help. He's an Arab Muslim. And I said, I'm here today. Tell me what to do to hear what happens next. Listen to Code Switch from NPR.
And real quick, before we get back to the show, I just want to tell you about another podcast that I host. Zig-Zag, also coming to you from Ted. It's the business podcast about being human this season, six episodes about how we can align our careers and companies with what's good for our fellow humans every week for the rest of the summer. Find it on Apple podcast or wherever you like listening.
It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm zeroed in on the show today, the power of spaces, including one that had a huge impact on the history of American music.
It was a small venue on the Bowery in New York City where a lot of American legends got their start back in the 70s and 80s.
The space was CBD, that it was not all that different than a lot of other clubs, especially ones in New York. It was kind of long and sort of narrow and the stage would be more or less at the far end.
There was a bar and chairs and might have been a brick wall, as there sometimes is in New York, and it's not that large of a place. The name of this band is Talking Heads. Thank you. My name's David Byrne. I'm a musician and a performer. This song is for I Am So CEIBS was where you ended up having your big breakthrough and how much do you think that was because of the space itself?
At first I did not have great ambitions for the group. I was writing some songs. I thought, Oh, let's audition, let's play, let's see what happens. Let's see if people like them. We are two sisters. So we all started in these kind of small places where lots of the nuance of what we were doing could be heard fairly accurately, but. The vocals could be heard above the grinding guitars and smashing drums and ambient sounds of people talking and other activities.
The music, the bands, the musicians, it works perfectly well in that context. And so you knew that if you wrote certain kinds of things that would work, at least acoustically, you don't know whether an audience is going to like the song, but, you know, at least it'll be heard in the way that you intended to be.
And I guess because it was such a small space, you could immediately tell if you were connecting with the audience. Yeah. You could look into people's eyes. You can see their heads bobbing, which was just an amazing thing. David Byrne continues his story from the TED stage. Since then, I've played other places that are much nicer. I've played Carnegie Hall and places like that, and it's been very exciting. But I also noticed that sometimes the music that I had written or was writing at the time didn't sound all that great.
And some of those holes we managed, but sometimes those holes didn't seem exactly suited to the music I was making or had made. So I asked myself, do I write stuff for specific rooms or do I have a place, a venue in mind when I write?
Is that a kind of model for creativity? Do we all make things with a venue or context in mind?
So it sounds like over the course of your career, as you went from venue to venue, it kind of started to dawn on you how those spaces were changing your music?
Well, my realization was that creation doesn't just spring whole out of somebody's head. It's influenced by all sorts of different factors all around them.
They're far from invisible, but they're not really acknowledged that much. Context has a huge effect on creativity and the sound of the rooms we perform in the acoustics of those rooms really works best for some kinds of music, and it doesn't work that well for other kinds of music.
So in other words, like a room is kind of a canvas for making music.
Exactly. And therefore there'll be a kind of evolutionary process where the ones that don't work that well in that room will get weeded out.
You won't hear very much of that there and you'll hear more and more of the stuff that works well acoustically in that room.
David says there are examples of how space has shaped the course of music everywhere, so, like if you want to get a feel for Bach's approach to music making, just walk into a Lutheran church. The church where Bach's music was played was a lot smaller than the great Gothic cathedrals that had kind of gone before, and then he famously worked with the tuning system that allowed him to be a lot more pointless to wander the keyboard a lot more.
All those trills, yeah, all that stuff that would just turn into mush and Gothic Cathedral. Mean, previous to that, like Gregorian chants and things like that, that music doesn't change key. So that if you're in a Gothic cathedral and one note reverberates, it's still in two.
All the reverberant notes are going to enhance the music that you're breaking your back must have realized that in the smaller place where he was playing and writing, he could start to move the composing and performing into different keys and it wouldn't sonically clash with what he was doing to get it gave him the opportunity for the music to change into something completely different, which is. Kind of where a lot of Western music has gone today, but other kinds of music still still exists.
It took a parallel path, huh?
I mean, I have to say, you've done a lot of research on this. You wrote a book charting how venues have shaped the evolution of music around the world.
And so, I mean, I have to ask you kind of odd question, all right, for my mother, who is an amateur violinist, and she plays a lot of chamber music and she and her quartet pals have attempted to play quartet string music via Zoome, which was a total disaster. Oh, my goodness.
That's a shame. Yeah. So you kind of need to find an empty, large ish empty room that they can perform and still be a little bit separated.
They need a living room, clearly. Yeah. She's not enjoying the music because she can't be in the right space is what I've realized.
I can imagine those instruments kind of chamber music. They benefit from a certain amount of reverberation to come in, which the sound of the instruments, but.
Maybe she should switch to music that was written purposefully for being played in the outdoors, like drumming. I mean, I don't know if she wants to become that, but like. Right.
Yes, I'd be nice to see that transition from violin, drums and percussion.
But no, seriously, I could see that there are lots of things that work that way, like reels and fiddle music, where the playing is very rapid and it's often done outdoors, too. You can have a much more rhythmic kind of string playing like cellos and violins and violas and things much more rhythmic than what chamber music might normally be. And so the rhythm is kind of driving the stuff rather than the richness of the harmonies. You never know.
Is this a model for creation, this adaptation that we do? Does it happen anywhere else?
Well, according to David Attenborough and from other people, birds do it to birds like Savannah Sparrow. They tend to have a buzzing call.
Sound like this is the most energy efficient and practical way to transmit their fields.
And of other birds like this tanager on the east coast of the United States, where the forests are a little denser, has one kind of coral and the tanager on the other side, the West has a different kind of call.
This was some of the most fascinating stuff that I came across birds in urban environments, for example, where there's all this background noise all the time that evolved to alter their songs, they'd often gotten higher pitched and louder in order to be heard. So I think they're shouting all the time. Evolution favored the ones that were louder and they could sing at a higher pitch and be heard above all the traffic and everything else. And we're just hearing them now.
I remember going for a bike ride right after the beginning of the lockdown and just marveling with a friend at how much you could hear. There's birds everywhere.
The city is just filled with the sound of birds. Now, maybe they were there all the time, but we're sure aware of them now.
So can I just ask you, in this time of the pandemic and social distancing, how do you think that being home so much is going to affect the creative process for you and your fellow musicians? Wow.
To be honest, I don't know. I mean, occasionally during this period, I'm writing words or lyrics. I'm kind of doing what musical work I can do solo, you know, like editing music and demoing up songs and stuff like that. But not a lot of it's just missing for me.
I think it's great that people are doing it, but I have trouble connecting with it when there's when there's no audience there. An audience seems so much a part of the performing experience.
I hear a real sadness in your voice as you talk about this.
Yes, in a way, I feel like recordings are one thing, that a live performance is another thing. There's a big overlap, but they're not the same thing at all, really.
Maybe lose a little bit of the kind of super duper clarity when you're listening to a live performance. But if you just want to hear kind of a pristine version of the song, then just put on the record.
But there's another level of it that you don't get on a recording, nothing. This connection between the performer and the audience and the fact that you're there with a lot of other people, all those things that we kind of miss at the moment, they're keyed, I think, to the arts and to who we are as human beings.
Nothing. That's David Byrne, founding member of The Talking Heads and author of How Music Works. You can hear his full talk at Ted Dotcom. On the show today, how spaces can create a singular experience. Even when you're surrounded by thousands of screaming fans, if you're standing in a stadium of 100000 people, how do you create intimacy on that grand scale? Our mission to set design for Beyonce's 2016 formation tour featured a 60 foot high revolving monolith, a glowing cube projecting Beyonce as larger than life, but with video imagery of her so close up that you feel intimately connected to her.
How do you behave at once as this sort of diva icon, figure hero and also be the little barefoot creature, the little old you with your vulnerabilities? This massive structure seems almost alive as it rotates and then splits open to reveal acrobats flying mid-air, your adventuring into into new territory.
That's where new things happen. We're making things that I would say are usually on the edge of being possible to make. They're usually in that little space where people can't quite say they're impossible, but they wouldn't absolutely vouch for their possibility.
This is artist and designer as Devlin. She created the set for Beyonce's formation tour and has done sets for lots of musicians, Billy Eilish and U2 and the weekend Adele, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga. She's also designed large scale sculptures for dance, opera and theater, the Lehman trilogy, which has just been showing on Broadway. And she's also done her own art installations. The most recent piece that I made was called Memory Palace in an art gallery in London at Pitango Manor.
And then other works have included a large scale mirror maze that took place in London in 2016.
So it's it's quite a broad range. So as you have designed for so many different types of people and events, how do you even begin when you have an idea that you are supposed to turn into a physical manifestation and then build it?
Yeah, I think I tend to try to you know, part of what I'm doing is trying to process from something that's quite abstract, like music or poetry or an idea and process and turn that into something concrete. So I'm trying to stay with the castle in the sky. I guess the thing that's built out of imagination.
Right. The thing that doesn't need to worry about how it's going to stand up, because I'll worry about all of that later.
For now, I just need to stay with if it's a piece of music, you know, that most mutable, that most evanescent of materials music is made of breath and made of air and made a frequency and made a vibration.
How do I capture that, you know, into something that's concrete without killing it, you know, and that's that's often really in the delicacy of how you treat this this thing, as you put it, through its processes. We're always seeking to create the most articulate sculpture, the most poetic instrument of communication to an audience hears as Devlin on the TED stage. It's a temporary population of 100000 people who've all come there to sing along with every word together.
But they've also come they're each seeking one to one intimacy with the performer.
And we as we conceive the show, we have to provide intimacy on a grand scale. I call my work stage sculpture, but of course, what's really being sculpted is the experience of the audience. And as directors and designers, we have to take responsibility for every minute that the audience spend with us.
We're a bit like pilots navigating a flight path for 100000 passengers. And like any flight, the most delicate part is the liftoff, the beginning, because when you design a pop concert, the prime material that you're working with is something that doesn't take trucks or crew to transport it. It doesn't cost anything. And yet it fills every atom of air in the arena before the show starts. It's the audience's anticipation. So you're holding on to that and the feeling that you want the audience and the performer to have, right.
And then how do you know that it's right? Like when you are in rehearsals, do you go and stand on the stage? Do you sit where the audience and get the audience's perspective? Like, what is the feeling that you can you even describe it when you're like, oh yes, worked.
You know, if you're rehearsing a piece, usually many of the decisions about what the physical sculpture is going to be have already been made.
So you can make decisions then about how does this sculpture behave? You know, how does it move? How will the light hit it and those things? It's really, I guess, most like cooking. You know, you sit there and you from years of experience, I mean, I'm not a very good cook, but no, I mean, I've seen people who are and they just know they need to put a bit of fish sauce in here.
Yeah. And then they need to balance it with a bit of sugar and then they need a bit of this. So, you know, when we're, you know, adding light and shade and movement to things, that's that's often the kind of process that it is. Obviously, when when it's a piece where there's a large audience or whatever scale of audience, I sit among the audience and I feel it.
You know, I can tell the audience is a very extraordinary animal as a thing. And audiences are ridiculously intelligent as a collective species. You know, they they they react.
Yeah, you can't fool them. In just a minute, we'll hear more from Ms.
Devlin on how she sees spaces as protagonists in all of our lives. I'm a new Sumathi and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.
Support for this podcast and the following message come from the American Jewish World Service, working together for more than 30 years to build a more just and equitable world.
Learn more at A.J. W.S. Dog. I'm Jen White, the new host of NPR's One A a daily show that asks America what it wants to be. Hear from people across the country, listeners like you, with conversations for the relentlessly curious on the issues that matter most.
Join me next time on one day from NPR and Ammu.
It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Sam Brody, and we were just talking to Ms. Devlin about how she uses spaces to create an intimate experience for her audience. And as a designer, she has to form a relationship with each space.
Absolutely. And often, you know, often the space is a really important protagonist in the process. And an interesting thing happens when you work in one space repeatedly. So you have a sort of ongoing relationship with this protagonist in the process.
So, for example, there was a very, very small theater which I worked at a lock or the Bush Theater in the 1990s and 2000s. And it was, you know, a theater only fit 75 people. The stage was probably, you know, 18 by 16 foot was a tiny little stage.
And yet some of the finest actors in London wanted to perform there and started their careers there and things because of their intimacy with the audience and because I did a run of sort of five or six shows, one after the other there, I really began to, you know, have a sense of what each corner of this space could deliver, you know, and how how it as an instrument, if we're talking about spaces and sculptures as instruments, how to play the instrument, you know, really began to learn it.
It frees you in a way when you know a space like that, don't you think?
Well, I think you begin to have a conversation with it through time.
And it's at that point that you realize then how important those ongoing collaborations are, whether they're with collaborators, writers, musicians, artists or with with spaces. You know, when you really value those, as you start to look back through time, you value the fact because because what you do is you remember that the first time you walked into that space, you were one person at 25. The next time you walked into that space, you were a different person at 32, and then you walked into that space again when you were 47 and you were a different person.
So it helps you to sort of do an audit on yourself or to keep tabs on yourself and to sort of remember how you've changed and who you are as you go along. I've been thinking about my own relationship to to space's before the pandemic, and I just feel like, God, I took you for granted office where I got to hang out with people and write on whiteboards or I took you for granted playground where I didn't worry constantly about whether my kids were coming too close to other kids.
And I wonder if you feel that there is this new appreciation that your audience might have for space, because, you know, I'm guessing that when they would go to see one of your plays or see your set designer to show they felt it in the moment, but maybe they maybe they took away the memory of it, but maybe they'll now also have an appreciation for it because they have experienced space differently.
Well, I think you put that really beautifully. And you know that the way that you just listed those spaces, they are protagonists in your life. You know, they're like your friends. But I do think there's an opportunity I think practically will be making work outside sooner that will be making work inside me.
And I do think it's a really you know, I often say when I work in a stadium that the most important thing that happens on the night is nothing to do with anything that I'm doing or that the person who's singing is doing.
It's the sun setting is the real event. You know, we're seeing a glimpse of it, you know, and imagine if our spaces, you know, get used for the four gatherings and rituals and events and music and story, but using outside a bit more and the internal architectures will, of course, be vital. There are caves that the original Plato's cave, there are caves where we will gather and watch the shadows. But I think we'll learn a lot by, you know, connecting a little bit more to the environment around us.
And we've been talking a lot about, you know, that we come out of one system and instead of sort of bemoaning the fact that we can't make theater or make collective artworks the way we used to immediately, I do think this is a time for really exploring what do these new parameters drive us towards. That's artist as Devlin, you can hear her full talk at Ted Dotcom. On the show today, The Power of space's. I think I was raised associating beauty and aspiration with what you're here to do, you know, this is Siamak Hariri, that your work, if it's really done well, is like worship.
He's an architect based in Toronto. It's an act of worship. It's an endearing act of worship. And it doesn't matter whether it's a business school or temple.
Everything done really, really well with care, tremendous care that that is really an homage to your higher purpose.
And I mentioned it in my TED talk.
The school of architecture that I studied at some 30 years ago happened to be across the street from the wonderful art gallery designed by the great architect Louis Kahn. We used to go across the street all the time and visit.
This building is a beautiful building.
And one day I saw the security guard run his hand across the concrete, across the concrete wall. And it was the way he did it, the expression on his face, I could see that the building touched him, something touched me.
I could see that the security guard was moved by the building.
I mean, I don't know if you've ever had that happen to you in that, you know, makes your knees weak or something like that.
Architecture has that capacity to move you. I could see it.
And I remember thinking, wow, how does architecture do that at school? I was learning to design, but here here was a reaction of the heart and it touched me to the core. Over the next 30 years, CMOC design schools, galleries, theaters, large and technically challenging projects. But he was always chasing a feeling you aspire for beauty, for sensuousness, for atmosphere. The emotional response, that's the realm of the ineffable and the immeasurable, and that's what you live for, a chance to try.
And then in 2003, C.M.A got his chance.
There was an open call for designs for the Bahai temple, for South America. This was the first temple in all of South America. It's a continental temple, a hugely important milestone for the Baha'i community, because this would be the last of the continental temples and would open the door for national and local temples to be built around the world. And the brief was deceptively simple. A circular room. Nine sites, nine entrances, nine paths, allowing you to come to the temple from all directions.
Nine symbolizing completeness. Perfection, it's a whole new typology, it's a whole new form, it's whole new thing, has no pulpit, no pulpit, there's no clergy, no sermons. So now you're not even dealing with precedent. And in a world which is putting up walls, the design is to express in form the very opposite. So you have to create a place which will accept everyone from all backgrounds, people of all faiths, saying that all of humanity is one of all the faiths or one a new form of sacred space.
It was like designing one of the first churches for Christianity or one of the first mosques for Islam. In a secular world, how do you design sacred space today and how do you even define what's sacred today? It sounds daunting, I mean, it's a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity for any architect, but you are also behi, right?
And so this was a really big deal. New show is brought to my knees so many times, I can't tell you what happened. Well, I didn't think I had any way to contribute to this incredible conversation and putting yourself forward for something like a Bahai temple is absolutely like it's just overwhelming.
You're never you never feel that you're worthy.
But how many times in your life do you have the opportunity to actually put your work in line with an aspiration that is as high as you could reach? That pushes you to your furthest reach.
And that's what is really how I remember it. And then this thing took me in. This quote took me in this extraordinary idea.
What was the quote? It was it was a quote from Bahaullah.
And it says that a servant is drawn unto me in prayer. It says that if you reach out in prayer that the pillars of your heart will become a shrine. And I love this idea of the inner and the outer. Like when you see someone and you say that person's radiant. And I was thinking, my gosh, how could we make something architectural out of that, where you create a building and it becomes alive with light like alabaster. If you kiss it with light, it becomes alive.
And I drew this sketch, something with two layers, translucent with structure in between capturing light, maybe a pure form, a single form of emanation that you could imagine would be all done.
And everything we kept making was looking too much like an egg, a blob.
The beauty of a design processes, if it's done in a way that's really exciting, is you don't know where you're going.
It's terrifying. It's terrifying.
We we worked like crazy. We were in a very dark spot.
But I remember clearly and then I saw a little video which showed a plant moving in the direction of light. You ever see those?
Where is it? Time lapse video time lapse? Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you move the light and the plant goes this way.
And then the other way, it's like a dance. Yeah, it's it's absolutely miraculous, I think.
And it just occurred to me that prayer is also movement.
It's action. And so imbued in the design became rotation and talking and that movement was the breakthrough. A single total list for a perfect 30 metres circle composed of nine wings that talk slightly in a spiral, and it is a dome, but it's not at all. It's kind of like a translucent rosebud pointing to the sky. Yes. Oh, my goodness. That's when we said, wow, that's it. And then we ended up with this, this is this temple with two layers, nine luminous veils like luminescent drapery.
Hundred and eighty submissions were received from 80 countries and this was selected. So we went to the next stage of how to build it. We had submitted alabaster, but Alabaster was too soft and we were experimenting many experiments with materials, trying to think how we could have this kind of shimmer and we ended up with borra silicate and silicate glass, as you know, is very strong. And if you break for porous silicate rods just so and melt them, we ended up with this new material, this new cast glass, which took us about two years to make.
And it had this quality that we love, this idea of the embodied light. But on the inside, we wanted something with a soft light, like the inner lining of a jacket on the outside, you have protection, but on the inside you touch it.
So we found this tiny vein in a huge quarry in Portugal with this beautiful stone, which the owner had kept for seven generations in his family, waiting for the right project, if you can believe it. It's beautiful and the way it lights up and it has that translucent quality. And then because of the way this temple was designed during the day, the light is moving because the sun is moving. And so there is an Arculus at the top and there's the slivers of light and the whole figure is moving with the day.
And in the early morning, the light in the temple is this beautiful blue, you know, that dawn light. And in the afternoon, you have to experiences this beautiful sunset orange light.
The whole temple becomes completely immersed in this afternoon, sunset light. And then, of course, at night it reverses itself where it becomes emanating light. So it emanates light and becomes this the structure that has this sense of flow to it. I've been there many times and watched it, and what I love the most is. The stories that come from people, they say that they feel something and that's it's like the security guard, right, that runs his hand, this emotional reaction.
And so definitely that's happening. I mean, I saw somebody I'll never forget. Like a biker. You had tattoos from top of his head to the feet and he was sitting motionless for 30 minutes.
I'm telling you, I'm in ocean. Tears are coming down his eyes. And I thought, wow.
And so this is what you want. You want a space that just belongs to everybody.
It might be a while till you are able to travel back to the temple. Um, does that make you sad? You know, because of the pandemic and travel restrictions and who knows where things are going with the virus spreading? No.
In fact, until you just mentioned that, I didn't even think of it, I, I really know. I think that it's not mine as I said it. I think really it's it's way bigger than me. And so I don't have that kind of relationship with it. I think that whatever I can do to safeguard its beauty and as they add and change and move things around, safeguard the vision. And if they allow me, that would be great otherwise, I just feel like it's it's way bigger than me.
That's architect Siamak Hariri to see his full talk and photos of the beautiful Bahai temple of South America in Santiago, Chile.
Go to Ted Unpeg. Thank you so much for listening to our show this week about the power of spaces. To learn more about the people who were on it, go to Ted that NPR, Greg, and see hundreds more TED talks. Check out Ted Dotcom or the TED app or production staff at NPR includes Jeff Rogers, Sanaa's Myshkin, poor Rachel Falkiner, Deba Matecumbe, James Delahoussaye, J.C. Howard, Katie Pantaleon, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Christina Kollar and Matthew Kutya with help from Daniel Shchukin.
Our theme music was written by Ramtane Arab Louis. Our partners at TED are Chris Andersen, Colin Helmes, Anna Felin and Michelle Quent. I'm a new roadie and you've been listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.